Sustainability in education has never been higher on the agenda and what was once seen as a mere compliance tick-box can now have a significant impact on a school’s bottom line. The government would like every school to be a sustainable school by 2020/1. In practice this means that schools should demonstrate they care about the energy and water they consume, the food they serve, the traffic they attract, and the difficulties faced by people living in the local community, as well as those in other parts of the UK/wider world. So how can the independent school sector encourage its employees to adopt their own sustainable practices? And how does effective stakeholder engagement affect a school’s budget, reputation and overall success?
Anthony Day, a specialist in environmental and sustainability issues who advises organisations on energy efficiency and carbon management, says: “A school’s first priority must be to establish a sustainability programme with the support and agreement of all of its stakeholders, including teachers, support staff, governors, parents and students. Objectives must be clearly set, timescales agreed and responsibilities assigned. The headteacher should demonstrate support for the project by launching the programme, commenting on results and endorsing developments as the programme matures.”
Cross-departmental collaboration and integration are also key to ensuring that all staff buy into a school’s sustainability efforts, and when seeking to increase engagement, it’s important to involve the many diverse functional areas within a private school, as well as all core external stakeholders. In doing so, sustainable development can build coherence among a range of initiatives and school practices, offering staff a bigger picture in which to join up their work on a range of policies and initiatives, including Every Child Matters, school travel planning, healthy living, school meals, extended services, citizenship and learning outside the classroom.
“Co-creating sustainability programmes with employees cultivates trust, ownership, excitement and commitment, whilst also helping to embed such values in a school’s organisational culture,” says Anthony. “Ultimately, if there’s no culture to support sustainability and innovation, a school will not be able to achieve its sustainable development goals. That’s why it’s essential for the headteacher to identify him or herself with the importance of the programme.”
So how to maintain the momentum of a sustainable culture within the independent school environment? “Well, there are a wide range of resources and initiatives out there that draw on basic human psychology to achieve set goals, such as a reward-focused scoreboard, for example,” says Anthony. “Alternatively, providing evidence of activities undertaken to advance a school’s corporate social responsibility and sustainability could be worked into employees’ appraisals. The key to success in this instance is bringing sustainability into an individual’s daily objectives. This sets an expectation that sustainability will be measured and forms part of performance evaluation.”
There’s a growing bank of evidence to suggest that schools, indeed any organisations, adopting a sustainable strategy are able to significantly reduce costs. “Think of it like this: we all know the importance of investing in preventive maintenance to keep equipment in good working order,” Anthony says. “Those who cannot, or indeed choose not to, invest in this manner are unfortunate as they risk breakdowns and expensive repairs in the future. The same can be said for sustainable development – by investing in the green agenda now, we can save money in the long term.
“A sustainability programme that is consistent with a school’s positioning will also create value. Reputation is the number one driver that puts schools in the spotlight, so if your school is doing more than it needs to, think of how more attractive you’ll become to potential stakeholders.
“Sustainability is the new way of doing business. In the face of the expanding world population, rising energy prices and declining resources, and for schools to succeed, everyone needs to recognise the benefits.”