Hiring IAQ Staff Benefits Schools

Report highlights financial costs and benefits of hiring preK-12 sustainability and environmental health staff to improve conditions within schools.   May 30, 2023

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor 

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on institutional and commercial facilities — from product decisions for entryways and restrooms to the layout of workspaces — are still revealing themselves. Among the developments likely to have the biggest impact for maintenance and engineering is related to the heightened awareness of the role of indoor air quality (IAQ) on occupant health. Now, a federal report is providing evidence that preK-12 schools can benefit from greater attention to IAQ. 

A report from the Center for Green Schools highlights the benefits of sustainability and environmental health staff in preK-12 schools. The latest report from the Center for Green Schools, titled Managing Sustainability and Indoor Air Quality in School Districts: A Profile of Staff in the K-12 Sector, provides new insights from a national survey on the financial costs and benefits of hiring preK-12 sustainability and environmental health staff to drive better working and learning conditions within schools. 

Findings highlight how an internal change agent — such as a dedicated sustainability or environmental health professional — is essential for school systems looking to: save and leverage substantial sums of money; update curriculum with relevant, meaningful and integrated learning opportunities; and improve the health and well-being of students, teachers and staff. Among the report’s key findings: 

  • School systems are struggling with tight budgets, but hiring preK-12 sustainability professionals can pay off significantly. On average, sustainability staff achieve annual savings of $1 million, totaling 10 times their salary. 
  • PreK–12 sustainability staff are most commonly working in facilities departments focused on money-saving endeavors, such as energy and water conservation and waste reduction. 
  • Increasingly, preK-12 sustainability staff are reaching beyond the facilities departments where they typically are placed and are working with student activists and curriculum leaders to bring sustainability into teaching and learning.  
  • COVID-19 has elevated the importance of good IAQ for ensuring healthy schools. School district environmental health and facilities staff report that their job responsibilities have permanently changed in response to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, including a greater focus on IAQ. 
  • School IAQ management has shifted significantly to include HVAC strategies. Staff managing IAQ need training on HVAC-related IAQ improvements and to work closely across departments with maintenance staff. 
  • Having dedicated staff to manage the array of health and safety needs has been an important factor for districts in building community trust. Additional resources are needed to support preK-12 staff in communicating about IAQ topics and best practices with students, faculty and the community. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 


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