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Energy Pathway

energy iconAs global temperatures rise, wildfires, droughts, and high electricity demands put stress on the nation’s energy infrastructure. In fact severe weather is the leading cause of power outages and fuel supply disruption in the United States. And because energy generation is one of the largest contributors of CO2 to the atmosphere, it is important for citizens and students alike to have the knowledge and skills to understand the problems, develop and implement solutions, and advocate for change.

Across the United States, school districts spend more than $7.5 billion a year on energy. In many municipalities, schools are the largest energy consumer. But up to 30 percent of that energy is used inefficiently or unnecessarily.

Students looking at solar panels

Through simple changes in behavior, schools have found that a 10 percent reduction in energy usage can be achieved quickly and easily. In fact, a school that engages in good energy practices can end up using over one-third less energy than the average school. Efforts usually focus on heating and lighting systems, but inefficient use of technology can be addressed too.

By implementing energy conservation measures and using energy efficient technologies, schools can significantly cut energy use while using data to engage in STEM investigations, resulting in financial savings and reduced environmental impact.

Fast Facts

  • Using one kilowatt of electricity in the U.S. emits between 1.22 and 2.17 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent to the size of a large exercise ball.
  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use only a quarter of the energy of incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer.
  • Schools spend more money on energy than on computers and textbooks combined.
  • Many idle electronics—such as TVs, projection systems, and personal microwaves—use energy even when switched off. Nationally, these electronics use 5 percent of our domestic energy and cost consumers more than $3 billion a year.
  • Painting a school roof white or some other highly reflective color to minimize the heat it absorbs can often reduce peak cooling demand and cooling energy use by 15 to 20 percent.

Following the Framework

Utilize the Seven Step Framework to complete your pathway.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

Energy Audit

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Energy pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan | Blank Action Plan

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Step 1: Form an Eco-Action Team

The Eco-Action Team is the driving force behind Eco-Schools USA. Ideally, your Eco-Action Team should be representative of the whole school community—including people beyond the school walls, such as facilities staff, board members, and members of the greater community. Eco-Schools USA has developed a worksheet to help guide the development of this team.

Step 2: Conduct an Environmental Audit

The Environmental Checklist is an essential tool for understanding the current environmental situation in your school. It provides the basis for your Eco-Action Plan. Eco-Schools USA has developed an activity to get your students started.

In addition to the optional Environmental Checklist, pathway-specific audits allow teams to utilize a pathway-specific lens to dive deeper into problems and solutions, and provide the basis for the team’s Eco-Action Plan.

Energy Audit

Step 3: Create an Eco-Action Plan

The action plan follows as the result of analysis and conclusions drawn from the Environmental Audit and sets forth a series of goals, actions, and a timeline for achieving environmental improvements.

1. To get started, preview the sample action plan for the Energy pathway. This example is designed to be a springboard to developing the team’s own action plan.

2. Use the blank action plan to develop the team’s vision.

Sample Action Plan | Blank Action Plan

Step 4: Monitor and Evaluate Progress

Monitoring and evaluation are intrinsic elements of the action plan, helping to check progress toward goals, make adjustments for greater success, and validate that actions are making an impact.

Step 5: Link to Existing Curriculum

Enrich your classroom curriculum with Eco-Schools projects and activities.

Step 6: Involve the Community

Communities are made up of diverse perspectives. When students consistently and authentically work to include community members from all walks of life, not just the school community, they are gaining access to dynamic networks whose end goals are the same, making their place in this world happier and healthier.

Step 7: Create an Eco-Code

The Eco-Code is the school’s mission statement and should demonstrate—in a positive, inclusive, and imaginative way—the whole school’s commitment to improving their environmental performance.

Sustainable Development Goals

goal 4 - quality education
goal 7 - affordable and clean energy
Goal 11 - Sustainable cities and communities
goal 13 - climate action
goal 17 - partnerships for the goals

Top 10 Tips to Minimize Energy Use

  • Arrange for help with your energy audit.
  • Inquire about the possibility of obtaining energy from clean, renewable sources.
  • Inquire about applicable rebate or incentive programs for using renewable energy or engaging in energy conservation activities.
  • Digitally promote behaviors and actions that result conserve energy.
  • Invite experts to participate in activities and to share their ideas and passions.

  • Shut off lights when a room is not in use or when there is sufficient natural light.
  • Turn exterior lights off during daylight hours and consider installing motion detectors.
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which use 75 to 80 percent less energy and last 10 to 25 times longer.
  • Dust off and clean lighting fixtures regularly. Dirty light bulbs can reduce light output by as much as 10 percent.
  • Consider switching to LED exit signs, which use much less energy.

  • Post stickers, posters and signs as reminders to turn off lights, shut down equipment and unplug items when not in use.
  • Involve students in monitoring energy consumption, establishing patrols to ensure lights not in use are turned off.
  • Create a display for recording progress and showcase it in a prominent location. Reward students with time outside if conservation goals are met.

  • Keep exterior doors closed. Close classroom doors to help maintain a comfortable classroom temperature.
  • Replace broken or cracked window panes.
  • Place caulking and weather-stripping around doors and windows.
  • Install UV film on windows that face the sun.
  • Consider installing a reflective roof coating or a green roof to reduce the amount of heat absorbed by the building.

  • Review the energy rating of kitchen appliances. Encourage the facilities department, when purchasing new appliances, to choose Energy Star models.
  • Keep refrigerator doors closed and condenser coils clean.
  • Wash only full loads in the dishwashers.
  • Turn off lights on vending machines or install vending misers.
  • Reduce hot water temperatures throughout the school, and use a booster in the kitchen if necessary.Consider insulating the hot water heater and hot water pipes.

  • Avoid using space heaters.
  • Close windows and curtains at the end of the day, and utilize curtains to either keep heat in or sun out.
  • Clear space around wall and floor vents of obstructions.
  • Have mechanical systems serviced, air vents cleaned out, and air filters replaced regularly.
  • Use programmable thermostats to adjust temperatures in the evening and on weekends.

  • Unplug items that are not in use. Electronics consume as much as 75 percent of their total energy when turned off.
  • Consider using power strips to turn off multiple items with one flip of the switch. (Some strips even allow you to power down several items simply by turning off one of them.)
  • Invest in a few handheld electricity usage monitors. These devices track the efficiency of specific equipment and can be used by teams to collect data and develop solutions.

  • Turn computers off at the end of the day. Arrange for computers to go into sleep mode when not in use, and avoid installing screensavers.
  • Use only necessary equipment. For example, confirm that all printers on the network are used regularly.
  • Consider placing timers on electrical equipment.

  • If possible, plan extracurricular activities during daylight hours.
  • Strategically plan after-school events. Consolidate activities to one or as few sections as possible to reduce energy consumption.
  • Schedule small-group activities or meetings in smaller spaces rather than large ones such as the cafeteria or gymnasium.

  • Research renewable energy options for the school's location.
  • Discuss options with the facilities department and work together to develop a plan.