Sustainability is a key factor in not just the business economy, but also education.
The cornerstone of the current UK government’s Environment and Climate Change Bills is the obligation of companies and state bodies to commit to a carbon neutral future.
Education is at the heart of our society, and it is worthwhile exploring just how schools can embrace this positive change.
The upcoming generation are drivers of change, Greta Thunberg representing a shining example of how youth participation is crucial to the future of our planet and a vital beacon of sustainability.
Sustainable schools are a synergy of environmentally driven education and community engagement. They also foster an environment where teachers and school departments can cultivate an optimistic and progressive school culture.
Thus, teachers have more opportunities to devise unique green learning opportunities and students benefit through increased participation and productivity.
The journey to that goal of sustainability begins with educating students in a nurturing and sustainable environment and one that is engaging and enjoyable.
The list of tips below is by no means exhaustive but should provide you with some inspiration and reassurance. It need not be a hard road towards the goal of school sustainability and there is fun to be had along the way!
How to make your school more sustainable and eco-friendlier?
1. Active environmental learning
Get your pupils involved in active learning about the environment. Fill your classroom library with books that celebrate and share amazing facts about the Earth and environmental movement leaders like Greta Thunberg, Rachel Carson, and David Attenborough.
Don’t wait for Earth Day; read child-friendly articles about plastic pollution and climate change throughout the year.
Students feel most powerful and engaged when they can connect their own lives to what’s going on in the world. Students can calculate an average family’s carbon footprint or study the “life cycle” of plastic (i.e., how it is made from oil, processed with chemicals, transported long distances, and often used only for minutes before being discarded).
Look at school lunch menus and rank them from least environmentally friendly (meat-based) to most environmentally friendly (vegetable-centred). Build students’ activism for effective change by letting them choose an environmental issue they feel strongly about, conduct their own research, and figure out which politicians or corporations to contact about the issue.
2. Recycling as a craft exercise
Rubbish exists. It is all around us. Before discarding those broken headphones or plastic bottle caps, give Pinterest or Google a quick search for creative ideas to repurpose them. Or just place these items in a craft bin, and let your pupils get creative. Stock these types of items in a dedicated craft space and let the children create their own works of art/craft while giving a second life to what would otherwise be waste.
Also, have a donation bin in a central location, to encourage the collection of items that can be used in crafting and to stimulate the subject of waste and how best to utilise it in craft sessions. Crafting is a fun and fulfilling exercise with a tangible end product. Recycling can become an enjoyable part of the school curriculum and a valuable, practical form of education that engages and entertains pupils.
3. Classroom composting
Food waste is the biggest occupant of landfills in the UK. When food rots, it emits methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). If we are serious about fighting climate change, then food waste should be a central focus.
If your school is not ready or able to take on all the food waste from your cafeteria, then classrooms can easily keep handy small containers (with tight lids) to catch any scraps from class snacks and teachers’ lunches.
Many options are available for setting up a compost at school: vermicomposting (worm bins), asking a parent volunteer to add to their home compost, or partnering with a local farm that takes food scraps.
4. Re-use paper
Using both sides of your classroom paper is ideal. Keeping a “one-sided copies” bin handy helps make sure you are not recycling paper before it is used up. Anytime you’re left with papers with one blank side (e.g. misprints), put them in your box. Then, the next time you have a one-sided copy to make, just take from that pile and use the blank side for printing.
In addition, designate one-sided copy bins by all copiers so that teachers can take from them as they make copies. Saving paper also cuts unnecessary costs. It will also inspire pupils to conserve paper. Another visible and valuable teaching aid.
5. Using sustainable IT
Brand new IT is costly. Not only in terms of your school’s budget, but to the planet.
To quote just one statistic: in the mining, manufacture and production of a single laptop, 316 kg of CO₂ emissions are generated on average, all contributing to global warming. One way of avoiding such a fiscal and physical cost, without sacrificing quality, is to purchase remanufactured laptops. Circular Computing™ is the leading provider of remanufactured IT and education provision is at the heart of their business.
Jim Turner, the Network Manager at Chichester High School, said “the Circular Computing™ product range felt exactly as new and was exceptional compared to the usual stuff you associate with second hand. This product felt more like brand new, so much so that I recommended it up to the TKAT Multi-Academy Trust.”
On top of the financial savings, there were significant sustainability benefits from their decision to buy Circular Computing™ laptops for education: “Good high quality, high spec and reliable machines that look just like new. The Circular Computing™ machines represented the best value for my budget.”
6. Start a school gardening project
Teaching students about the food they eat takes on a whole new meaning when they grow it themselves.
Gardening can revitalise whole schools and offer students healthy food, and a deeper appreciation for their environment.
