North Carolina’s Green Schools Deserve a Failing Grade

Published March 28, 2016

A new report by the John Locke Foundation (JLF) reveals efforts to reduce school energy costs by upgrading and refurbishing existing schools and building new schools using materials and designs recommended the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) system have largely failed to reduce energy costs or energy use.

According to the JLF report, in no school district where schools were designed to be “green,” or energy efficient, were green schools the best-performing in energy use, when compared to similar schools in the same district.

Phony Environmentalism

“School boards are promised green schools will save energy and the environment, but the record in North Carolina is these buildings cost more to build and use more energy,” said report author Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center. “It is a lose-lose for students and the environment.

“Sadly, green schools are another example of the trend toward phony environmentalism,” Myers said.

Two examples cited by JLF are the Charles T. Koontz and Joe. P. Eblen Intermediate Schools in North Carolina’s Buncombe County School District. Both received USGBC “Silver” LEED certifications and were designed to use 30–35 percent less energy than a typical school in the state. Despite the certifications, utility data show the two schools rank below average for energy efficiency; both schools use more energy per square foot than the district’s other middle schools. They spent 77 cents per square foot for energy through May 2015, while the other eight middle schools in the district averaged 72 cents per square foot. Instead of using 30 percent less energy, the two green schools used seven percent more energy.

Similar results were found in other districts adopting green building designs. Third Creek Elementary, located in North Carolina’s Iredell-Statesville school district, despite being the first LEED “Gold” certified school building in the nation, spends approximately $7,775 more per year on energy than the average elementary school in the district does.

The JLF report authors say North Carolina’s results are not unique. Research from school districts across the United States show green schools often use more energy than their non-green counterparts.

“Sadly, this is not unusual,” said Myers. “From Washington State to Colorado, Nevada, and North Carolina, green schools consistently perform poorly.”

‘Duty to Spend Responsibly’

Commenting on the study, North Carolina state Rep. Mike Hager (R-Rutherford) says school districts should better focus their spending.

“Rather than wasting scarce resources on so-called ‘green’ school projects, we should be funneling money into our more precious commodity, which is the education of our children,” said Hager.

“As state governments continue to operate under tightened budgets, policymakers have a duty to allocate financial resources responsibly,” said John Eick, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force. “Rather than spending frivolously on pet projects that fail to deliver cost savings, school districts should get back to basics by allocating money to only legitimate educational expenses.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.


Todd Myers, “Certified ‘Green’ Schools: Savings & Benefits Fail to Materialize in North Carolina,” John Locke Foundation, February 23, 2016: