Two-thirds of school districts responding to a “School Energy and Environment Survey” from Honeywell and Education Week Research have made spending cuts or modifications as a result of rising energy bills. Seventy-four percent of respondents also said their districts do not have the money to pursue energy-retrofit or renewable-energy projects. These budgetary constraints and cutbacks, primarily in building maintenance and capital investment, are hurting efforts to boost efficiency and resolve schools’ long-term energy and financial concerns.

“The ‘School Energy and Environment Survey’ reveals that increased energy spending is negatively impacting school districts’ investments, programming, and priorities,” said Sean Herdman, associate publisher at Education Week Research. “Spending cuts tied to rising energy costs include areas that impact instruction and the learning environment, including teacher staffing, maintenance, and key capital investments.”

The online survey gathered input from more than 250 district administrators nationwide regarding energy-management and environmental-sustainability practices. More than half of respondents have scaled back, delayed, or eliminated the possibility of energy-efficiency and renewable-energy projects because of the economic downturn. Additionally, while 96 percent of survey respondents view energy management as important to their district’s long-term success, one-third reported that they do not have a strategic plan for managing energy consumption and costs.

Although school districts consider renewable energy sources as a potential solution, many do not have the internal resources or expertise to determine the most suitable investments for their buildings. According to the survey, 61 percent of school districts have evaluated or implemented renewable energy sources, with solar photovoltaic, wind, and geothermal the most popular choices. Yet, 40 percent of these respondents said they do not have a clear understanding of the variables that impact the economic viability of renewable technology.

Additionally, while there is growing interest for schools to incorporate sustainability practices into their building operations and curriculum, there is a clear gap between commitment and activity. While 26 percent of districts have set goals to reduce their carbon footprints, only 7 percent have completed a greenhouse-gas inventory—a necessary step in cataloging emissions and setting a baseline to gauge the impact of environmental initiatives.

When broken down by district type, the gap becomes more evident. For example, 40 percent of urban districts have made carbon reduction commitments, yet only 9 percent have completed an emissions benchmark.