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Whole school sustainability has a range of meanings. As a designer or planner of built educational environments how does one deliver a successful project when creating a sustainable school or learning environment? As the Founder and CEO of Natural Pod this has been my and my team’s aim – to create schools and spaces that embrace whole school sustainability. To explore how to make designing in this way approachable and doable, I reached out to Kate Mraw, Design Director at LPA Design Studios (LPA). LPA, awarded California Firm of the Year 2021 by AIA, is a fully-integrated firm of architects, engineers, interior designers and landscape architects. An area we both whole heartedly agree on is, better outcomes are achieved when all stakeholders work together at the intersection of pedagogy, sustainability and great design. There are many actions you can take to design for whole school sustainability; here are six ideas for getting started on this important journey.

Define your starting place
A successful holistic sustainability design journey starts with the team themselves; sustainability has to be something every member of the team wants to maximize. Together, you can instill an accountability method that considers sustainability at every decision. Keep asking, “How is this supporting a healthy and resilient future?”

Have an integrated team
For a successful outcome, all stakeholders should co-author the goals and priorities together. Co-authorship deters any one party continuing with a predetermined understanding of what sustainability means to everyone else.

Use active listening
Active listening is something you want to carry through the whole project. By connecting with stakeholders early and often, you can assure that you have explored all the opportunities of all the voices that could be at the table. Active listening also includes modeling; if the desired built environment is to be flexible, collaborative and resilient, design a process that is also those things.

Including student voice is essential
Student voice is a must have! Students know what they need from their environment to feel inspired and engaged. Because you can’t design for every individual, listening to student voice will lead you to design for student choice while still staying intentional with the end functionality.

Don’t forget educators
Educators often get left out of the conversations pertaining to the spaces where they work each and every day. Involving them in the co-authorship of the design of their space brings essential ownership and inspiration. Educators are holding space for our students every day; they need to be inspired to be there.

Post occupancy evaluation
Measure what you made! Conduct a post occupancy evaluation to extend lessons learned and connect that knowledge back to other designers, planners and clients who are going through similar projects. A post occupancy evaluation is essential as a contributor to your next conversation.

If you’re looking to begin a whole school sustainability journey, or exploring how to take your planning process to a deeper level, we invite you to continue the conversation with us. Baking sustainability into all that we do is obtainable; the most important part is simply getting started.

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