Feature Article

Why Schools Are Embracing Net-Zero Energy

Schools are leading the way in net-zero energy, but some designers question whether these goals create the best learning environments. 

An architect takes questions from a group of school children.

Architect Wyck Knox takes questions from students at Discovery Elementary about the design of their new net-zero-energy school.

Photo: Lincoln Barbour Photography
In Portland, Maine, the chair of a building committee dreamed of a schoolhouse that could offset the transportation energy required for students to commute to school.

In Arlington, Virginia, a school architect argued he could reduce energy costs without increasing his budget.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the school district, inspired by a climate action plan adopted by the City Council, requested project proposals with a sustainable wish-list.

Each—through sometimes surprising turns—resulted in the pursuit of a net-zero-energy school. It is rare that a building trend is so closely tied to one building type. But aside from homes, more schools have targeted net-zero energy than any other sector. By one count, there are 89 school projects in the U.S. that have pursued net-zero energy.

With their traditionally short operating calendars and lack of intensive energy loads, schools are relatively approachable candidates for net-zero-energy goals. But is there more behind this trend?

Published June 6, 2017