They don’t close the refrigerator door. They exit a room and leave the lights blazing and the television blaring. Yes, it’s difficult to see today’s kids turning into tomorrow’s clean energy leaders, but America’s Home Energy Education Challenge aims to do just that: create a new generation of conscientious consumers who are informed, engaged and proactive about energy efficiency.

The initiative, spearheaded by the National Science Teachers Association for the Department of Energy and the US Department of Energy itself, has schools competing for over $200,000 in prize money. The contest is divided into two parts: the Home Energy Challenge and the Energy Fitness Award. The Home Energy Challenge asks 3rd – 8th grade students to reduce home energy consumption over a 3-month period, following which rival schools, clubs, classrooms or teams face off locally, regionally and then nationally to compare their overall year-over-year energy decrease. The Energy Fitness Award is an online quiz that awards school credit and an energy fitness badge to students who learn about energy conservation.

While the program is designed to monitor at-home energy usage, schools can teach by example and support the program’s values by adopting energy conservation measures of their own. Check out these five tips for making your child’s school energy smart:

#1:Utilize daylighting

One easy element of an energy-efficient school is daylighting, or the use of natural energy to illuminate a workspace. Simply encouraging schools to use natural light from windows or skylights instead of relying on electricity can go a long way towards reducing energy costs. Schools with the ability to renovate may consider automatic daylight dimming, which adjusts the use of electric light in proportion to the amount of natural light in a room, or the addition of clerestory windows, high windows that go above eye level to admit more light and air into a room.

#2: Change a light bulb . . . or 10,000

Eventually, all light bulbs need replacing—if your school’s bulbs are going dim, encourage administrators to swap them out for more efficient, cost-effective bulbs. T8 fluorescent or CFL (compact fluorescent lighting) bulbs may seem more expensive at first, but most schools that makes the switch see a return on investment within a few years. Rebates can also help to offset initial costs. Look at state and local programs to see what sort of resources might be available to offset costs in your district.

#3: Turn it down . . .

Most classrooms are only occupied about 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9 months of the year. What about the remaining hours, days and months? When a building is unoccupied, schools can save money and energy by adjusting heating and cooling settings accordingly—and for districts that have a little more green to invest in going green, the government-backed energy efficiency program Energy Star can help them upgrade to programmable, automatically adjusting thermostats. Just opening a window instead of turning on the air conditioning in a classroom is an easy fix. “For every degree you lower your thermostat in winter or raise it in summer, you cut 3% of your energy use [according to the 2008 Consumer Reports Guide],” reminds the “Green Guide for Schools” posted on the Hamilton County, Ohio, government website.

#4:. . . or turn it off

The U.S. Energy Information Association estimates that around 8% of K12 energy consumption comes from computers, while a whopping 31% is from lighting. That means just turning off lights or putting computer monitors into sleep mode can affect nearly 40% of a school’s overall energy usage. Technology that powers off printers and copiers during off times is available via “smart” power strips, and Energy Star’s computer management systems offers software that can power down monitors into sleep mode when they’re not in use. If your district lacks the money to back costly overhauls, posters reminding students and faculty members to turn the lights off if they are the last to leave a classroom or computer lab, for example, are another cheap and easy way to encourage energy awareness on campus.

#5: Become an Energy Star

Energy Star has developed a rating system for energy performance that can easily be applied to K-12 schools. According to their website, Energy Star labeled schools average a full forty cents per square foot less to operate—money that your local school district could be putting toward other things like new books or technology. Applying for an Energy Star label may mean full-scale refurbishment for your school, but if renovations are pending, why not go a little greener? A wealth of information on the Energy Star website can help guide schools through the process of applying for Energy Star status. Some things that successful schools did to earn their labels included installing web-based thermostat controls, cleaning boilers, upgrading windows to high efficiency window overlays, and using Energy Star’s online portfolio manager to track energy consumption.

To learn more about making your school eco-friendly, check out our Green Schools page.