Last week, the Biden-Harris administration hosted the White House Summit on Sustainable and Healthy K-12 School Buildings and Grounds. Clean energy, safe drinking water, and indoor air quality are key pillars of the White House’s action plan to improve schools’ health across the country. Healthy Buildings director Joseph Allen shares his key takeaways from the summit in the following blog post.

Over 90 students, teachers, advocates, school administrators, facilities and grounds experts, and labor leaders came together at the White House alongside the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to discuss action plans and federal funding available for school infrastructure, clean energy, and healthy schools. Major initiatives are advancing the transition to more equitable, healthy, resilient, and sustainable schools. However, the path forward is arduous and presents its challenges.

Substantial investments in sustainable infrastructure

The transition to renewable energy sources and electrification is a critical priority in the administration’s action plan. The Inflation Reduction Act’s final rules now allow schools and other tax-exempt entities to claim clean energy tax credits and participate in building and owning new clean energy projects. Schools can leverage these tax credits for clean energy investments such as heat pumps, solar, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources. Furthermore, the EPA Clean School Bus Program helps schools fund electric and low-emissions school buses across the country.

Big changes come with big challenges

Despite the significant investment in sustainable infrastructure projects, challenges remain. The Center for Climate Integrity found that more than 14,000 public K-12 schools across the US, which were not designed for school days with over 80 degrees, will need to install HVAC systems. These retrofits will cost more than $40 billion by 2025. Additional schools will need to upgrade their cooling systems due to intense heat waves. Last summer, many schools were closed because of extreme heat and a lack of air conditioning. In this Washington Post op-ed, Joseph Allen underlined the urgency of fixing the crumbling school infrastructure after decades of neglect.

Focus on Green and Healthy Schools

At the White House summit, Katherine H. Walsh, Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Program Director for Boston Public Schools (BPS), emphasized: “We can’t sacrifice indoor air quality in the pursuit of energy efficiency.” Healthy and green building principles must complement each other to enhance both human health and environmental sustainability. The following Harvard Business Review article provides more information on green and healthy buildings.

Alongside the Summit, the Biden-Harris Administration released the 2024 White House Toolkit for Sustainable and Healthy K-12 Schools.

Explore the Healthy Buildings program’s resources for schools, spanning from ventilation guides to do-it-yourself air cleaners.