Schools are going green – and saving money

Schools are going green – and saving money

A former maths teacher has set up a project to build young people’s awareness of climate change and equip them with the knowledge and resources to tackle it in their own communities.

Established in 2015, Henry Greenwood thought up the Green Schools Project while training as a maths teacher at Kingsmead School in Enfield, where he developed the role of sustainability coordinator. There he worked with a group of sixth form students on a range of projects – everything from saving energy through the installation of solar panels to growing vegetables and encouraging peers to walk to school. The campaign saved Kingsmead School £35,000 over three years and led to an Eco-School Green Flag award. This experience formed the basis of Greenwood’s Green Schools Project, which has involved 87 schools since its inception.

From zero carbon emissions to eco-team support

A number of programmes have been initiated as part of the project: the zero carbon schools programme, which sees students  across the curriculum calculate the school’s carbon emissions by examining energy, transport, food, procurement and waste; a climate action programme, providing teachers with training to help them introduce climate and the natural world into the curriculum so that students are able to better connect with nature; and the eco-team support programme, where expert visits and university student volunteers offer schools support with their environmental initiatives.

So which of his projects is Greenwood most proud of? “I was very proud of the green kids and communities projectwith five schools in Waltham Forest. Each school ran our eco-team support programme, and we had an event at the start and the end where the eco-teams got together to share their experiences. I was also very proud of organising a schools climate conference in 2019,” he recalls.

Working with schools in 2021

This year, Greenwood is working with four schools on a pilot for a new zero carbon schools programme. Greenleaf Primary School in Walthamstow is among them.

Mark Scott, the school’s global dimension/international schools coordinator, explains why the school got involved: “Greenleaf is a school with a strong commitment to global issues and to empowering our children to make a positive impact around the challenges we face in the modern world. We became involved in the Green Schools Project through a discussion we had with our local councillor. She put us in touch with Henry Greenwood as she realised we were both passionate about climate change and empowering our children further. We also wanted to work together on reducing carbon both in and out of school as well as raising awareness in the community.”​

At the school, a group of year 5 and 6 children undertake sessions lasting an hour each week where they are taught about the science that explains carbon’s impact on the planet and invited to think about how to effect positive change.

Scott says: “The children are given the facts about climate change and asked how they feel we can change our actions in school to become as carbon neutral as possible. They then have to undertake a project on making positive changes around the school environment – these projects are based around energy, food, travel and purchasing. 

“We want the children to know that the planet has limited resources and our actions have an impact. However, we also want to instil the idea that it is not all doom and gloom and that children can be empowered to make changes, which have lasting effects on our lives and the world around us.” 

The school also has an allotment, but Covid-19 has limited the school’s access. Scott explains: “Due to Covid restrictions we have not been able to get down to the allotment with children as we normally would have by this point in the school year. However, we look forward to enhancing our usage of the allotment and intertwining this with the Green Schools Project work.”

Covid-19 challenges

Covid-19 has had a broader impact on the project’s work overall. Greenwood says: “The school closures meant that we had to stop delivering our programmes in March. This year we haven’t been able to offer the eco-team support programme due to the restrictions on classes and year groups mixing. We also haven’t delivered any teacher training as schools are so busy dealing with operational issues. It led to a reduction in our funding.”

The zero carbon schools programme, however, is able to operate within school restrictions and Greenwood hopes to continue the work during the partial school closures by providing videos and setting tasks that fit in with schools’ home learning provision. He hopes to be able to secure funding so that all the projects can be resumed in the next academic year.

Henry Greenwood’s top five things schools can still do during Covid-19

1. Think of ways to include climate and nature into normal lessons – this can be as simple as setting maths problems in the context of trees and animals rather than crisp flavours and cars. 

2. Teachers should talk to each other and their students about the climate and ecological crisis whenever they get the chance. The more people discuss the issues, the more they are likely to make personal and collective choices that benefit the environment.

3. When schools are open again, initiate projects for children to carry out, such as monitoring energy usage at the school, reducing food waste, encouraging walking and cycling to school and growing vegetables.

4. When setting home learning tasks, encourage students to go outside and walk in natural areas. It’s amazing how much better you feel just by going outside and spending an hour or so around trees. Just look on Google maps for anywhere green or blue and walk around there!

5. Once the immediate crisis dies down, senior leaders should reflect on the purpose of learning and whether it could be done better. Could you increase the amount of outdoor learning? Does the school make the most of a food growing space? Could the school introduce cross-curricular projects on issues that students care about and are interested in? For example, subjects could include looking at where food comes from and how to power our mobile phones.

To find out more, visit the Green Schools Project website.