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How schools are working to become environmentally friendly

With the UK’s commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and events such as World Environment Day keeping sustainability and the environment on the news agenda, it is no surprise that schools are as keen to shout about their eco credentials as much as their exam results and other educational achievements.

In its Schools Sustainability Guide, the WWF ( says every school has ‘huge potential for mobilising society-wide change’ and that ‘individual students and teachers taking small actions can be the seeds of change’ when it comes to making a difference to climate change or nature loss.

This is a message that Marcus Culverwell echoes, not only as a headmaster, but also as a driving force behind the creation of ESR (Education for Social Responsibility) programmes in schools across the country. Marcus has worked with lesson plan and learning provider PlanBee ( to develop environmental education programmes for junior schools, with many IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools) establishments around the country now using them.

At his own school, Reigate St Mary’s, social responsibility – which covers ethical trade, ecosystems, climate change, water scarcity, biodiversity, finite planet and fulfilled lives – is woven into the curriculum, and constantly revisited in every subject, across every age group. ‘Traditionally, the approach to education about important matters such as climate change has been included within science or geography, and therefore is often seen as just a unit within a subject,’ Marcus explains. ‘We wouldn’t teach good citizenship or kindness in that way; they are reinforced in every area of school life so that young people know this is the way we should live. This has to be the same for sustainability, so that it becomes habitual in the way children think and behave as they grow up.’

Futureproofing pupils

‘We have started preparing children for their futures by introducing STEM for sustainability, where children as young as 10 have built a model solar panel system which tracks the sun across the sky, increasing the energy gathered by the panels,’ Marcus continues. ‘When children see that they can produce systems which support sustainability, it builds their confidence to be changemakers and leaders of change for a sustainable future. But more importantly, we want them to take this attitude into the workplace to develop socially responsible and sustainable economies for the future.’

His school has appointed pupils as green leaders, values leaders, and eco committee members, each focusing on an aspect of sustainability such as food waste, green travel and management of water. ‘They often come up with their own ideas,’ says Marcus, explaining how the green leaders suggested that drinking water left from lunch be used to water plants instead of being wasted, leading to the school buying a water butt where all the leftover water now goes.

The school also involves parents in their drive for sustainability and invites those who champion corporate social responsibility within their own careers to speak to senior school students to help them understand how it needs to be worked into every area of life. ‘If sustainability is to be fully understood, it certainly has to be a way of life and not just a topic in school,’ Marcus explains.

Making the world a better place

Alana Thorburn is the ecology, conservation and sustainability ambassador in residence at Sherborne Girls School in Dorset. She says the school is ‘committed to fostering bright young women with the self-belief, creativity and moral courage to make the world a better place.

‘Given the environmental emergency, we take our responsibility in preparing the generation who will turn things round very seriously,’ she says. ‘My role is devoted to translating pupils’ environmental concerns into actions and helping reduce the school’s impact on the environment.’

Alana is supported by the school’s gardens, grounds, estates and facilities teams, as well as their eco council, and Planet Mark, a sustainability certification organisation. She says Sherborne’s environmental strategy is designed to ‘achieve change through education, pupil action and action as an institution’.

In 2019, they became the first school to be included in the national rewilding and education scheme, Operation Future Hope, and last year, they introduced the Operation Future Hope Nature and Rewilding Course into the Year 9 curriculum. ‘The course focuses on the state of nature from the Holocene to the Anthropocene, the impact of human beings on the planet, and the concept of rewilding to inspire action,’ Alana explains.

The school’s eco council have worked with the Sherborne School Environmental Action Group and The Gryphon School Council to find ways they can reduce, reuse and recycle on a personal level, too. ‘They looked at their fashion consumption, food waste and plastic use and had clothing swaps, and jumble sales, and worked with our caterers to phase out single plastic packaging in our dining halls. The caterers are measuring plate waste to encourage pupils to waste less food, too,’ says Alana.

Real results

Sherborne have also embarked on a four-stage plan with Planet Mark to reduce their carbon emissions. ‘We have replaced more than 500 light bulbs with LEDs, converted 13 of 33 electricity meters and 20 of 28 gas meters to smart meters with upgrades ongoing,’ Alana says. ‘11 of our 17 school vehicles are electric, and we have moved our investment portfolio to a new sustainable and ethical investment fund and are incorporating, where possible, the WELL Building Standard ( into estate development.’

And this commitment to sustainability has produced clear results. ‘Last year, we reduced our electricity consumption by 11.5 per cent, natural gas use by 9.1 per cent, waste by 12.5 per cent, paper consumption by 13 per cent and our measured carbon by 8.7 per cent,’ says Alana.

Award winning projects

Cottesmore School in Crawley has recently won two awards for its sustainability programme –the School House Green Champion Award and the City Kids Green Award. They have also been involved in developing the Sustainability Programme for Schools run by The Kindness Bank, and have introduced sustainability as a subject, where it is now an integral part of the science curriculum.

As part of this, they have developed Cottesmore Croft, a sustainable and holistic farming project which has rescued ex-battery chickens and ducks, and even homed pigs. The pupils are fully involved in the entire process, and, says headmaster Tom Rogerson, particularly passionate about it being financially sustainable.

The school has an ambitious rewilding programme, too, a project they are undertaking in partnership with Lesley Malpas, author of Rewilding for Schools. ‘Work has begun on creating environments which encourage biodiversity and habitat regeneration,’ explains Tom. ‘The team have already started building a butterfly walk and night garden, which will provide much-needed habitats for moths.’

Ultimately, the school plans to plant several wildflower meadows, and develop pockets of species-rich grasslands. ‘We are also working on a rewilding summit called Rewilding Schools for the autumn term where we hope to attract a wide audience of educationalists and beyond,’ says Tom.

And in homage to COP28, the United Nations 2023 Climate Change Conference, Cottesmore holds its own annual climate change and sustainability week. ‘We call ours COTT28 and part of it involves gathering local maintained primary schools together to discuss the progress of our promises from previous COTT events,’ Tom explains.

In association with:

The Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) is a schools association with more than 660 of the world’s leading prep schools in membership.

The Boarding Schools Association (BSA) is the leading voice for boarding schools in the UK.

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