Cover image: How schools can save energy and tackle climate change

How schools can save energy and tackle climate change

Simon Brammer from the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy shares some tips on how schools can become more sustainable.... and apply for an Ashden School Award. Many of us are worried about rising fuel costs and climate change, but are overwhelmed by the challenges. Just how can schools save energy, keep a lid on their fuel bills and cut carbon? Here are some tips based on our experience of working with schools, many of which have gone on to win Ashden Awards. Members of the Green Gang at South Farnborough Infants School get involved in electricity monitoring.Get measuring. If you don’t measure it you can’t be sure if you have made any difference and if you can’t tell that, you’ll soon lose motivation. You can make a start by finding out who pays your energy bills and see if you can pull them all together to find out how much you spend. Why not involve pupils in helping to work all this out? Devices like smart meters can help here, but they’re not essential – all you need is to read your meters on a regular basis and record the results in a spreadsheet. Make sure senior management are on board. If you’re struggling to win hearts and minds you could bring in a teacher or head from another school that’s already started saving energy to talk about the benefits. The most obvious is the financial savings you’ll make – for example Okehampton College in Devon has saved up to £70,000 on its fuel bills. But there are also often lots of unexpected benefits, like better lessons, warmer classrooms and more engaged teachers and students. Simple measures like switch off signs have helped Hollybush Primary School in Northern Ireland to cut 8 per cent off electricity bills within 2 years.Start simple. Get yourself a plan of action – and remember, you don’t have to do everything at once! It might be tempting to start with obvious renewable ‘bling’ like solar panels, but reducing the energy you use should always be your first step. You could start with installing energy-efficient light bulbs - it’s easy to do and the payback time is fast. Improving insulation can also be quite cheap, and your local council might help with this. Involve your pupils. Getting pupils to identify how energy can be saved is a great start. You can then empower them to turn off lights, turn down radiators and close doors – all of which can make a big difference to reducing your energy use. Giving them permission to recommend further changes, or involving them in deciding how financial savings could be spent has also been successful in lots of schools. Try generating your own energy. Once you’ve made progress in reducing the amount of energy you use, it’s worth seriously considering generating your own renewable energy. This might seem a daunting prospect, but there are lots of sources of advice out there that can help. Communicate, communicate, communicate. To keep people engaged and enthusiastic they need to know what difference they are making. Publish your results in your newsletter and on your website, and talk about them in assembly. You could even put up a display in reception that everyone coming in and out of the school can see – and of course, don’t forget to let the governors know about all the savings you’ve made! Here is some great communication from one of last year's winners: Make it work for the school. The possibilities of including energy projects in lessons are endless. There are obvious opportunities in maths – but why not talk about solar energy in science? Or compare how we use energy at home with how people in developing countries use theirs in your geography lessons? Using imaginative ways to incorporate energy issues into lessons will help teachers and pupils understand what you are doing as well as providing rich material to make lessons even more engaging. The Earth is Beautiful - a pupil made display at South Farnborough Infant School.Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you can, find a school nearby that’s already on the sustainability journey to help you get started – you’ll cut out a lot of hard work that way. There are also lots of online materials that can help too – from schools audit tools, to lesson plans, to guides on how to get teachers and pupils involved. The 2014 Ashden School Awards are now open for entries. Ashden are looking for schools that can demonstrate real achievements in making their buildings and grounds more sustainable, and integrating sustainability into their culture and curriculum. Energy must play a key role. Two winning schools will each receive an award of £5,000 at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London on 22 May 2014. As well as prize money, winners will also receive media coverage and support to help them make even more progress in reducing their energy use and switching to more sustainable energy sources. Winning schools will also be able to get involved in our flagship LESS CO2 programme, designed to share learning about sustainability across UK schools. Apply for an Ashden School Award (deadline: 5 November 2013). Take a look at the following resources and guidance which can help schools on their sustainability journey: Do you have any other sustainability tips for schools? Let us know in the comments below.