Every little bit counts: Making your school more eco-friendly
Whether it's in Geography class or on the nightly news bulletin, we are constantly being bombarded with information about the problems of tomorrow - and highest on the agenda is the issue of climate change.
Images of crumbling walls of ice, cracked riverbeds and freakish storm systems feature heavily in the media, and in our technological age it's impossible to ignore the hard facts. Things are getting too hot, too soon.
Amongst the daily instalment of global warming doom and gloom, it's easy to feel powerless as you sit in your lecture on apocalyptic sea-levels and ever-increasing gas emissions.
But across the world, students are challenging themselves to create practical and innovative ways to combat climate change as they learn.
"Eco-Schools" are cropping up through a diverse range of schemes and initiatives, all of which aim to turn the inconvenient truth into an impetus for real change.
Eco-Schools: One step at a time
It's all about simple, practical and achievable aims - a modest goal realised is infinitely more successful than a lofty ambition abandoned, regardless of good intentions.
In Britain, the government has fostered a program that goes about setting such targets, and most importantly, meeting them. One step above a broad statement, the Eco-Schools scheme (new window) outlines specific stages that each school must advance through in an effort to earn the 'Green Flag.'
First on the agenda is setting up an Action Team. An Action Team is a collective body of staff, students and other members of the school community who carry out various tasks associated with the Eco-Schools program. Their main function is to meet regularly and, as a preliminary measure, conduct an environmental review of their school.
Once the environmental audit has been conducted, the school's waste, water and energy usage is evaluated alongside long-term goals designed by the group itself. These aims form the basis of an Eco-Code, which "should list the main objectives of your Action Plan, covering real actions that the pupils and staff intend to carry out."
Finally, the school's unique Eco-Code is incorporated into the curriculum and promoted throughout the school environment.
EarthCARE - The Canadian approach
Other institutions around the world have also sought to make schools more environmentally sound by combining administrative policy with eco-friendly ideals. EarthCARE (new window), a curriculum-based system run in Canadian education and health services, promotes an Energy Management Model.
The model has two components. The first attempts to retrofit buildings and systems to make them more energy efficient, while the second part focuses on the energy and waste usage within the building themselves, with EarthCARE striving to provide, "a mechanism and process for turning awareness into action."
Closer to home, Australian schools aren't being left behind on the environmentalist front. National schemes that share a common structure with EarthCARE and Eco-Schools are available to both government and non-government schools.
The overarching scheme is the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (new window), the result of a workshop held in August 2005 that included representatives from independent schools, non-government organisations and State, Territory and Australian Government environment and education departments.
Most recently, a partnership statement drafted by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC) declared the initiative a joint effort of the Australian Government and the States and Territories.
The initiative provides numerous specified grants endorsed by the government, from water tanks to solar panels.
Ten simple steps to making your school eco-friendly
Here's a simple list of things to do to get your school in the swing of environmental responsibility. Some of these things you can do by yourself, and some of them are things that you might need to take to your SRC to pass on to your school's administrators and teachers.
- Carpool with friends or walk to school, even if it's only every other day
- Put paper recycling bins in every classroom for any loose sheets
- Participate in Earth Hour as a school community
- Replace standard light bulbs in classrooms with energy-efficient models
- Make a school compost heap
- Put 'Plastics Only' bins in the yard to encourage recycling
- Install dual-flush toilets, or alternatively, put 'water-weight' devices in each toilet to minimise water use
- Mulch any garden beds to avoid moisture loss through evaporation
- Encourage your teachers to use spare sheets of A4 for any class quizzes, instead of printing off blank pages
- Invest in a fountain pen - you'll be forced to take care with your homework, and you'll save a stack of biros!
Ultimately, school communities are ideal places to practise what you preach in regards to the environment - with the support of fellow students, teachers and parents real action, however modest, can influence actual change.
You don't need to ratify a school-bound Kyoto Protocol - every little bit counts.
If you want to read more articles written by our roving reporters about the environment, check out our Articles archive.