Fact Sheet: Saving Energy in Schools
Remember that some areas of your school may be off-limits without permission from your teacher or principal, and some projects should be done with at least one partner. Check with your teacher before beginning any of the activities or projects listed here.
Why It Matters
In the United States, most of our electricity comes from the dirty process of burning coal, oil and gas. Using less energy means burning less of these fuels, which cuts down on pollution. That protects the environment -- and our health.
When power plants burn oil, gas or coal, energy is not the only thing they produce. They also create pollution -- lots of it. For instance, power plants are one of the biggest sources of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that's causing our planet to get warmer. If you're thinking, "That will give me a longer summer vacation!" think again. Rising temperatures are bad news. They could cause flooding, heat waves and droughts -- not to mention the spread of disease. Some of these effects have already started.
Emissions from power plants also cause acid rain, which has damaged forests and lakes in many parts of the country, killing plants and fish. And they cause much of the ugly smog that floats over our cities, making it hard to breathe. Smoke from power plants also contains harmful substances, called toxics, that make people sick. Smog and toxics are especially troublesome for people with asthma and other breathing problems.
Fossil fuels also cause environmental problems even before they're burned for energy. Drilling and mining destroy wildlife habitat, and they release wastes that travel through the air and into water. The machinery that extracts coal, oil and gas also causes pollution. So does the process of shipping these fuels to power plants.
What Kids Can Do
These are all big problems. But your actions can help solve them. If you use less energy, power plants will burn less fossil fuel and cause less pollution. Most schools waste huge amounts of energy, which means they also offer many opportunities to conserve. And saving energy saves money, too -- something that will help any school.
In the next section you'll find energy-saving suggestions for school officials. And don't forget our fact sheets on lighting
and solar energy
But first, here are a few suggestions for ways you can reduce the amount of energy your school uses. Some of them might seem simple, but they really do make a difference. Look around for others ways to save. You'll probably be surprised by the many ideas you'll come up with. And don't forget: Most of these suggestions should be followed at home, too.
What Your School Can Do
- Turn equipment off when it's not being used: Computers and other equipment (such as copy machines and printers) often stay on all day and even all night. But they shouldn't. Turn them off after school or any time they won't be used for a while. This is safe, even for computers. (Be sure to get any permission you might need before you turn off equipment yourself.)
- Turn off computer monitors: The monitor uses a lot of energy. So if it's not convenient or practical to turn off your whole computer (or if you're not allowed to), you can still save a lot of energy by switching off the monitor.
- Use the sun's energy: Let the sun filter into rooms to help keep the heat down and reduce the need for lights. (On hot days, drawing the shades will keep the sun out and keep you cooler.)
- Don't let windows waste energy: When your school is being heated or air conditioned, the windows should be shut. If they aren't, huge amounts of energy are wasted. Even when windows are closed, a lot of energy can escape if they're not tightly sealed. Report any drafty windows to your teacher or a custodian.
- Report extreme temperatures: If the temperature in your classrooms is controlled centrally, it might be way too hot in the winter or too cold in the summer without the custodian knowing it. If you find you have to open the windows in the winter, or wear a sweater in the summer, be sure to tell the custodian or the principal.
- Buy efficient products: Sometimes efficient models are more expensive, but they almost always save money in the long run because they cut energy costs so much. When school officials buy new products, they should look for the Energy Star label, which indicates the most efficient models. And remember, efficiency is important for many products, not just appliances or equipment. For instance, many new windows have special glass and frames that make them much more energy efficient than older models. An energy-efficient window provides as much insulation as a wall.
- Get help in improving energy efficiency: There's a lot of help available for schools trying to improve their energy efficiency. Local utilities, public utility commissions and state energy offices often provide advice, or even help pay for new equipment. Another good place to check is The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network's page on state and local financing links.
- Turn equipment and appliances off when they're not in use: This is important throughout your school -- not just in the areas where kids spend most of their time, like classrooms, but in places like the office or the teacher's lounge, too. Your principal should make a rule requiring computers, printers and even coffeemakers to be turned off at night, during vacations or any time they're not going to be used for a while.
- Use sleep programs: Many computers, copiers and other kinds of equipment have sleep programs that automatically reduce the amount of energy they consume if they haven't been used for a while. (On computers, the sleep mode will darken the screen. Don't confuse this with screen savers, which don't save energy.) This feature should be turned on whenever possible.
- Equipment reminders: It's easy to forget to turn equipment off. Posting reminders can help people get into this important habit. Remember that after a while, people get used to seeing the reminders, and they tune them out. To prevent this from happening, make new reminders from time to time to grab people's attention again.
- Window watcher: Test the seals on the windows in your school. Hold a piece of ribbon along the windows' edges. If it flutters, the window isn't sealed tightly enough and needs to be fixed. Keep a list of windows with seals that need work and report what you find.
- School equipment survey: Go through your school (or a part of your school) and make a list of all the computers, copiers, printers and other equipment. Think about which ones could be turned off or use the sleep mode. (Some pieces of equipment -- such as fax machines and certain printers that need to print out emergency reports -- are normally left on.) Find out who is responsible for running each of these machines -- teachers, office staff or librarians -- and ask if they turn them off at night, or if they use the sleep mode. If they don't follow these simple practices already, encourage them to start.