Sustainability in education; what schools need to know about working towards net zero

If the Bett 2023 agenda is anything to go by, a huge priority in education is sustainability – both in how schools operate and as an essential topic in classrooms. Advocates such as Dr Sally Uren OBE (Forum for the Future), Professor Dame Alison Peacock (Learning Without Limits originator), climate activists and UNESCO representatives will all attend the show in March.

Schools, colleges and universities are key players in addressing the challenge of climate change, as nurturing grounds for younger generations who will face the increasing consequences of an unsustainable world. It is vital to both educate them on the issues the planet faces, as well as providing an environment for learning that demonstrates a strong effort to tackle them. Campuses are also spaces where young people can be inspired to take action, putting their knowledge to practical, proactive use.

In addition, sustainability on-campus is becoming a huge focus for schools, both to lower carbon footprints and cut energy costs, as well as responding to government initiatives, and public demand for environmentally-focused organisations. The department for education (DfE) writes that “schools perform better when they take responsibility for their own improvement. We want schools to make their own judgements on how sustainable development should be reflected in their ethos, day-to-day operations and through education for sustainable development.”

So how are schools educating on sustainability within the classroom?

  • Students can choose a specific GCSE in natural history, to be introduced in 2025. This will see them gain a deeper knowledge of the natural world around us, including the sustainability issues the planet faces, and require students to spend time on field projects and climate analysis
  • Environmental education will also be woven more into existing subjects, such as Geography and Business Studies, with an increased focus on urbanisation, ecosystem destruction, climates and CSR
  • Schools will focus on recycling clubs/crafts and problem solving exercises focused on environmental issues
  • Although initially introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid learning is becoming a commonplace practice in schools. One chief benefit is that it has the potential to hugely reduce the emissions of students and staff commuting to school through supporting remote learning
  • If students and staff must travel to campus daily, many schools are encouraging cycling or walking

How are schools showing students the way in terms of sustainable campus management?

  • Schools will become cleaner and greener with the government’s school rebuilding programme, with the rollout of low-carbon buildings accelerating quickly. By 2025 at least 5 schools will be operating entirely on a net-zero basis
  • New measures announced at COP26 focus on building awareness of the environment by shaping schools around them. The National Education Nature Park project will increase the biodiversity of nursery, school and college grounds by building bird feeders, bug hotels and educational resources available, inspiring students to take notice of the environment on a micro scale, whilst learning about the macro impacts in lessons
  • Campuses are huge procurers; catering for so many individuals on campus, from canteen food and vending machines to cleaning supplies and sports equipment, means a vast amount of deliveries and waste disposal. Schools are focusing on making more sustainable procurement choices in everything they do, reducing the carbon footprint of operations through smarter purchases with longevity of use in mind and reducing waste. This has a knock-on effect of lowering emissions of delivery and collection
  • Schools and colleges are huge purchasers of IT equipment, from network hardware to laptops, tablets, digital white boards and more. Many schools are now only working with more sustainable IT vendors and partners who offer schemes that avoid technology going to landfill. As key players in next-gen networking for education, we partner with Cisco Meraki and encourage use of their ‘Takeback & Reuse Program’, including a free returns scheme, ‘Sent IT back’ mobile app and additional recycling solutions
  • Schools are also moving towards more energy efficient technology that offers the same performance with lower energy input required, for example Cisco Silicon One switches using up to 86% less power than predecessors, offering 10.8Tb/s of bandwidth for just 415W of power (a 163x increase in efficiency)
  • If the hardware itself cannot use less energy itself, schools are focusing on becoming smarter spaces where energy usage is on a need basis through occupancy-based controls. Sensors, smart cameras and other IoT devices can automate heating, cooling, lighting and much more. Over time, these controls enable schools to reduce their energy costs based on necessity

If you’d like to know more about making your school or college network more sustainable, get in touch with us.