Decarbonization for School Buildings


Decarbonization for school buildings can have a significant impact on not only carbon emissions but also building function, student learning, and overall community well-being. Decarbonization involves transitioning buildings to all-electric power in combination with renewable or carbon-free energy sources. K-12 schools are one of the largest public sector consumers of energy, producing the equivalent of approximately 15 million cars per year. Whether constructing a new school building or retrofitting an existing building, there are a number of effective building decarbonization solutions that can be implemented to help reduce a school’s carbon footprint.


Decarbonization is the process of reducing carbon emissions from being released into the environment. When it comes to public school buildings, there are two primary sources of carbon emissions: operational carbon and embodied carbon. Operational carbon is emitted from heating and cooling schools, lighting, and other daily activities that rely on power. Embodied carbon refers to the carbon emissions created by construction materials and throughout the building process.

Some examples of building decarbonization solutions for schools include:

  • Energy performance monitoring
  • Transitioning to high-efficiency electric HVAC equipment, refrigeration, and other appliances
  • Update old, inefficient appliances
  • Incorporate energy-recovery ventilation
  • Replacing the use of fossil fuels, like natural gas, with renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, or geothermal
  • Utilizing energy storage systems to support electric load flexibility
  • Using smart technology and automation, such as smart lighting and thermostats
  • Lowering the demand for resources through the design process and sustainable construction practices, such as reducing waste, improving the overall carbon footprint, and limiting over specifications
  • Increasing the usage of scrap, recycled, and high-performance materials during the construction process
  • Transition to electric school busses
  • Replace grass with drought-tolerant plants or materials like cork and coconut fibers

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