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How Public Schools Are Going Net Zero

K-12 schools are a major source of building energy use. Two new Washington, D.C., schools aspire to be models for efficiency — and student equity.

An open-space library at John Lewis Elementary School. 

An open-space library at John Lewis Elementary School. 

Photographer: Joseph Romeo Photography

The entrance to Washington, D.C.’s newest elementary school building leads right to an open-space library painted in blue, green and yellow, with a makerspace that hangs above like a treehouse. On the side, a massive touchscreen invites students to tap away at an interactive dashboard with real-time data detailing how the building is performing for a new climate reality.

“Students can see bar charts of how much energy their building is generating and consuming — for the kitchen, for the mechanical systems, and for the lights,” says Juan Guarin, a sustainability expert at the architecture firm Perkins Eastman. “We also try to use it to teach topics like climate change, social and environmental justice, and human health.”