School's green initiatives get top billing

QA Graphics has created an educational display for Nichols School in Buffalo, New York, to help inform students about the campus’ sustainable initiatives and efficient resource use.

Nichols School, a coed college preparatory independent school serving students in grades 5-12, was named the winner of QA Graphics’ 2010 “Showcase Your School’s Green Efforts” contest. QA Graphics had called on schools nationwide to share why their school is sustainable, and worked with the national U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to reach out to state USGBC chapters for contest support and judging. Then, the public cast their vote to decide which school should be awarded with QA Graphics’ Energy Efficiency Education Dashboard, an interactive display the school can use to educate students about sustainability and the environment.

The school has a comprehensive approach to promote campus sustainability, known as the Big Green Initiative, which is organized by a group of administrators, staff, faculty and students.

“Our Big Green Initiative for environmental consciousness illustrates our commitment to sustainability and our dedication to helping our students become stewards of the environment,” said Rick Bryan, head of school at Nichols. “It is not enough to celebrate environmental awareness one day a year or only on paper.”

The Energy Efficiency Education Dashboard serves as another means to encourage this environmental awareness. Displayed on a touchscreen in the Class of 1963 Center for Mathematics and Science building, it illustrates the campus’ efficient resource use and sustainable initiatives. Students can walk up to the display and see how much energy each of the six buildings on campus is using. A leaderboard also shows how each of the building’s resource use compares to one another. The Energy Efficiency Education Dashboard is also available online for parents and the community to access.

Students can interact with the display to learn how different sustainable features help the campus conserve resources, like the building management system, high-efficiency boilers, low-flow plumbing fixtures, energy efficient windows and lighting fixtures. They can learn about the school’s recycling and composting programs and see interactive demonstrations to understand how the campus’ daylighting, HVAC system and green roof help conserve resources. Students can also test their “green” knowledge with a quiz.

“Our Green Key Curriculum allows students to gain environmental consciousness and responsibility by incorporating what they’ve learned into their everyday lives,” said Joshua Ring, a science teacher at Nichols. “Environmental awareness is not enough; we want students to actually change their behaviors so that their interactions are future-looking and responsible.”

Faculty at Nichols is excited to have authentic data to use in the classrooms because of the relevancy it offers students. On Earth Day, Josh Ring and members of a school club, Students for Environmental Awareness and Action, used real-time electricity data provided by the Energy Efficiency Education Dashboard to form a contest called “Power Down Competition”. For half the school day, they reviewed energy usage among the six different buildings on campus as students competed to lower their electrical usage. The students calculated the percentage drop from a base value for each of the buildings and students in the building with the highest percentage drop were awarded prizes.

“The dashboard will allow also students to actively learn math by compiling building data,” said MaryAnne Hejna, math department chair at Nichols. “Students will study how electric needs vary on a day-to-day basis as well as on a seasonal cycle. The dashboard will collect this tangible data and infuse live math into daily classes for students to manipulate and learn from.”

For example, when working on a data set in an AP Statistics class, students can now use real numbers that pertain to their everyday lives at school. They can explore why certain buildings use more resources and speculate reasons for peak times and days for usage. They can explore why buildings with science and technology classes use more energy, and consider the distribution of different heating and cooling systems throughout the buildings on campus.

QA Graphics’ solution has been named a 2010 top green building product by Environmental Design + Construction and Sustainable Facility magazines’ annual Readers Choice Awards as well as a 2010 top 10 green building product by Sustainable Industries magazine.