Monica Gupta and Victoria Shen are the future of the environmental movement. The high school seniors have proposed the first step in a long-term plan to make Ann Arbor’s Huron High School more environmentally friendly. If the Ann Arbor school board approves the plan, the students would begin working as part of the U.S. Green Building Council’s “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” program. The USGBC, a coalition composed of leaders from across the building industry whose goal is to promote environmentally-friendly buildings, chose the high school to be one of 65 buildings across the country included in their efforts to raise awareness of green buildings.

Gupta and Shen have proposed rudimentary measures to increase water efficiency. After they graduate next spring, their work would be continued by younger students who would in turn mentor other underclassmen to maintain the project until it is complete.

Gupta and Shen’s efforts are part of a burgeoning nationwide movement focused on reevaluating the environmental standards of the buildings we live and work in. Improvements can range from large-scale projects like breaking up asphalt parking lots that attract heat and prevent water runoff to simple adjustments like resetting boiler schedules to achieve better energy efficiency. Many of the organizations that encourage green buildings reward builders with points for each environmentally-friendly feature in a building.

Environmental upgrading is still a fledgling technique and is often limited to new construction because the benefits of converting our current structures are often overlooked or perceived as too expensive to support. But, as Gupta and Shen’s efforts illustrate, simple approaches like reducing water usage, adjusting a boiler schedule or instituting recycling programs can save taxpayers thousands of dollars while improving a building’s sustainability and costing little. Often, the money saved in the future is far more than the original cost of the transformations.

Gupta and Shen’s efforts are laudable and their plans should be approved by the school board. The cash-strapped district would benefit from the reduced energy costs; the environmental benefits would, of course, benefit everyone.

The public has shown that it will embrace conservation movements. Recycling, for example, began as a grassroots and somewhat-fringe initiative in the 1970s and has grown into a standard practice for millions. Raising awareness, especially of future leaders, is central to making high environmental building-standards the norm.

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