All organisations want to cut down on waste and be aware of their carbon footprint. Schools are no different. But becoming more energy efficient can seem complicated – especially when there are so many other demands on school budgets and headteachers’ time. Simply knowing where to start is the first step. Here are some tips to help you kick off a school-wide drive to become more energy efficient.
Start with students
For any initiative to have a lasting impact, students need to understand and engage with it. Many schools have introduced “green monitors” or “green prefects” – they work on the ground to identify areas where waste can be reduced, and raise awareness of local and global environmental issues.
When students are properly briefed and feel that their work is genuinely useful, the results can be extraordinary. In one school I visited, the headteacher asked a group of Year 9s to find a solution to the amount of food that was being thrown away each day. After a week of research – observing the dining hall and talking to staff and other students – they made two key recommendations.
The first was to give portion control to serving staff, stopping students from serving themselves. The portions became smaller, service was faster, and waste and costs were cut dramatically. Secondly, they recommended that desserts be moved away from the main counter: the result was that far fewer students added another course to their meals, which cut down on waste and was healthier too. And because these ideas came from the young people themselves, there were fewer complaints.
Bring sustainability to all subjects
If a school is serious about becoming greener, its teachers will need to understand how this can contribute to their main business: getting students to learn. Heads of department can include energy efficiency ideas in schemes of work – this is relatively easy in Stem subjects, but there are plenty of opportunities in arts and humanities too. Students can explore the issues that have shaped environmental concerns over the centuries through the works and deeds of writers and political figures, for example.
Teachers should also ask students the tough questions about the world they will inherit: should wind turbines be allowed in areas of outstanding natural beauty? Should we build more nuclear reactors? What is the future of diesel cars? How is global warming changing the world? Engaging with these debates in the classroom can be a highly effective way of promoting thought about the issues – and understanding of how they are interwoven through different subject areas demonstrates their interconnectedness.
Remember collaboration is key
Solving complex problems like energy efficiency depends on cooperation. One school being smart about energy is great but it won’t have a huge impact alone. Creating networks of schools can be a powerful force for change – once you have settled on an approach, reach out to like-minded leaders to share ideas and challenges.
Established networks, such as the Green Schools Project, are worth exploring, as are initiatives such as Eco-Schools, which have clearly established steps and targets to incentivise students of all ages. EDF Energy’s schools programme the Pod has resources to help your students to learn about energy and to run an eco-club. They have two very successful environmental campaigns Switch Off Fortnight and Waste Week that are a great way of putting sustainability at the heart of the school and getting everyone involved and working together to make a real differenceAnd there is plenty of advice out there. Over the past 10 years, for example, some 3,000 schools have worked with the Carbon Trust to find energy savings.
Harness the power of technology
Technology can be a major drain on resources and leaders need to be bold in this area, asking themselves what the outcomes will be before investing in new devices. Cloud-based storage is more energy efficient than using large servers, for example, and cheap laptops like Chromebooks generate far less heat and noise than more expensive PCs. Making full use of video conferencing tools like Skype can also cut down on travel.
Mobile phones are, understandably, treated with suspicion in some schools, but they can be useful tools for raising awareness of environmental issues. For example, OLIO encourages people to share food at a local level, while apps such as Earth Now, Oroeco, and Flow allow students to access complex environmental data in simple ways.
Just as consumers are advised to look for cheaper energy providers, the same is true for schools. You may even be able to negotiate a more favourable tariff if you are part of an academy chain or another alliance. There are plenty of savings to be made in other areas as well, including LED lighting, better insulation and solar panels on new roofs. As ever, the key is to think creatively, and act collaboratively.
Schools play an integral part in how society develops. The lessons learned there about sustainability will directly influence our future relationship with the environment. This responsibility should be taken very seriously, with schools acting as role models for students, parents, and the local community. Ultimately, leadership is key to ensuring that such an approach is effective. By empowering every member of the school community to think and act responsibly, leaders will ensure that green initiatives have a real and lasting impact.
David James, Deputy Head Academic, Bryanston School
Visit www.jointhepod.org for lots of helpful energy and sustainability themed resources and campaigns.