Moving to net-zero as a school
Kit Connell looks at how schools are coming to understand their carbon footprint and how they can reduce it in a revolutionary, but realistic move to ‘net-zero.’
The key role of education
If the climate crisis is the crisis of our time, the education sector has a critical role to play in planning and mapping a way forward to meet the challenges it poses. The climatologists, ecologists, mathematicians, IT specialists, climate engineers, economists and climate champions needed to take on the climate challenge of the next 15 years (which are critical for the history of our globe) are all at school or university now. Those who become the experts will need the active and insightful support of the rest of the world’s population, some of whom, will be ‘climate champions’. The sector also has a unique opportunity to lead by example in reducing its own carbon footprint.
Nothing less than a revolution in the education sector is needed.
The sustainability revolution
Like the digital revolution before it, the sustainability revolution is also rapidly altering the business landscape, which of course profoundly affects schools. And it’s not just our planet that will reap the benefits. Reducing carbon release means reducing energy and consumption, finding efficiencies that save money and improving the bottom line. It can also mean attracting and retaining the right talent in teaching positions, particularly as a younger generation of teachers look for purpose-driven roles. A school with credible sustainability credentials attracts sustainability-conscious parents and students.
Be empowering and inspiring
There are two starting points for a school to make the sustainability revolution a reality for its community:
- By embedding it into the curriculum.
- By applying sustainable principles in day-to-day operations.
Effective action begins with the understanding of our personal impacts on the planet and society. There is also an important pedagogical principle to consider – the approach we use in schools should be to empower and inspire students rather than overwhelm or frighten them.
The revolution is already here
Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar (KTJ), an international school based in Malaysia, is one example of a school that has put sustainability at the forefront of its agenda. Championing sustainability was set as one of their strategic goals, with a specific target of reaching carbon neutral by 2025.
Calculating the school’s carbon footprint
Their first step was to measure the school’s carbon footprint, while engaging their staff and students in understanding the importance of sustainability. Measuring any institutional carbon footprint is a complex undertaking and KTJ engaged with the Planet Mark team to assist them. Perhaps not surprisingly, they found that their electrical consumption was by far the largest contributor to their footprint.
Something had to be done!
The school’s vision for 2030
In response, KTJ developed Vision 2030, an ambitious 10-year plan with five strategic goals, one of which is ‘Championing Sustainability’. Their aims are:
- To become carbon neutral by 2025.
- Embed ‘sustainability’ as a learning theme within the curriculum and extra-curriculum
- Contribute to sustainability projects within their local community.
- Develop and implement an ethical sourcing strategy.
- Create a shift across their whole community towards recycling and maximising the use of their resources.
- To be known as a responsible employer and institution within their local community.
One of the most important campus upgrades has been the installation of nearly 3,000 solar panels which in 2020 generated 1.2 million kilowatts-hours of electricity – enough renewable energy to power nearly 8,700 Malaysian households for a month. The school also recently conducted an audit of more than 100 air conditioning units in its academic wing and will use this information to identify opportunities for upgrading to a more efficient, inverter-type unit.
Another impactful initiative has been the development of the school’s vegetable garden and the food tech department’s herb garden from which fresh produce is being used in the dining hall.
Finally, KTJ understands the importance of bringing their wider community with them on their sustainability journey. To do so Principal Dr. Glen Moodie uses his weekly newsletter to publish sustainability updates, while details of their carbon footprint and resulting action plan have been shared at weekly assemblies.
Each boarding house has a ‘Sustainability and Outreach student representative’ who promotes sustainable actions and there is an ‘Environmental Sustainability Club’ that raises awareness across the school.
Click on the image to read this first issue.
Learn from our experience
What advice would KTJ pass on to others starting a similar journey?
First – get a breakdown of your carbon footprint. “It is not possible to fix a problem without first knowing what the problem is.” they said. Second – start now! “The best time to start this journey was 20 years ago. The second-best time is right now. You may think you can’t afford to start this journey now, but in reality, you can’t afford not to.”
You find out more about KTJ’s approach from Physics teacher Lance Gerow, who is KTJ’s Sustainability and Outreach Officer.
In addition to getting the carbon footprint of the school analyzed in order to target campus upgrades, here are some further practical steps schools can take to go become more sustainable and reduce emissions:
- Set up a sustainability champions team with proper Terms of Reference. This can help you stay on track with sustainability targets and create a purpose-driven work culture.
- Switching to LED lights is a surprisingly effective way of reducing energy and lowering costs. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the quality of LED lights that are available. Typically, these LED lights will save you around 90% of energy compared to a halogen lamp. The lifespan of these LED lights is also generally 50,000 hours in comparison to that of a halogen lamp which is around 1,000-2,000 hours
- According to waste management experts WRAP, food waste in secondary schools accounts for almost a third of secondary school waste, by weight.
- Improve understanding of this problem and the role students play in this. Can the waste be repurposed? One very practical approach is to start using Bokashi bins to compost solid food waste while producing liquid plant feed from the liquids they contain. This in turn could mean using fewer – if any – chemical fertilisers of the school field!
- Offer a choice of nutritious meat-free alternatives on school menus as vegetarian or vegan options can mean fewer carbon emissions.
- Develop a school recycling policy to tackle waste. This shows your commitment through defining a vision, values and objectives. This can then provide guidance around initiatives such as package-free lunches, promoting the use of reusable bottles for drinks and encouraging double-sided printing where possible
- Maximise the use of green spaces. Not only does this increase biodiversity but studies have shown that green spaces improve the mental development of young children.
Kit Connell is Sustainability Growth Manager at Planet Mark which helps businesses, organisations and schools calculate their carbon footprint on their journey to net-zero carbon usage.
To find out more about how your school can measure its carbon footprint, get in touch with Kit and the Planet Mark team at: www.planetmark.com.
All images with kind permission from Planet Mark and Kolej Tuanku Ja’afar