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A Green Star

Hawaii's famed Punahou School is known for its curriculum and star alums, including Barack Obama. Now it's getting high marks for helping the environment, too.

Students at Punahou School learn about environmental protection in their lush tropical surroundings.
Chuck Berman / Chicago Tribune-Newscom
Students at Punahou School learn about environmental protection in their lush tropical surroundings.
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Hawaii's famed Punahou School is known for its curriculum and star alums, including Barack Obama. Now it's getting high marks for helping the environment, too.

WEB EXCLUSIVE
By Bruce Shenitz
Special to Newsweek
Updated: 7:50 p.m. ET July 11, 2007

July 11, 2007 - The 166-year-old Punahou School in Honolulu is justly proud that Sen. Barack Obama is a graduate—along with golfer Michelle Wie and AOL cofounder Steve Case. But the institution, one of the nation's largest independent schools, is just as pleased to be ranked one of the top 10 green schools in America.

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Each year The Green Guide, a bimonthly newsletter that the National Geographic Society purchased earlier this year, surveys schools to pick those friendliest to the environment. Using 10 categories including green building and construction, recycling programs, food choices and environmental curriculum, the Guide awards up to 10 points per category, for a maximum of 100 points. Punahou garnered 77.7 points, and much of the credit is likely due to the innovations on display at the Case Middle School, a nine-building complex that opened in 2004.

According to Steve Piper, director of physical plant at Punahou, the administration didn't intentionally set out to build what turned out to Hawaii's first LEED-certified school, much less a gold-certificate earner. (The U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] sets criteria guidelines for buildings and awards standard, silver, gold or platinum certification.) But when the Case Middle School was in the works—Steve Case was the lead donor of the $50 million project, which is named for his parents—the project team realized that they had already designed a silver-certificate building, and were probably within 10 points of achieving gold status.

“What we realized was that we were already walking the talk,” says Piper. In fact, the school has been constructing environmentally friendly buildings for decades (its gym from the 1970s features daylit locker rooms three stories below ground) and has long included an outdoor education component for its students. But the process of making a new middle school served as a focal point for the institution's commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability.

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