Minimise your school's environmental footprint

Simply bringing about behaviour change within a school can cut its energy usage by ten per cent quickly and easily, writes Lee Wray-Davies, Eco Schools' education manager

Children and young people have been at the forefront of the environmental movement in recent months. Inspired by the actions of Greta Thunberg, they joined the School Strike for the Climate in their hundreds of thousands, taking action in more than 125 countries around the world.

But children and young people taking action on the environment is nothing new. Through the Eco-Schools programme, a global programme run by the Foundation for Environmental Education, school pupils have been working to improve the environment for more than two decades now.

The programme offers young people the chance to make a measurable difference to their environment, to learn through action and start to understand just how we can all impact on our environment for better or worse through the choices we make and the way we behave.

The UK was one of the first countries to introduce the Eco-Schools programme. The programme is run in England by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and was launched here 25 years ago. Since then, in England alone, more than 19,700 schools have registered with the programme and more than 1,000 are flying the Eco-Schools Green Flag, the international mark of a sustainable school.

But the Eco-Schools programme is about more than educating children. The actions taken by even the youngest pupils can, ultimately, help a school reduce its carbon footprint, reduce waste and save money.

Saving on energy bills

According to the Carbon Trust, schools could reduce their energy bills by up to £44 million in UK, preventing 625,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

UK schools currently account for over half of local authorities' carbon emissions and they therefore play a pivotal role in cutting public sector's costs and slashing carbon emissions. At a time when budgets are being squeezed and Parliament has declared a ‘climate emergency’ the need for action, to save money and reduce CO2 emissions, has never been more critical.

It is time for everyone, including every school, to look at how it operates and how it can cut it’s carbon footprint and this is where the Eco-Schools programme can help.

Eco-Schools provides a simple seven-step framework within which a school can review its environmental performance and, at the same time as supporting the environmental education of its pupils, take action to make a difference.

How? Simply bringing about behaviour change within a school can cut its energy usage by ten per cent quickly and easily. In fact, on average Eco-Schools save around £3,350 on their energy bills.

This is not by doing anything complicated or by investing in new technology. It is by getting the school’s staff and pupils to do simple things like switching off the lights and not leaving computers on stand-by. These small changes, and the journey a school goes on through the Eco-Schools programme, can lead to bigger and more significant changes but it always starts with the simple things.

Pupil-lead programme

And, as the programme is pupil-led, it is the children and young people who blaze the trail, decide on the changes that need to be made and develop the action plan, as well as monitoring the staff and their fellow pupils to make sure that behaviour is changing.

It isn’t rocket science but it can and does make a difference to a school’s environmental footprint.

And it doesn’t stop with energy efficiency. An Eco-School can cover any of the ten available topics, including water, waste, litter and transport, on their journey to the coveted Green Flag and each topic is good for the children, the school and the planet.

It is not difficult to see how becoming an Eco-School and embarking on the journey to Green Flag can quickly make a difference. Waste always comes at a cost, whether that is paper that is not being recycled and ends up in the costly residual waste or excessive water use that increase the water bills or even unnecessary food waste at lunchtime.

The issue of waste

In fact, research carried out by WRAP some years ago showed that 78 per cent of day-to-day waste - mainly food, paper and card - produced by schools in England could be easily recycled or composted.

Waste produced during the school day by England’s 20,871 primary and secondary schools is estimated at more than 250,000 tonnes each year, which is enough to fill Wembley Stadium.

Of this waste, an estimated 200,000 tonnes could be readily recycled or composted. This could potentially save an estimated 176,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions.

The study - which analysed a week’s-worth of waste from 24 schools in four different local authorities - found that, on average, primary schools generated 45kg of waste per pupil and secondary schools 22kg per pupil over the 40-week academic year.

More than 70 per cent of waste from schools comes from just two categories – food waste, and paper and card. For both these types of waste, Eco-Schools can help reduce them.

To find out more about Eco-Schools, visit