Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE)

Environmentally Sustainable Learning Environments: Special Session of the PEB Governing Board


A special session of the PEB Governing Board in November 2007 highlighted a range of approaches and good practices in developing environmentally sustainable learning environments.

Where a school is located and how it is built are two key factors in developing an environmentally sustainable learning environment. The former is dictated by need such as demographics, something that clients and their designers have little control over. But they can do much about the latter.

School buildings generate a great amount of road traffic and it is not always easy to locate them near a transport terminal which could reduce the environmental effects of children travelling to school. This is particularly so for schools in rural areas where for example rail stations are far apart. Nevertheless, location remains a critical factor in the endeavour to build a sustainable learning environment, and governments must focus on policies that reduce the tendency for parents to drive their children to school.

With the large increase in the United Kingdom’s public spending on school buildings over the last ten years, considerable attention has been given to sustainable design both in a “green building” sense and in terms of long-term sustainability of education. For example Project Faraday focuses on the design of teaching and learning environments for science in schools.

Under the Japanese eco-school programme, established in 1997 to promote environmentally friendly design and construction of school buildings, 668 have been built. An eco-school considers sustainability from three perspectives: the design and construction of the facilities, intelligent and extended use, and the role of buildings as a learning tool.

In Greece which has a programme for developing bioclimatic schools, the School Building Organisation is developing a variety of pilot schemes in collaboration with universities to improve environmental and energy performance of school facilities.

In all these examples discussed in the special session, the palette of sustainable design measures was similar. It includes the use of renewable materials, energy from renewable sources such as the sun and wind, and passive ventilation strategies which rely on the building’s ability to store and radiate heat and use natural air movement.

The session also highlighted the need for information on the comparative costs and benefits of sustainable school buildings – information that does not seem to exist in any quantity.