Improved health and wellbeing; better attention levels in class, higher academic achievement and strengthening links with the local community are also some of the ways gardening can help your whole school flourish.
There is no need to have massive plots of land either – even the smallest school grounds can accommodate herbs and salad leaves in tubs and planters, for example. Some of the more ambitious schools in the UK have created mini ‘farms’ in their school grounds, complete with chickens and even pigs.
As well as involving the pupils in learning about growing food, this is a great opportunity to engage your catering staff – ask them what crops they’d like to see grown in the school gardens that they can use in school dinners – children are much more likely to eat fresh produce and try different foods if they’ve grown it from scratch.
7. Energy efficiency
Energy efficiency is not as arduous as it sounds.
Turn off school lights and shut down your computers at the end of the day. Keep your classroom doors shut to stop heat escaping and do not block heaters. Check the energy consumption of your appliances and make it a major consideration when buying new ones and always purchase energy efficient light bulbs.
For creating environmentally friendly classrooms, make sure they are well insulated and use sustainable materials for repairs and re-building. These are all incremental steps which ensure overall sustainability in your school.
This will also encourage pupils to employ energy efficient behaviour in their day-to-day living, thus spreading the sustainability message beyond the classroom and into their own homes. It’s a useful follow-on lesson.
8. Advocate zero waste at school events
When it comes to sustainable school grounds, don’t forget the events where not only your pupils attend, but the whole community leaves their larger green footprint.
Firstly, determine how much food you need to serve guests. Whether it’s a PTA meeting, a school disco or a football match, calculate to eliminate any food waste.
Always opt for packaging that is fully recyclable and made from recycled content. Also, look for items with the least amount of packaging, such as condiment dispensers over individual packets. Consider bulk purchases with compostable or easily recyclable wrappers, which will in turn be able to be reused in crafting activities (see tip #2 above).
Adopting a zero-waste policy (or as near as is possible) is also cost effective.
9. Use environmentally friendly cleaning products
Start by cleaning with green products in your classrooms. Read the labels and be aware of any of them that have cautions or warnings. This is a sign that they might have environmentally harmful ingredients. Also encourage other teachers and administration to take a close look at the products they are using in your school, from cleaning the cafeteria tables to the gym floors.
Using products with no artificial products will also reduce possible allergic reactions such as asthma or contact dermatitis, also their packaging will most likely be readily recyclable or recycled. This will aid your journey towards school sustainability and protect your pupils from harmful and often harsh chemicals.
10. Encourage walking to school
Walking is a great form of exercise; it invigorates and can be very therapeutic.
For school pupils, promoting walking to school, when, practical, is another component part of the sustainability voyage. Encourage pupils to walk to school by having a walk to school awards chart where you get to add a sticker for every day you walk to school (or at least part of the route) and each half term give a certificate to all pupils with the most stickers. Or if that feels too much then choose a day of the week where you encourage everyone who can to walk to school and make a point of it in a school assembly. Those designated days can form a vital part of your school’s sustainability profile.
For children who do not want, or who are not ready, to walk to school unaccompanied, there are several alternatives.
The Walking Bus scheme, for example, enables children to walk to school in safe, supervised groups. The Walking Bus concept is a safe, healthy and environmentally friendly approach to walking large groups of children to and from school.
Each walking bus has an adult ‘driver’ at the front and an adult ‘conductor’ at the rear. The children walk to school in a group along a set route picking up additional ‘passengers’ at specific ‘bus stops’ along the way. The bus runs in all weather conditions and everyone wears a reflective jacket.
Each walking bus is different, as they are developed to suit the needs of children and their parents.
Walking, not only beneficial to pupils’ health, helps to reduce traffic emissions and is a win-win for both parent and child. Parents can be inspired to walk with their child and build it into their week’s exercise activity. It dissuades unnecessary car journeys and saves not just the planet but household budgets into the bargain.
Conclusion: sustainability is within your reach
‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ is a useful cliché when approaching the idea of school sustainability. Hopefully, the tips suggested above are eminently achievable as part of a programme that is practical and incremental. Even the smallest of steps can prove to be invaluable, not just for your school’s green credentials, but likewise your school’s budget.
As said at the outset, children are the future and can be great agents of change. Actively encouraging them both educationally and socially to be part of a sustainability framework can give them a life-long love of nature as well as a sense of shared responsibility for the planet and their local community. The school composting and gardening tips alone are the staple for many a school sustainability journey. And the fun element cannot be underrated either, it is constructive and inclusive and incorporates ideas that pupils and teachers can easily relate to.
Think about it and give these tips serious consideration. Remember: sustainability is within your reach.
Written by Sean Urquhart – Lead Copywriter at Circular Computing™