Where to begin with sustainability in primary and secondary education

When a primary or secondary school — whether it’s a sixth form or a higher education college — embarks on creating a sustainability strategy, there are several crucial factors to consider. Involving stakeholders from the beginning of the process is key, as is understanding the vital components which will make the strategy a success.

Many schools understand the basics of what needs to change, and may even have implemented the first steps in doing so. Nevertheless, it is extremely useful to develop a strategic plan which will help prioritise issues and make sure that goals can be reached.

1. Activate the school community

You may have already made efforts through an Eco Club or a Green Week to raise the consciousness of staff and pupils. We challenge you to go further. A more integrated approach will ensure that all staff, governors, pupils, parents, and even the wider community are involved throughout the school year.

For example, you can encourage your pupils and establish their commitment through house-led competitions, using the point system to entice students to participate and make sustainability part of their daily lives.

2. Find your key issues

We recommend an audit of your current social and environmental practices, along with input from all stakeholders. This is the materiality assessment, during which we will find the most relevant and important issues for your school, take stock of which procedures are in place, and identify any gaps.

Baseline measurements may cover some of the issues you would expect such as emissions, water usage and waste. Assessing your past and existing utility bills, expense reports and mileage all contribute to an overall picture. We will investigate further social and environmental issues according to stakeholder input.

3. Think broadly

It’s a good idea to investigate what’s going on in your region. Look into community initiatives and get your school involved if possible. It may be that you can join forces with local organisations to bring change or champion certain projects like the Surfers Against Sewage campaign, Plastic-Free Schools.

Where does your school hold its bank account and any other funds? Many of the large, historic banks such as RBS, HSBC, NatWest, and Barclays sink very low in the viewpoint of Ethical Consumer due to their investments in fossil fuels and other questionable practices. On the other hand, Dutch bank Triodos really shines.

4. Commit to change

With your stakeholder involvement in place, you are ready to commit to change. Think about the values of the school and how you could incorporate sustainability with the school’s values and Strategic Plan. Establish clear guidelines, so everyone knows their individual and collective role, and develop achievable goals. These can be both internal and external, including the house competitions mentioned as well as nationally recognised accreditations.

Bringing the sustainability strategy and goals in line with the broader Strategic Plan will help with the engagement of governors and the wider school community.

5. Communicate your sustainability strategy

It’s important to communicate your strategy in its embryonic stages, as well as at implementation and beyond. Thoughtful consideration to positioning, leadership, website content and so forth through all your communications is key. Gathering your achievements and credentials and showcasing these to your audience will form part of the overall strategy.

To assess the strategy’s effectiveness, we recommend an annual review, which can be presented as a sustainability report.

The most important step is to take action, today. Get in touch by phone (020 8187 7040) or email and we can help you develop and implement your sustainability plan.

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