Leading the way

Schools have the potential to play a major role in preparing children and young people to live sustainable lives. They can help pupils learn about waste management, such as recycling, and carbon emissions, teaching how emissions arise, what can be done to reduce them and what could happen as a result if we don’t take action. What better place to start thinking and learning about sustainability than in school itself, with schools leading by example by putting sustainable practices in place.

Currently, schools within the UK emit approximately 9.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is about 2% of the total UK greenhouse gases and, according to the Zero Carbon Task Force (ZCTF), is 15% of total public sector emissions.

With such a high percentage of emissions coming from schools alone, it was highlighted as a considerable concern for the government who developed the 2020 challenge in response.

The 2020 challenge involves all schools across the UK actively finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint by at least 80% by the year of 2020. They are being encouraged to embrace a wide range sustainable principles such as using renewable energy solutions including wind and solar energy.

The thought of reducing our schools’ carbon footprint is a positive one, helping the environment and teaching children to invest in their own future. It does however pose the question ‘how’? How are we going to reduce our carbon footprint by a sizeable 80% when we live in a world where we rely heavily on shortcuts to make our hectic lives easier?

There are in fact a number of ways, large and small, that can be simply integrated into your everyday life at school that can reduce your carbon emissions as well as helping the planet. Carbon emissions, as well as your schools energy bills, can be cut dramatically by installing efficient insulation and energy efficient lighting and heating. Three main ways of reducing your carbon foot print can also be found in the form of your schools water usage, transport and your schools waste.

Your School and Water

Britain’s schools collectively spend around £106m on water on an annual basis, with a large secondary school alone spending as much as £20,000 in one year. With water being an essential factor in the smooth running of a school, it is hard to see how your use of water can be reduced. With an effective education programme together with careful water management, water usage could actually be cut down by two-thirds, saving a school of 600 pupils around £5,000 every year.

Water consumption can also be reduced by assessing how much your school uses every day and then identifying leaks and drips, looking at the size of your meter, reducing the amount of water used in toilets and adapting the flow rate on taps.

Your School and Transport

More and more children are now driven to and from school for reasons such as fear of traffic, stranger danger or simply due to an increase in general car use and ownership. This is resulting in a number of negative consequences on children’s health and well-being and, of course, our planet.

Walking and cycling are not only excellent forms of physical exercise but studies have shown that active children arrive at school more alert and focused and achieve better academic results.

It is no secret that by reducing motor transport vast amounts of pollution will in turn, be significantly reduced. However, it has been illustrated by YoungTransNet surveys that many young people would like to travel to school in a more sustainable way, with 30% saying they would like to cycle. Surveys also show that although over half of all primary pupils live within a mile of their school, only 1% travel by bike compared to one third being driven by car.

Safe Routes to Schools (SRS) projects encourage and enable children to walk and cycle to school not only providing the community with a reduction in traffic congestion and the consequent pollution but also provides children with awareness in road safety as well as an overall improvement in local road safety.

Your School and Waste

45 kg is the average amount of waste generated per pupil in primary schools per academic year, most of which is made up of food, paper and packaging waste such as sweet wrappers. It may also contain some glass, metals and plastics, all of which will normally be thrown away in the dustbin. With effective recycling systems in place however, nearly 60 to 70% of this waste can be recycled and reused and almost 50% of the same waste can be composted.

Minimising waste has a number of environmental benefits for the planet but also presents financial benefits to schools who, by reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill, can save money on disposal costs with the more innovative schools making money by selling materials for recycling.

There are many simple ways that you and your students can bring to the classroom to help your school become greener, all of which help the environment and get you closer to the 2020 challenge goal. Not only do they reduce your carbon emissions, they can also save your school thousands of pounds if carried out correctly. Becoming a green school is not only a novelty; it is now also a necessity. With integrating sustainability into educational resources, children can carry the knowledge with them as they go on to grow up and leave school and live more sustainable lives.

Your School and Energy

With the UK government committed to reducing its carbon emissions through the adoption of renewable energy sources, the new coalition government has confirmed its continued commitment to green subsidies as an incentive for energy producers to move away from conventional fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Schools have been encouraged to take advantage of the variety of renewable energy schemes such as Feed-in-Tariffs (FiTs) and Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), where money can be earned if energy is generated from green energy solutions.

The Feed-in-Tariff has already been in place in some countries such as Germany, the US, Spain and Australia for some time now and has been instrumental in the success and growth of renewable operation there. The installation of certain green energy solutions are currently heavily subsidised making this an excellent time to invest in the technology. On top of this, these installations commonly pay for themselves within 10 years and then provide a regular income as energy companies pay for excess energy fed back into the grid.

The Government are only supporting FiTs at their current level for the next two years and have reserved the right to review the scheme if a surge of consumers install green energy systems between now and 2012. Schools have been advised not to delay plans to install renewable energy solutions to ensure they take advantage of these valuable subsidies at their current level.

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