Trends in Green

An Often Overlooked Criteria

The 21st-century classroom is chock-full of hightech equipment required to deliver new world education in a tech-savvy society. Electronic whiteboards, high-resolution displays, iPads, digital projectors and high-speed printers and laptops are increasingly common in K-12 schools and are quickly becoming essential, regular line items on schools’ list of purchases.

When selecting the right tools for their classrooms, school officials evaluate a variety of performance criteria such as price, processor speed, screen resolution, printing speed and bandwidth. However, one criterion that is often overlooked is sustainability.

Here are the top 3 reasons for school administrators to prioritize the purchase of sustainable products.

1. Chemical emissions stink and so do the health risks

Asthma rates are on the rise, and approximately 9 million children under the age of 18 are diagnosed with asthma. Asthma attacks contribute to school absenteeism, which can impact student achievement. Look around: nearly every material in a building, from floor coverings and paint to furniture and electronics, emits a generous mix of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can potentially negatively impact human health.

Electronics emit VOCs from component parts, and may emit an additional cocktail of VOCs when in use – as the device heats up. Consider printers, which release VOCs as well as particulate matter into the air during operation. Without careful attention, the addition of electronics to the classroom can flood the building with harmful, potentially toxic chemicals that can trigger headache, malaise, distracting odors or even asthma attacks. A smart choice of sustainable products may include those that have been tested and certified to have reduced chemical emissions.

2. Energy use and expenses are on the rise

As electronic devices replace manual processes, significantly more power is required to support everyday activities in the classroom. This can result in higher utility costs, both to power the devices and to produce additional conditioned air, as electronic devices can generate significant heat in spaces. Proper ventilation for copiers, printers and multi-functional peripheral devices (MFPs) may also remove heated or cooled air from the building. To maintain costs and decrease overall carbon footprint, it is important to consider energy efficiency when selecting technology.

3. E-waste is a costly problem

E-waste is a tremendous and growing global problem. As the scope and consequences are better understood, the solution will likely be to place some financial burden on the individual or organization disposing of the waste. Already, schools must pay for and arrange disposal of old computers, electronics and accessories. By shifting to electronics with biologically friendly and/or recyclable parts, schools can not only be more responsible environmentally, but can also position themselves proactively for a future that is likely to place punitive action on buyers of unsustainable products.

What’s the solution?

Here are some tips for selecting sustainable high-tech equipment.

  • Look for energy-efficient devices. Energy Star is one of the most respected third-party labels in energy efficiency and points to products that are efficient during operation as well as disposal. By selecting Energy Star products, it’s possible to choose the most energy-efficient electronics available.
  • Choose low-emitting products. Selecting low-emitting products is the first step to improving indoor air quality and, in turn, protecting student health and performance. UL’s GREENGUARD Certification for low-emitting products is a comprehensive identifier to help find low-emitting electronics and products of all kinds.
  • Buy modular products for less waste. By selecting modular products with replacement parts, it is possible to reduce replacement frequency. For example, make sure the device has a replaceable battery, removable processor chip and as many “parts” as possible so that if a malfunction occurs, it is possible to replace a particular part rather than the entire item.
  • Partner for recycling – Recycling is critical to being a good environmental citizen. Schools should partner with reputable e-waste recycling vendors to ensure that their e-waste is disposed of responsibly.

With sustainability as a priority, administrators can ensure healthier, less expensive, more environmentally responsible environments. The results are good for students, staff, performance and the globe.

Resources:

UL’s Sustainable Product Guide can help purchasers and facility managers identify products that are reliably third-party certified to meet specific standards related to sustainability and product emissions. Start at www.ul.com/spg.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Dagmar Ebaugh, LEED Green Associate, is PR and communications Manager for UL Environment. She is also a former high-school teacher.

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