How can our small schools be more sustainable?

Simple steps all schools can take to be more sustainable

Schools account for around 2% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, roughly the same as all the energy and transport emissions of Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol combined. This is equivalent to 15% of the country’s public sector emissions. The benefits to larger schools and the savings that can be made are well known (see this report from The Carbon Trust). However our small schools are something to be celebrated – and looked after – and if managed properly could lead the way in becoming more sustainable.

A first step to becoming more sustainable is to take stock of your carbon footprint – to think of areas your school could improve on. There are a number of ways, some easier than others, that schools could work on when thinking of how to become more sustainable.

Involve all stakeholders in making your school more sustainable 

It sounds obvious – but without the backing of all staff, parents, governors, pupils this won’t work. Headteachers need to be visible and need to be supportive. Those in charge of procurement need to be aware of aims and targets and empowered to make decisions. Reviewing waste, cleaning products used, plastic removal and many other ‘small’ changes will impact on all school staff and this needs to be recognised.

How do your pupils travel to school?

Tricky one for small schools when thinking of sustainability. Small schools are often rural – and our pupils often travel to school via the car, or bus. Therefore options such as cycling to school schemes or walking buses are not always viable. But ensuring those pupils who can travel on the bus do would be a good first start. Also consider getting parents to share their travel details; encouraging them to share lifts when possible.

Where is your energy is sourced from?

Sourcing renewable energy, or even looking to produce your own energy is a tricky business. It can be hard to effect meaningful change that doesn’t cost the earth. Definitely worth a review of what you are paying though; and if you can make savings here they could be used to offset costs in other areas of the your sustainable aims. School Switch is a government website that could help here, so do take a look. 

Examine your electricity usage

Electricity usage in school rose by 31% between 1990 and 2006 – attributed to both an increase in ICT usage and the longer school hours. Simple measures taken in school can support the reduction in electricity usage and do encourage your pupils to get involved in this. Simple easy to get started: 

  • Install smart meters so you know how much electricity you are using (and when)
  • Encourage all staff to turn off appliances and lights when not in use
  • Low energy light bulbs
  • Draught excluders 

Procurement for a more sustainable school 

Small schools can always benefit from grouping together for purchases, whether as part of a MAT or even just in an informal group – and this is no different. Grouping together purchases saves on deliveries, could save you money and could give you bargaining power to ensure that your purchases are more sustainable. Take time as well to plan in advance – making bulk purchases where possible. You should also consider ensuring that someone in school is trained in effective procurement and talks to your suppliers about the aims. The government has plenty of guidance here in their procurement guide. 

Give pupils the tools to make their school more sustainable

Finally – and possibly most importantly – ensure that your pupils are empowered, enthused and directed to work towards these aims. Build elements of what you are doing into your curriculum and allow the pupils some freedom to look at how the school can be more sustainable. Some ideas for sharing messages about climate change can be found here. 

Notes: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/187037/DFE-32056-2012.pdf

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