Public schools across the country are getting greener. Increasingly, public school districts and universities are adding environmentally-friendly and sustainable elements to their facilities such as on-site vegetable gardens or solar panels on gymnasium roofs.
This trend is reflected in the fields of green energy and sustainable development. Both are areas that have seen a growing number of opportunities in the public sector, particularly from education-related agencies.
Green Energy Growth
One example comes from the renewable energy industry, an area that has been at the core of the environmental movement. Onvia’s comprehensive database of bids and RFPs indicates that school districts saw more than a 7% increase in the number of renewable energy-related projects published in the last year. The industry as a whole saw contract volumes decline slightly across the board when analyzed by level of government, but school districts were the lone agency type with positive change.
This growth has been driven in part by solar energy. Government agencies have been actively making efforts to increase solar power investments, and those investments are paying off. According to a report by the Energy Department and the Solar Foundation, nearly 4,000 schools in the United States currently have solar systems installed. The vast majority of those were projects completed and installed within the last six years.
Photovoltaic electrical systems and solar thermal water-heating systems are two common types of these projects, and schools of all sizes are a particularly good fit for the solar panels required for both of them.
Architecturally, most schools are well-suited to the addition of solar panels. They are frequently one-story buildings with broad, flat roof surfaces that make the installation of solar electric or water-heating systems easy.Jake DiRie Co-Founder, EcoMark Solar
The University of Wyoming is one public education agency taking advantage of this fit on a bigger scale. They recently spent more than $125,000 to outfit the roof of an on-campus athletic practice center with new, efficient solar panels. Currently the university is not a major user of renewable energy, but with plenty more roof space on campus and a desire to add more solar power, Wyoming could be changing that in the relatively near future.
Sustainable Development and LEED Certification
Another area seeing rapid growth is the field of sustainable development. These types of opportunities are usually architecture, consulting, design or planning services aimed at reducing any negative environmental impacts from a particular project, often with the goal of achieving LEED certification – a label certifying that a structure is resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable.
Onvia’s data shows that projects mentioning LEED certification have become increasingly common, with more than 650 such contracts going out as a bid or RFP from school districts in 2015 alone.
Occasionally an agency will not have an immediate project available, but will still be looking to make agreements with a private company for sustainable design consulting on an on-call basis. Projects like this one from Atlanta Public Schools are a typical example:
The agency requested sustainable consulting on an as-needed basis for, among other things, the development of strategies to maximize sustainable design and construction practices, and to review designs and construction materials to match LEED criteria.
And the efforts from Atlanta Public Schools are paying off, as they were recognized last year by the U.S. Green Building Council for their commitment to sustainability. As of 2015 APS had 10 LEED-certified buildings, making the education agency one of the leaders in this area in the state of Georgia, and cementing them as one of a growing number of school districts reaping the rewards of investing in sustainability.
With an increasing number of opportunities in both sustainable design and green energy, the education sector appears poised to continue to move in an environmentally-friendly direction - a trend that could pay off for both private companies and the communities they serve.