School buildings that serve thousands of students a day are some of the biggest energy consumers in the United States. Buildings alone consume 41 percent of our total energy, 65 percent of our electricity, and 5 billion gallons of potable water a day. Bringing environmentally conscious measures to college campuses can seem daunting and expensive, but we can’t forget that schools have a valuable resource in their journey to sustainability: students.
Project-based learning (PBL) is an educational method that gives students hands-on experience through collaboration, interdisciplinary work, and real-world problem solving. Turning the PBL approach to sustainability is a smart strategy that benefits both students and schools. By using PBL to work on such issues as lowering energy costs and reducing carbon footprints, colleges can provide students with hands-on, real world experiences that will make them strong candidates in an increasingly green job market. By performing energy audits and contributing to climate action plans, students also help their schools become more environmentally conscious at a lower cost. Approaching climate change action in such a way is a winning strategy for students, schools, and the environment.
When you think back on your education, what experiences had the most impact on you? Many would cite team projects, fieldwork, and hands-on learning experiences as their strongest memories. Personally, my 8th-grade camping trip helped me retain more information about the environment than any previous classroom lecture ever did.
All educational institutions share the goal of preparing their students for the future--but can they achieve this goal while they simultaneously compromise that future by harming the environment? I believe schools have an obligation to protect and enhance the world they're preparing their students for by being good stewards of the environment--and that the steps to get there aren't as difficult or expensive as many seem to think.