One of the recently published studies has explored the possibility of specially designed buildings teaching the students about sustainability. Researches carried out in the past have concluded that schools with sustainability features have been able to provide a better environment for student’s learning, performance and health. Most of those schools are already teaching students about ecology and nature.

However, is there a possibility for students to learn from these buildings? Teaching for sustainability is a new method, focused on preparing and motivating students to alter their behaviour and learn how to be part of a sustainable culture. What if schools were designed around this method? Could students learn sustainability this way?

Are green schools the answer?

One recent study that was carried out in Victoria, Australia involved questioning 275 students, ages 10 to 12. The students were from seven primary schools – four with conventional design and three schools with sustainability features.

The researchers used two scales. First was the New Ecological Paradigm scale, which is used to measure the endorsement of an individual of a pro-ecological worldview. The second was the General Ecological Behaviour scale, which measures different aspects of social and ecological behaviour.

The children that were going to the schools with sustainability features had more pro-environmental attitudes than the children from other schools.

Another study with similar ideas got less favourable results. They have shown that these schools still need to improve their sustainability features.

More engagement and integration needed

One study that was carried out in three primary schools in England focused solely on researching whether the inclusion of sustainability features helped students learn more about sustainability and sustainable practices. Researchers visited and interviewed students to see how aware are they about the sustainable features of the buildings and to see how these features were used in courses.

This study concluded that the curriculum didn’t have the sustainability features integrated enough. Furthermore, the teachers that were not familiar with the concept were not given the resources to learn more about it. The students weren’t directly engaged to these features and just didn’t understand the logic behind them. However, the sustainability features managed to increase the quality of the indoor environment and to improve overall energy performance.

Sustainability features like double-glazed windows, solar panels and increased insulations do not require practically any interaction from students or teachers. Smart meters that are used to display how much solar energy panels managed to accumulate were meaningful to occupants since it was not explained what these meters show.

Let the buildings “communicate”

The researchers recommend that educators and school designers collaborate, to make sure that the sustainable features of the school are used to enable teaching about sustainability. This is the easiest way to fix this issue. The idea is for designers to integrate sustainability features in a way that will help teachers to teach students about the connection between personal behaviour, sustainability and the environment.

There is a method that could help the designers in this case. This method is often used in product design, and its goal is to let the product “communicate” with consumers, enabling them to understand how and why it is used. Also known as “design with intent”, it helps users understand what the designer wanted this product to do.

Furthermore, researchers believe that the schools should explain specific functions to its occupants, especially those that could educate students about sustainability.