Going green is more than ‘nice to have’— it offers schools real, tangible benefits. Henry Greenwood, founder of Green Schools Project, offers insights into how going green saved his school, Kingsmead School in Enfield, £37,000 over three years, and why other schools should make the same transition
Having been a maths teacher for six years, and concerned that I wasn’t doing enough to help tackle the issue of climate change and environmental protection, I was considering leaving the classroom to do something different. Not finding anything that captured my imagination, I took a look around my school, Kingsmead in Enfield, and saw that there was no need to leave a job that I enjoyed in order to do my bit. I saw windows open in winter to cool down overheated classrooms, lights left on throughout the buildings, recycling boxes rarely emptied and litter a big problem around the school.
It was with this backdrop, so familiar around the country, that I decided to assemble a group of enthusiastic students who embarked on an energy saving campaign that saved the school £37,000 over three years, started a recycling competition in which 93% of forms took part, installed solar panels, created a vegetable garden and carried out various other projects for which they were awarded the Eco-Schools Green Flag.
There are huge benefits to schools becoming more sustainable.
At a time of budget cuts, energy is one of the biggest outlays after staffing costs, but how many schools effectively manage their energy usage? Thousands of pounds can be saved through setting thermostats to appropriate levels, making sure that windows and external doors are closed and only having the heating on when required. Students can also get involved in switch off campaigns which will help to save money on electricity.
It is inevitable that the current generation of students will grow up into a world where climate change is a defining issue. Our students deserve to know about, and understand, this and it provides an opportunity to make learning relevant to them. How about a maths project on environmentally friendly travel to school, where students practise their data handling skills while helping to reduce local air pollution? Or an English debate about Donald Trump’s climate policies? The possibilities are not limited to science and geography, it can be included in every curriculum area.
There are important skills to be gained here— and youth social action has been proven to improve the life chances of those who take part. Students can form an Eco-Team to lead environmental projects; this sees them deliver assemblies and organise campaigns, developing important communication, leadership and teamwork skills. Students who are hard to engage in the classroom often benefit from working outside, so helping with a vegetable garden can give them an opportunity to contribute to the school community and help them to improve their self-esteem, mental health and wellbeing.
Schools are currently under huge pressure to improve standards with diminishing resources. Going green can be a daunting prospect on top of an already busy job, but there’s help available. I set up Green Schools Project three years ago to help schools to achieve a similar outcome to that which we achieved at Kingsmead. Eco-Schools has a popular award scheme and the Less CO2 programme provides workshops to clusters of schools to help them reduce their energy usage.
Ultimately, going green provides an opportunity to save money, improve student engagement in the curriculum and helps them to build skills — all while raising awareness of, and contributing to, tackling climate change.