5 ways schools can be more sustainable 

Get tips on making your school more sustainable. Recent research by the Independent Schools Council and Planet Mark identifies ways to lower energy use, engage students in environmentally-friendly projects and encourage eco-friendly habits to both save money and protect the environment.

Planet Mark
Cheadle Hulme
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With the growing concerns surrounding global climate change, it’s essential for educators and school leaders to explore sustainable options. Transforming a school into a more eco-friendly and efficient place not only helps cut down on emissions and energy use but also provides students with the tools to be part of the solution. 

Recent research commissioned by the Independent Schools Council and conducted by Planet Mark, titled “Supporting Independent Schools on the Road to Net Zero and Sustainability,” has shed light on key areas where support, innovation, and action are needed to help build on key progressions that have already been made in Independent Schools across the country.  

From measuring your impact to conserving energy and engaging students, here are 5 ways to make your school more sustainable.  

1. Measure and map out areas of impact  

If your school lacks authentic, accurate and transparent data on sustainability, it’s difficult to get the ball rolling on climate action. Measuring and mapping out the biggest areas of impact is a brilliant place to start. We found that a slim majority of schools (55%) are undertaking some form of environmental impact assessment for their school operations, but only 23% have begun measuring a baseline carbon footprint.  

We suggest starting in small, tangible areas and developing a comprehensive understanding of impact. This could include energy and heating consumption, as well as the sustainability of various transport methods and vehicles. In regard to the school’s suppliers, try to engage with them as much as possible, as they may have data that could benefit your wider understanding of the school’s climate impact. For example, there are a variety of schools that have managed to obtain indispensable insights from energy, cleaning, waste, catering and uniform providers. Thanks to this data, many schools have been able to construct a purposeful action plan.  

Improving and increasing a school’s data collection can have a truly transformative impact on climate policy. Ultimately, accurate and wide-ranging data is the key to unlocking progress.  

2. Drive engagement from across the school 

It’s not just staff and leadership who need to be engaged: students have their part to play in developing sustainable practices. In fact, 51% of students surveyed said they wanted to take an active role in sustainability projects at their school. 

Don’t take our word for it. Here are a few quotes from students engaged with climate projects, that can be found in the research paper: 

“We worked on a new system to tackle different waste streams that involved removing our classroom bins and placing them in the halls, where they were more visible, and people were more purposeful about how they disposed of things.” – Year 12 student, Newcastle High School for Girls 

“Having youth clubs that focus on sustainability, to help see the practical side and how people are working on solutions is a very good way to learn and become more aware of what we can do.” – Year 8 student, Birkenhead School 

Engage both staff *and* students on the school’s sustainability journey to create a sense of togetherness both in and out of the classroom. The most important part? Make it fun! 

3. Develop a clear plan with key objectives and milestones  

Without a plan, it’s tough to see where you’re heading. A clear, direct and comprehensible plan that engages both staff and students can be invaluable. Objectives and milestones should be both realistic and ambitious, with an honest and transparent understanding of the position the school is starting from. Engaging staff, as we have mentioned in other parts of this list, will also play a huge role in developing and executing this plan. 

We recommend communicating that plan (and the progress that has been made) to your staff and students regularly to build awareness.  

4. Educate staff and students on progress and failings

The greatest barrier to enhancing independent school’s sustainability? Education and engagement. A staggering 86% of schools we surveyed have not provided sustainability or net zero training to their leadership, teaching and/or operations teams. Without education on environmental matters, sustainability progress falls at the first hurdle.  

Developing stronger mechanisms to share essential resources on sustainability, all of which should be easily accessed by staff, is vital. This doesn’t stop with independent schools either – trade bodies, state schools and other policymakers play an important role in developing this process. Here are a few actions schools and the wider industry should take to level up their sustainability status: 

  • Make use of behavioural prompts, while cultivating areas where staff and students can witness the positive impacts of climate action. 
  • Encourage staff by conveying accurate, authentic data on carbon, water, waste and more, to increase motivation to tackle climate-related issues. 
  • Develop a real, meaningful central source of sustainability resources that can be trusted by schools across the country.  
  • Showcase the benefits of reducing plastic consumption around campus. Schools could even incorporate this into house competitions to promote healthy competition. 

5. Don’t let perfection stop progress  

The expectation to get sustainability projects perfect from the get-go can be debilitating. This often results in institutions not addressing key failings that, with key understandings, could help to improve future sustainability progress.  

It’s vital to understand that no institution is perfect. Whatever step of the journey your school is on you must be transparent about the challenges, as well as the ones that are facing you further up the road. 

Transparency, honesty and authenticity are vital aspects of any seriously impactful environmental policy. School, government or business, it doesn’t matter: if we can’t look back at our successes and failures with frankness, the wider sustainability project is doomed to fail. Every mistake is an opportunity for growth and schools must do their best to cultivate this transparency among their staff and students.  

Planet Mark is a sustainability certification that helps organisations, such as schools, get a true understanding of where they are and where they should be going concerning climate policy. We’re all about authentic, meaningful, transformative action. Wishy-washy passivity just isn’t our thing.  

Dive deeper into the insights and solutions presented in the whitepaper ‘Supporting Independent Schools on the Road to Net Zero and Sustainability.’ Download now and make a real impact on your school’s path to sustainability.

Explore sustainable solutions with a free sustainability consultation  

Ready to reduce your carbon footprint? Simply schedule a free 30-minute carbon consultation with our team today! We’re here to help you discover practical strategies and solutions that can move your sustainability efforts ahead. 

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