Are we achieving our goals with green school buildings?

Comfort, mental health, and the proenvironmental awareness of 5th graders in green and non-green buildings

Presented by: Jung-hye Shin and Joy Huntington 

This study examines LEED certified and non-LEED certified elementary school buildings in the Midwest with the following research questions: (1) What are the differences between LEED and non-LEED certified elementary school classrooms in terms of children’s satisfaction with their audio-visual & thermal environment, overall comfort, mental health, and pro-environmental attitudes?; (2) Do LEED buildings outperform non-LEED buildings in the areas identified in research question (1)?; (3) What are the contributing factors to children’s classroom comfort and overall mental health? 

In linking the seemingly discrete concepts of indoor environmental conditions, green buildings, children’s mental health, and pro-environmental awareness, we employ the proposition put forth by Chappells & Shove (2005)and Humphreys (2005) that indoor environmental qualities and related human comfort are highly negotiable socio-cultural constructs and therefore should be measured against performance criteria that are informed by the original project goals. Thus, we began our research by establishing the commonly cited goals of LEED certified school buildings: (1) the health and wellbeing of the occupants; (2) minimizing the potential environmental impact of the building;(3) inculcating stewardship of natural resources (educational component). Our study examined (1) and (3) to assess the success of LEED certified school buildings. Goal (2) was not included in the scope of this study. We hypothesized that students in LEED certified buildings feel more comfortable, have better mental health, and have higher levels of pro-environmental awareness.

We secured four LEED certified and three non-LEED certified elementary schools in the Midwest. From each school, all 5th graders were invited to participate in the research. A total 280 students participated in the study. To objectively document the physical environment, we measured acoustics, lighting conditions, thermal comfort, and window configurations. Students’ subjective responses were measured by using questionnaires: their demographic information, satisfaction with audio-visual & thermal environment (Preiser & Vischer, 2005), overall comfort, mental health (Osika, Friberg, & Wahrborg, 2007), and pro-environmental attitudes (Manoli, Johnson, & Dunlap, 2007). All measurements were conducted once during the summer and once in the winter. 

The physical data and the survey data were analyzed using descriptive statistical analysis. Then, the effects of LEED buildings were tested with hierarchical analysis while controlling the social support levels of individual students, which tend to closely correlate with their parental attention and socioeconomic status. Contributing factors to children’s overall comfort and mental health were identified with another set of hierarchical analysis. 

The results indicate that students in both types of buildings are slightly satisfied with all of the IEQ items (4~5 range out of 7-point scale). Their overall satisfaction and comfort remained at a similar level. Second, during the summer season, students in LEED buildings reported higher levels of comfort, satisfaction with noise, mental health, and more pro-environmental attitude and the differences were statistically significant. During the winter season, however, all such differences disappeared. The only item that LEED building excelled in winter was satisfaction with temperature. Third, the contributing factors to overall classroom comfort during the summer season were temperature, window view, and noise, while, during the winter, daylight, window view, and visual comfort significantly influenced the students’ overall comfort. Significant contributing factors to overall mental health during the summer were the temperature and window view. In the winter, noise was the only contributing factor. Study limitations and implications to building planning and design were discussed.

References:

  • Chappells, H., & Shove, E. (2005). Debating the future of comfort: Environmental sustainability, energy consumption and the indoor environment. Building Research & Information, 33(1), 32–40
  • Humphreys, M. A. (2005). Quantifying occupant comfort: Are combined indices of the indoor environment practicable? Building Research & Information, 33(4), 317–325
  • Manoli, C. C., Johnson, B., & Dunlap, R. E. (2007). Assessing Children’s Environmental Worldviews: Modifying and Validating the New Ecological Paradigm Scale for Use With Children. Journal of Environmental Education, 38(4), 3–13.
  • Osika, W., Friberg, P., & Wahrborg, P. (2007). A new short self-rating questionnaire to assess stress in children. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 14(2), 108–117. doi:10.1007/BF03004176
  • Preiser, W. F. E., & Vischer, J. C. (Eds.). (2005). Assessing Building Performance. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.