The idea to have a certification rating the environmental friendliness of a building came about in the mid 1990s. The U.S. Green Building Council
, along with individuals from other environmental nonprofits, began a system of measuring the sustainability of a building's design. A building is rated out of 100 points, with 10 possible bonus points. The certification can either be Silver, Gold or Platinum, Platinum being the highest possible achievement. These LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
certified buildings are becoming more common, especially in private schools' expansions and editions.
In fact, Washington's very own co-educational Quaker day school Sidwell Friends
was recently awarded a Platinum LEED Certification for its new middle school building
. It's no wonder that the building, and its surrounding area, was awarded the highest possible certificate. I've actually had the privilege of touring the building, and I must say that it is amazing for a number of reasons.
For starters, it is very aesthetically pleasing. One of the materials used is a natural wood that is very calming and peaceful to look at. Almost all of the materials used in the building's production are of local origin, reducing the energy used in transportating them; many of the materials are also recycled.
Space was utilized smartly and sustainably, as well. The rooftop garden, for instance, provides a great opportunity to teach students about gardening, plants and science, while at the same time providing a haven for bird and insect species, and deflecting the sun away from the direct roof which allows a longer lifespan for the rooftop's materials. The garden also keeps the roof cool, thus reducing the need for air conditioning inside the building itself. Windows are placed logically to maximize and work with natural light and ventilation. On a different rooftop area, solar panels soak in the sunlight and revert the energy to cover some of the school's electricity use.
Maybe the most visually impressive aspect of the Platinum LEED building is the constructed wetland that serves as a sort of courtyard. It is a beautiful, tiered landscape with aquatic plants and flowers. The water flows down the terraces, cleansing itself, and settles into a pond at the base of the terraces. The naturally treated wastewater is reused in the schools' toilets and cooling system.
Of all the eco-friendly stations within Sidwell's walls and yards, the most sustainable part of the building lies in the students themselves. Sidwell teachers and students use the green benefits of the building to teach and learn about the importance of the environment and environmental stewardship. Middle school Principal Sally Selby explains some of the activities students can participate in thanks to the green building:
"[The kids] have documented more than 50 species of native bees [that live on campus], including 9 that we have documented for the first time in the District of Columbia. Our 6th graders watch our solar panels at work and then build little solar cars that run around on campus, our 5th graders learn the species of trees that are on campus, and our 8th graders give tours of the building."
Educating the next generation on evironmental beauty and responsibility is imperative to sustaining a positive path into our future. Sidwell Friends demonstrates a wonderful way to accomplish that sort of lasting education. Perhaps when deciding on where to send their two daughters, Barack and Michelle Obama were influenced by the unique education found at Sidwell Friends. (Malia and Sasha Obama attend the school.) It is a hopeful thought that our new president and his family, along with many other families represented at Sidwell, are actively taking part in such true environmental stewardship.
Photo credit: NCinDC/Flickr, Isiahk/Flickr