The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has released guidance for K-12 schools on product purchasing to support the estimated six million U.S. students under 18 affected by asthma. As schools across the country re-open or make plans for re-entry, the COVID 19 pandemic has brought a renewed focus on health.
“Healthy schools are critical to rebuilding our economy, and we need to prioritize decisions that allow students, teachers, janitorial staff and communities at large to feel supported and safe,” said Anisa Heming, director of the Center for Green Schools. “Through this new guide, we’re providing actionable guidance that education leaders can put into practice now to protect millions of students. Healthy people in healthy places is the fastest way to rebuild a healthy economy, and it starts with investing in our schools.”
The Center identified four primary categories where environmentally healthy purchasing can help reduce irritants and allergens that contribute to asthma and other health issues. The guidance addresses cleaning products, filters, furniture and rugs, as well as markers and paints. USGBC’s Center for Green Schools is a global leader in advancing green schools and provides school districts and education leaders with resources and training to create sustainable, healthy, resilient and equitable learning environments.
A healthy green purchasing policy is an effective measure to help address common asthma triggers, such as exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), indoor allergens and poor ventilation. The asthma prevention guidance provides a list of third-party product certifications to consider, best practices for choosing low-VOC materials, and methods for engaging school decision-makers to implement a new purchasing policy. It complements USGBC’s LEED green building program, which provides a framework for creating healthy, efficient and sustainable buildings, including schools.
Asthma is the most common noncommunicable disease among children and disproportionately impacts children of color and those living below the federal poverty line. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that people who are asthmatic may be at a higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 . USGBC also recently released several updates to LEED to assist buildings with re-entry during a pandemic including LEED Safety First pilot credits and Arc Re-Entry, a free program for both LEED and non LEED buildings to benchmark infection-control policies and procedures, collect occupant experiences and track indoor air quality.
In Michigan, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) switched 100 percent of their chemical inventory to third-party certified green products, saving the district $100,000 a year and improving the work and learning environment for staff and students. The district was ordering and using over 65 different cleaning chemicals and was able to standardize products across schools and prioritize ones that could serve multiple functions while meeting green cleaning standards.
Asthma contributes to roughly 13.8 million missed school days each year. Considering the rapid physical, cognitive and emotional development that children undergo during their elementary and secondary learning years, school and childcare settings are critically important intervention points to address recognized health disparities among the students they serve. Additional resources and programs to support healthy, green schools is available at centerforgreenschools.org.