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Where Sustainability Begins in the Education Sector?

Discover how schools can increase engagement, set goals, measure progress & reduce your environmental impact in the with our tips & digital tools.

Environmental sustainability is a critical issue that affects everyone. It is essential to take steps to ensure that we are doing our part to protect the environment, our community and society in general. The education sector plays a crucial role in driving change towards sustainability within our communities. Strategies such as experiential learning, green infrastructure, research, community engagement and partnerships can have a ripple effect and induce behaviour change and adoption of sustainable practices outside school. 

In the education sector, there are three main places where sustainability begins: the classroom, the boardroom and home.  

Here are some environmental sustainability initiatives that you can take in each of these areas:   

In the classroom 

  • Appoint sustainability captains to help lead the change and improve awareness across the entire student body. Sustainability captains elected by the student body can help to represent students' concerns and interests. 
  • Promote and conduct activities that benefit the community in the classroom such as gardening, composting, and recycling projects. This way, awareness can begin to take hold both in the students themselves and in those who experience the benefits of the curriculum and activities.
  • Use sustainable materials such as recycled paper, biodegradable pencils, and refillable pens. This will help reduce waste and promote sustainability, inspiring students to take broader action beyond the classroom.
  • Prefer natural light and natural ventilation over artificial light and air conditioning by opening blinds and windows when conditions are suitable. Well daylit environments have a direct correlation with student performance, including 20% faster progression in mathematics, 26% faster progression in reading, and 5-10% better performance when students have access to window views.1

In the boardroom 

  • Board directors and management teams rely on continuing education to ensure up-to-date knowledge of the opportunities, trends and emerging risks impacting the industry. Continuous sustainability education can help directors understand how sustainability issues impact the school.
  • Establish a Sustainability Council to consult with and provide guidance and insight to the Board and the wider school community. This council should be made of a diversity of stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and researchers.
  • Set, measure and report on sustainability goals that align with the school values and mission. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. For example, set a target for 100% new school buildings to achieve a minimum 5 Star Green Star Buildings rating. While green schools can cost 1-2% more than conventional schools to build, the return on investment is 20 times more than the cost of going green.2
  • Develop a program for school facilities to integrate sustainability initiatives that are visible and interactive so that they can be used to teach students about sustainable development. For example, rainwater tanks, vegetable gardens and multiple bins for waste separation. 

At home 

  • Parents should receive sustainability reports and updates as part of the regular school communications program. Call out positive progress as well as problem areas to parents and engage with them to seek ideas on how the  problem areas can be addressed.  
  • Students can adopt active modes of transport like walking or cycling to get to and from school. If the school is further away, carpooling and public transportation should be preferred whenever feasible. 
  • Adopt sustainable initiatives to educate children on what can be done and make them aware of the impact of small actions. For example, practicing energy-saving habits by turning off lights and appliances when not in use and starting a compost pile or using a compost bin in the backyard to recycle organic waste such as food scraps, yard trimmings, and leaves.
  • Parents can support green initiatives by participating actively in sustainability events organised by the school, such as recycling drives, tree-planting activities, or clean-up campaigns. Encourage other parents to get involved and lead by example. 

Green infrastructure and operations are key areas where educational institutions can lead by example and demonstrate commitment to sustainability. Implementing energy-efficient systems, utilising renewable energy sources, practising water conservation, and adopting waste management strategies can significantly reduce the environmental footprint and provides an opportunity to use the facilities as 3D textbooks for students to interact with the facilities. 

Schools can also strive for green building certifications and incorporate sustainable practices in their procurement policies, food services, and transportation options. 

Using digital tools can help measure, track, and report on environmental sustainability initiatives for improved outcomes and to contribute towards the achievement of building certifications. The KPMG Origins Asset Impact product will enable this process with accuracy and transparency. 

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1 Heschong Mahone Group, Daylighting in Schools: An investigation into the relationship between daylighting and human performance, Heschong Mahone Group, Fair Oaks, California, 20 August 1999
2 Gregory Kats, Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits, A Capital E Report, October 2006

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