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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Sustainable School Buildings: Pollution Prevention Opportunities

A guide for making school buildings more environmentally friendly.

P2 Opportunities


This section identifies stewardship strategies that reduce pollution for both new and established schools.

What is pollution prevention (P2)?

Pollution prevention (P2) is any practice that reduces, eliminates, or prevents pollution at its source. P2, also known as "source reduction," is the ounce-of-prevention approach to waste management. Reducing the amount of pollution produced means less waste to control, treat, or dispose of. Less pollution means fewer hazards posed to public health and the environment.

There are many opportunities for pollution prevention when designing sustainable schools. Pollution prevention opportunities can be found at any stage of the school design process, including HVAC, purchasing, landscaping, operations, and transportation

There are many long-term benefits to pollution prevention practices. These include saving money, as well as improving the health and environment of students, staff, and the community.

 Integrated Pest Management, chemical management (green chemistry and art education), and energy efficiency

Planning for P2 and sustainable design

Community and school members of the planning team should:

  1. Adopt a mission and commitment to sustainability design elements.
  2. Define product life-cycle analysis and product stewardship opportunities.
  3. Brainstorm to identify each area of the existing or future school that might have opportunities for long-term savings and pollution prevention.
  4. Develop a vision of the school in 30 years.
  5. Research economic, social, and environmental concerns.
  6. Assign areas of concern to research, using life-cycle analysis strategies. This will help raise the group's awareness of sustainability. Share the results of the research.
  7. Interview potential design firms, focusing on their knowledge of sustainable design principles.

It is important to identify community resources to help with the project. These include expertise, funding, information, and labor. Depending upon where you live, these can come from a variety of sources that include local, state, and federal government. Large industries discovered the value of sustainable design and may have staff (and also parents of students in your schools) to help guide your process.

Universities, non-governmental organizations, and not-for-profit groups may also be beneficial. Pollution prevention teams within state government or at universities will prove extremely valuable. More resources are available in the "Key Contacts" section of this topic hub.

P2 options

The following table illustrates only a few examples of potential pollution areas and P2 options.

Area of School Stewardship Issue Possible Actions
Construction materials High transportation costs for non-local materials and excessive construction waste
  • Material efficiency can save money as well as reduce the environmental footprint and energy costs.
  • Consider buying local materials and using structural features salvaged before demolition of the existing school. This reduces wasteful transportation costs and eliminates waste created in construction.

Use of non-recyclable materials for food service

  • Eliminate styrofoam food trays.
  • Replace disposable trays and service with reusable products.
  • Investigate installation of high-efficiency dishwashers that use low-flow restrictions and integrate energy-efficient designs.
Locker rooms Molds, viruses, bacteria, airborne allergens
  • Improve air circulation and clean surfaces with soap and water.
  • Install energy efficient electric hand dryers.
Parking lot Pollutant runoff from parking lots to local watershed
  • Encourage riding bicycles or public transportation rather than students driving or parents driving to and from school.
  • Provide bike parking and public transportation discounts.
  • Offer incentives as well as access to lockers and showers for bike riders.
  • Capture pollutants from parking lots using permeable pavers, rain gardens, and bioswales.
Energy use Inefficient HVAC, appliances, lighting, and windows
  • Purchase energy efficient appliances and lighting.
  • Install occupancy sensors.
  • Use daylighting when possible.
  • Retrocommission HVAC in existing buildings.
Chemical management Health and safety of students and staff
  • Clean out and safely dispose of old laboratory chemicals
  • Use greener cleaning supplies and implement green cleaning techniques.
  • Use integrated pest management practices.