- How do schools use energy?
- School uniforms
- Activities for kids
Tens of thousands of politicians, experts, journalists and protestors will be coming together in Glasgow for the UN’s big COP 26 climate change conference in November. It will discuss a lot of important decisions about how we solve climate change.
Schools are responsible for around 2% of UK carbon emissions and an increasing use of technology and longer school hours makes it hard to reduce this figure. So, maybe now is a good time for parents and kids to be asking what schools can do about climate change?
How do schools use energy? ⚡
Heating, lighting, providing hot water, and storing and preparing food in canteens are the biggest areas where schools use energy.
Secondary schools tend to use more energy than primary schools because they are occupied for more of the day and typically have more pupils than primary schools. They also use a lot more computer equipment in lessons and in running the school.
Schools also contribute to their carbon footprint in terms of how pupils and staff get to and from school, the uniforms kids wear, and how much or how little green area they have on the grounds.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Transport 🚌
The majority of the buses and cars that take staff and students to and from school use petrol or diesel. Transport using these fossil fuels produces climate-damaging CO2 and other polluting chemicals. Instead, schools should:
- Encourage everyone to travel by bicycle or on foot where possible.
- Arrange walking and cycling partnerships among parents and pupils to help encourage this healthier way of getting about.
- Help parents and staff set up ride-sharing networks so cars can take as many people as possible in one go If walking or cycling isn’t feasible.
- Only arrange school trips to destinations that do not require flights to get there. Flying contributes a lot to climate change.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Energy
Reducing how schools use energy is the most important direct way to help fight climate change.
Parents and students should get involved and ask these questions:
- Does the school have an energy policy focusing on reducing emissions?
- Does the school use renewable sources in its energy mix and, if not, have management considered switching to more eco-friendly suppliers?
- Are staff and students told to turn off lights, heating, and equipment when leaving an empty room?
- Are school buildings well-insulated?
- To reduce the use of lighting, do staff make sure windows are not blocked by posters or other materials and window blinds and curtains are not closed during the day?
What schools can do to stop climate change: Food 🌽
- Meat and dairy farming contribute a lot to our carbon emissions. Food should not be brought from a long way away as this means more CO2 from transport.
- Canteens could offer healthy meat-free and dairy-free plant-based meals on a regular basis, or even have meat-free days every week.
- Buy food from local growers.
- Set up a mini-farm and help the kids grow their own food!
- Put non-meat food scraps into a compost bin to fertilize your mini-farm.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Careers
- Talk to pupils about what kinds of jobs will be needed in the future to tackle climate change. The future green economy will need lots of specialists.
- Engineers of all sorts will be essential but especially: Solar engineers, hydropower engineers, and wind turbine engineers.
- Students with a career already in mind could be encouraged to identify how their future job and climate change will intersect. For example, a wannabe fashion designer could be prompted to consider the problem of fast fashion and textile industry pollution.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Resources
- Reduce the amount of paper they use and buy unbleached, recycled paper when they need new stocks.
- Encourage staff and pupils to recycle all their paper materials after they are no longer needed.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Plastic
- Eliminate any single-use plastics from their supplies. This includes cutlery, cups, and straws for example.
- Water refill fountains should be easily available for pupils and they should be encouraged to use reusable bottles instead of disposable ones.
- Recycling bins should be placed in convenient locations with clear instructions about what goes where.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Biodiversity 🌳
- Make use of any land around buildings to plant trees, flowers, and vegetables. Grass around schools should be left to grow longer to increase local biodiversity.
What schools can do to stop climate change: School uniforms
- Order uniforms from suppliers who use natural fibers grown locally and sustainably.
- Set up school uniform swap shops to allow unwanted clothes to be exchanged and used for longer.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Activism
- Headteachers, school governors, and other leaders should be willing to support pupils taking part in the school strikes for climate justice without risking punishment.
- Inform the local media and authorities that kids have been allowed to take part in school strike activism.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Activities for kids
- Arrange for pupils to take part in a mock COP summit. Different class groups could choose different countries from a map. Allow each group to learn about the climate challenges of their chosen countries before bringing them together to try to negotiate a deal.
- Borrow thermal imaging cameras from your local university or climate action group and allow kids to actually see heat energy escaping from poorly insulated buildings for themselves.
- Give children an appreciation for nature by showing them some David Attenborough documentaries. These amazing films will bring the far reaches of the Earth right into the classroom and show kids some of the things that we are losing due to climate change. Hopefully, that will make them think about how they can live more sustainably.
- Arrange school trips to local nature reserves, forests, and wildlands to awaken interest in local biodiversity. Teachers could also explain that the wild places we have today are very rare in comparison to the past.
What schools can do to stop climate change: Subjects
Climate change is an issue that can be explored in practically every subject on the timetable.
Here are some ideas:
- Encourage kids to write letters to political and business leaders to express their fears and anxieties about climate change.
- Pupils could read and discuss climate change poetry and write their own verses.
Climate change is perfect for letting students get to grips with using maths in a real-world way. Weights and measures, averages, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals, and fractions can all be taught in the context of climate change.
For example, students could be given tasks to work out annual CO2 emissions produced by various everyday activities like driving, using a computer, or boiling a kettle.
The Paris Climate Agreement aims to keep the mean global temperature under 2°C. Students could investigate why this figure is important and how the mean is worked out from temperature records and predictions from all over the world.
- Educate pupils about the negative effects climate change will have on the health of people around the world.
- Students could look at sustainable methods of growing food.
- Teachers could ask kids to investigate how many species are threatened with extinction because of climate change.
Classes should study the carbon cycle and learn how the chemical properties of CO2 and methane damage the Earth’s ability to maintain a stable climate.
- Examine renewable and non-renewable energy sources in physics lessons. Schools should ensure students learn about solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal power. Kids could even have a go at building their own mini-power plants using solar or wind energy.
- Pupils could study how the power grid works and learn about the energy mix that will be necessary to keep the lights on after we phase out fossil fuels.
The Industrial Revolution brought a great many benefits, but schools should also teach pupils that this was also the origin of our climate crisis and the reason developed countries must share more of the cost of dealing with the problem.
Students can draw maps showing the different effects climate change is having and will have on various parts of the world.
Art, music, and drama 🎭
Students should be encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings about the environment, habitat loss, and climate change in these creative subjects and imagine solutions to the crisis.
Organizations willing to help
There are a host of organizations across the county just begging for the chance to help schools fight climate change.
Here are just a few of them:
Transform Our World offers a vast range of materials, instant lessons, and other resources for educators, parents, and children. The website acts as a central hub to share resources, news, and events from across the country.
Kids Against Plastic has a huge amount of resources available to help educate kids about the problem of plastic. They provide free resources to help schools eliminate plastic.
Let’s Go Zero is running a national campaign to encourage schools to declare themselves carbon zero by 2030. The group provides support to help schools set and meet targets for becoming carbon zero and joining will add your school’s voice to the hundreds of others around the country already calling on the government to do more.
The Green Schools Project offers lessons and outings for students, materials, and training for teachers, and visits from energy efficiency experts who will advise your school on cutting CO2.
The climate emergency is one of the most important issues facing us and schools are on the front line of the fight for a greener future.
As David Attenborough said: “This is not about saving our planet, it's about saving ourselves”.