Why (and how) Obama should go Green


Just a few months ago, all of the schools in Pittsburgh Public were closed due to an alleged problem with the amount of lead in the city water. Before that, all of the water fountains at Obama were replaced because of the same problem. And as of last April, the Southwestern-Pennsylvania area (including Pittsburgh) has the 8th highest amount of year-long pollutants. Walking down Highland Ave., right outside of the school, or down Penn, there is always little of some sort– cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and the like. Clearly, when it comes to going green and helping the environment, our community and Pittsburgh as a whole needs to get its act together. Sure, Pittsburgh has come a long way from the smog-filled, always-night city of the 60s and 70s that everyone has heard of. It is clear, however, that what we have done so far is not enough.

According to the City of Pittsburgh, there are currently thirty-nine green buildings in the city, and more that fifty-nine throughout all of Western Pennsylvania. But what exactly does it mean to be a green building? All so-called green buildings must be certified U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and rates the buildings on how sustainable and environmentally-friendly they are. There are three main categories that they look for– Energy and water efficiency, sustainability and toxicity (or lack thereof) of the materials used, and indoor air quality. Think for a moment about Obama, or even, any Pittsburgh Public school. Do you think that any of those buildings would be able to become LEED certified? It’s very unlikely. All of these buildings would most likely fail on the energy and water efficiency part of this rating, because none of the schools produce their own energy or recycle their water. Obama would also most likely draw a gap when it comes to indoor air quality. If anyone other than myself has noticed, it’s very difficult to get any fresh air within the school building. Since we don’t have many windows at all, there is not very much circulation, which could lead to toxins, chemicals, or unfortunate smells being “stuck” in one area of the building for a long time.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Obama was green, though? If all of the Pittsburgh Public buildings were at least somewhat self-sustainable? If we were able to help the community, the environment, and maybe even make or save money while doing so? If your answer to all of these questions is yes– than I have an answer for you: let’s do it. Let’s go green. Why not? Our school, at least, has a large, very flat roof in complete sunlight that could support either solar panels or a green roof garden. Since the school is made up of two major materials (brick and cement) it could most likely easily support a green roof or enough solar panels to create energy for the entire building.

A green roof would require a minimum of four inches of soil to as much as 24 inches on tarps or in planters on the roof’s surface. It would also require an irrigation system running through all of the garden beds (disclaimer: I don’t know how feasible that would be). From there, aesthetic plants, such as flowers, and usable plants, such as vegetables and small fruit bushes/trees, could be planted. If there were mostly edible plants grown on the school roof, the food grown could be used in school lunches so that students would be able to have fresh food. Also, a green roof can reduce roof temperature by 70-80 degrees, and thus, 7-8 degrees indoors. That would make the building cooler, especially in the warmer months of the year, and make it so that students would be more comfortable in their classes and the school would have to pay less money for air conditioning. Lastly, a green roof would be a viable solution to making the school greener because studies have shown that students who spend time in nature or outside every day tend to be less stressed and perform better on tests, as well as be more cognitively sound. A green roof would help all of those aspects. Students could go up to the green roof after school and study there, and it could be incorporated into health or biology/physical science classes, where students could use it to learn more about plants and how they work, as well as the importance of eating fruits and vegetables to maintain a healthy diet.

But what about solar panels? Solar panels are another extremely viable solution to making the school greener. Solar panels capture the energy of the sun and turn it into energy that can be used in buildings to power lights, appliances, computers, and more. In the majority of cases, the cost of installing solar panels, albeit expensive, eventually evens out with the cost of using regular energy and then becomes a cheaper method. Solar panels can also last up to 25 years, which is a lot longer than some of the materials needed for energy in the school can. Using solar energy is the largest action that can be taken in a community to reduce the effects of global warming, something that Pittsburgh dearly needs. And not only is solar energy more affordable in the long run, Pittsburgh Public could even make money off of it some day. In most solar cases in the city. if you produce more solar energy than needed, you can sell it to electricity companies that will then use it for other, non-solar houses and buildings. Lastly, like green roofs, solar panels could be incorporated into the school curriculum, such as be used to show students in biology classes how sunlight is converted into energy.

Overall, both of these ideas would help create a school building that would not only help the environment, but would help create a sustainable-minded, environmentally-friendly school community, an important asset in a time where the things we take for granted are at stake due to climate change and global warming. Let’s go green!