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Sustainability in Education
  • Environment
  • Schools

Written by Charlotte Cameron, Communications Manager, Planet Mark

The education sector has a critical role to play in tackling the climate crisis. It can inspire, educate and prepare young people for the ever-changing world. The sector has a unique opportunity to lead by example through schools reducing their own carbon footprint.

Like the digital revolution before it, the sustainability revolution is rapidly altering the business landscape. And it’s not just our planet that will reap the benefits. Reducing carbon 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 younger generations look for purpose-driven roles. In addition to this, a school with credible sustainability achievements attracts sustainability-conscious parents and students.

A wider awareness of sustainability is vital for climate action and mitigation in society. Educational institutions can foster a culture of sustainability among staff, students and other stakeholders by embedding it into the curriculum and day-to-day operations. This begins with the understanding of our personal impacts on the planet and society. Incorporating topics of sustainability and climate change within the curriculum should empower and inspire students rather than overwhelm or frighten them.

The education sector has an exciting opportunity to provide direct training and education for the growing number of jobs in sustainable, forward-thinking industries. This is particularly true for later year levels where the curriculum will need to adapt traditional models to incorporate emerging industries, technologies and systems.

Planet Mark member and COBIS Accredited Member, 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. Their first step was to measure their carbon footprint with Planet Mark, while engaging their staff and students on the importance of sustainability. When reviewing their carbon footprint, KTJ identified that its electrical consumption was by far the largest part of their footprint and have set about trying to reduce this.

One of the impactful initiatives that the school has engaged in, is installing solar panels. In 2020, the school's 3,000 solar panels generated 1.2 million kilowatts of electricity - enough renewable energy to power nearly 8,700 Malaysian households for a month.

In addition to this, KTJ 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 is the school’s vegetable garden and the food tech department’s herb garden where the fresh produce is being used in the dining hall.

KTJ understands the importance of bringing their wider community with them on their sustainability journey, and to do so their principal uses his weekly newsletter to share information, 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.

KTJ’s Vision 2030 is 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 in the importance of recycling and maximising the use of their resources.
  • To be known as a responsible employer and institution within their local community.

KTJ’s advice for other schools is to get an accurate picture of what is contributing to their carbon footprint. “It is not possible to fix a problem without first knowing what the problem is.” they said. “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.”

Here are some practical first steps that schools can take towards sustainability:

  • You can’t manage what you don’t measure, so to begin with, start by measuring your carbon footprint to understand the impact your school has on the environment, and identify areas where carbon emissions can be reduced.
  • Setting up a sustainability champions team can be one of the most effective initiatives in your sustainability journey. It can help you stay on track with sustainability targets and create a purpose-driven work culture. 
  • Switching to LED lights is an 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 are generally 50,000 hours which, in comparison to a halogen lamp is around 1,000-2,000 hours. 
  • According to waste management experts WRAP, food waste in secondary schools accounts for almost a third of waste, by weight. Schools can help reduce food waste by improving education around why tackling it is so important, and the role students play in this. One practical solution is to adopt meat-free menus throughout the week as vegetarian or vegan options mean less carbon emissions.
  • Develop a school recycling policy to tackle waste that details 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 it increase biodiversity but studies have shown that green spaces improve the mental development of young children.

As an increasing number of schools across the globe are embracing sustainability and their unique role in tackling the climate crisis, there is no shortage of support for schools looking to start on their own journey.

To find out more information on how your school can measure its carbon footprint, get in touch with us at: