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HOW SCHOOLS CAN REDUCE ENERGY COSTS AND BECOME MORE SUSTAINABLE

Words by Nigel Ward, MD of Using Less Stuff 

Sustainability has been a key topic in schools both inside and outside of the classroom. While the Government’s flagship Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy has seen the launch of a new Natural History GCSE focusing on environmental issues, schools are seriously addressing their environmental impact and making a shift towards a more sustainable future for educational establishments.  

Committing to a greener future is vital for the next generation in the classroom, but also driven by the rising energy costs that are having a huge impact on homes, schools and organisations nationwide. In the UK, the energy price cap has risen by a whopping 54% this year, putting us all under pressure to keep up with the steep prices of gas, electric and oil. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the knock-on effect of gas supplied by Russia, and an unstable post-pandemic economy, indicates that costs will keep climbing. 

There are lots of ways that schools can use less and spend less, ensuring they save money while reducing their carbon footprint and paving the way for a greener future. And the shift to more sustainable practises not only keeps energy costs in check, in turn it educates a more environmentally aware generation whose impact will determine the future of the planet.  

According to the Institute of Business School Leadership, secondary schools currently spend £41 per pupil on energy per year, plus £7.41 on water per square metre of floor space. Which amounts to a huge £47,912 per annum for an average-sized school. Many schools are already struggling financially, so imagine if that cost doubled… or even tripled. And imagine the difference it would make if such large establishments pledged to reduce their carbon footprint and make a positive impact on the planet.  

So, as people working within schools or holding the influence to change their practises, how do we go about making changes? It can seem a daunting task, but the first simple step is to find out and understand your school’s carbon footprint, before implementing a strategy to cut energy usage and outgoings. You can do this by using a carbon footprint calculator, that looks at energy, water, waste and transport, to identify ways in which a school can not only cut costs but also become more efficient, too. A detailed CO2 report will be provided after completion with recommendations on how to become more sustainable and reduce consumption where you can. 

Once you have your current situation in black and white, the next step is to make energy cutbacks wherever possible. Ensure you are using renewable energy providers and are on the best tariffs and payment plans. Swap all your lightbulbs to low-energy LED bulbs (a simple way to cut up to 80% on lighting energy) and make sure that all lights and technology are switched off at source when not in use. Bear in mind that simply putting a ‘please turn the light/ device off’ note isn’t enough to make everyone take action and responsibility. You need to lead by example and change the culture and mindset throughout the school.  

Other quick fixes to see a reduction in your school’s fuel bills include adding aerators to taps – a simple way to reduce the amount of water coming out. Make sure that all buildings are well insulated, so that heat is retained more effectively. Solar energy, which was once seen as an expensive option, is now more viable and affordable than ever and offers an effective and low maintenance option towards generating greener energy. For every kWh of energy the panels generate, that’s one kWh less you’ll need to purchase from a supplier. 

A huge area to tackle in schools’ sustainability practises is in the catering department. Make sure that your catering provider and kitchen staff are up to scratch on ethical practices such as sourcing from local providers, using seasonal produce, making sure there is minimal food waste and composting where possible. Removing all single-use plastics such as plastic cutlery and coffee stirrers will make a vast impact, as will having clearly labelled recycling bins throughout the school.  

Organisations such as Using Less Stuff make it easy to figure out and implement effe carbon footprint, monitoring usage, changing mindsets, setting goals, taking action and measuring success. At Woldingham School, Using Less Stuff, through its Behaviour Change Programme, managed to reduce annual energy bills by £35k, and reduce heating oil usage by 15%. The team also worked with Queen Anne’s School in Caversham to reduce costs by installing energy efficient lighting without any upfront fees, through their Light as Service scheme:  

“I would highly recommend the Light as Service contract. We managed to install the best quality lighting without any outlay upfront. The savings from the electricity and maintenance cover the costs of the contract and it has helped us reduce our carbon footprint straightaway; which is a great contribution towards our aim of being a more eco aware school,” said Ed Hellings, Bursar at Queen Anne’s School. 

Using Less Stuff is aware that it takes much more than making quick fixes. Through its Behaviour Change Programme it works with schools to help make changes to the mindset and culture of the staff and pupils. After all, if they think about where the plastic bottle came from before putting it in the recycling, or the effects of leaving their computer on standby, then this will plant the seed for changes beyond the classroom.  

Making changes throughout the school is a sure-fire way to combat the rising energy costs and set goals towards a more sustainable future. Yet by integrating a more environmentally-friendly mindset and approach to the practises and procedures inside and outside of the classroom, schools can have a huge wave of impact. So, while the immediate fix is to enable schools to afford the hikes in energy prices, the long-term effect is a positive change for the future of our people and planet.  

active changes, by working with schools nationwide to bring down energy costs and take steps towards a greener future. Their strategy follows six simple steps: working out your 

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