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Eco-Classroom of the Future Is Here Today

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An eco-conscious education company and a botanical garden have teamed up to create a futuristic sustainable educational classroom for children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The thoroughly forward-thinking "living building" model for modular—or portable—classroom design will feature nontoxic materials, solar energy and water conservation.

A new, sustainable classroom design will feature nontoxic materials, solar energy use and water conservation.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The project is the brainchild of the Sustainable Education Every Day (SEED) Collaborative, an organization that designs sustainable school rooms for children around the world, and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a non-profit steel and glass Victorian greenhouse in inner city Pittsburgh that promotes sustainable landscapes.

"We are very excited about our new SEED classroom and the opportunity to expand our programs for children," Phipps executive director Richard V. Piacentini told EcoWatch. "We are equally excited to demonstrate what a healthy learning environment looks like for kids, one free of toxic chemicals and one that provides lots of natural light and ventilation. Because the classroom was designed to meet the living building challenge, it is also net-zero energy and water."

Some of the innovative eco-friendly features include tubular skylights, solar panels, an energy recovery ventilator, a food-producing green wall, monitors that measure energy and water use, hand-pump sink, composting toilet and a cistern inside the building that holds fresh water.

Modular classrooms are becoming more common since they provide a quick building solution to house the growing population of school children. Some 260,000 modular classrooms are in use in the U.S. alone, according to SEED. Many of them are found to pose potential health risks to children due to poor ventilation and lighting, and high levels of toxins such as formaldehyde, flame retardants phthalates and volatile organic compounds in the building materials.

The new classroom model aims to prevent those health risks by providing a safe and educational environment for children to learn, according to SEED Collaborative executive director Stacy Smedley.

“Phipps has demonstrated leadership by being the first on the East Coast to embrace a SEED Classroom,” she said in a press statement. “We are excited to be a part of Phipps’ continued commitment to educating children and adults on the important role that the built environment should play in restoring planetary and human health. This space will be a hands-on learning laboratory, informing how we think about a Living Building designed classroom as a tool for education and engagement.”

The new SEED classroom also has an educational goal: to teach kids more about science and math. In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education developed its signature Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in response to a call by educators to improve children’s knowledge and test scores in these academic areas. The Phipps Conservatory will host science education programs in the SEED classroom that will teach kids how to operate and maintain the classroom using sustainable energy, water and planting.

Currently, one SEED classroom is in development at the Perkins School in Seattle, Washington, an 80-student independent elementary school for children.

The Rainforest Alliance and Facing the Future offer tips to educators on how to make their current classrooms more sustainable and promote sustainability education.

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