Harness Student Power

At Pierce Energy Planning, we’re all about changing behavior to save energy. One of the key groups we need to empower to change their behavior is students. The EPA estimates that behavioral and operational changes can save schools up to 25% on their energy bills annually. Making sure kids are aware and helping to promote energy conservation messages can help districts see savings on the higher end of that estimate. Students are key because not only are they the largest group on a school’s campus, they also can extend their reach and influence their families, which sends energy awareness and conservation strategies home and into the community. 

Academics have been researching the savings from this for a few years, and recently, I came across an article discussing the possibilities for using this research to influence policy-makers to include environmental literacy requirements in education. The school studied in this research chose to participate in a state-wide “green” competition by implementing an energy conservation project. The school’s 6-month strategy included multiple ways to engage the students: 

  1. Assemblies, where leaders from the school (assistant principal) and the community (the mayor and a local business leader) spoke about the importance of energy and shared their support for the project; 
  2. Classroom lessons, where students were taught about kWh consumption and asked to do in-school assessments about kWh usage in various locations; 
  3. Take-home assignments, where they had to look at and talk about their utility bill with their parents; 
  4. Feedback opportunities, where students were given stickers to put up around school to remind everyone about how to save energy. 

I think it’s key to highlight that the school and students had wide-spread support for the project, which added to their success. The superintendent, principal, assistant principal (who was also the district energy manager), the town’s mayor, and local business leaders all made statements of support, and participated in one way or another in the program. Encouragement like this showed kids the importance of the project, and the value of energy conservation in general. 

One thing we know, and that the study pointed out, is that there are MANY curricular materials available for teachers to use – the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DoE), and the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED) all have resources for kids and teachers to learn and teach about energy. Energy conservation is usually addressed by student clubs, in discretionary lessons, or through voluntary competitions, and often is not a required unit during the school year. There doesn’t seem to be enough professional development and teacher training available so that teachers feel comfortable addressing these topics that may not be within their direct area of expertise. By providing more formal training support, teachers might be more encouraged to incorporate these topics into their lessons more often. Teaching kids about energy and conservation in the classroom can increase the visibility and the success of behavioral change programs on a campus and at the community level, and then in the long-run, help schools save on their energy bills.