‘We can all learn from each other to create a better environment’

Millfield School’s eco-coordinator, Karl Leonard, encourages all schools to think green, detailing practical ways they can be more sustainable

As the largest co-educational boarding and day school in the UK, with 1,245 pupils and over 1,800 staff, here at Millfield we have a duty to ensure our school, which is set in the beautiful Somerset countryside, is as sustainable as possible.

Being eco-friendly has always been a focus at Millfield, but in recent years we have increased our awareness to make sure we are making sustainable decisions in every department to create a better world for generations to come. As the school’s eco-coordinator, it is my job to assist pupils who form our eco-committee. These pupils are the guiding force behind sustainability at Millfield, actioning the changes they wish to see at school and, in turn, the wider world.

From sourcing local produce and using data to avoid food waste in our dining hall, to learning the art of beekeeping, holding butterfly counts and volunteering at local nature sites, there are many ways our school has become ‘greener’. However, these are by no means the only ways schools can be more eco-friendly, and we can all learn from each other to create a better environment. Find out what Millfield is doing in just some of our departments to become a more sustainable school below.

Reducing single-use plastics

The biggest success for Millfield’s eco-committee over the last academic year has been the elimination of single-use plastic bottles – it has been revolutionary.

From the spring until the end of the summer term, Millfield used zero plastic bottles! This change began with a goal to reduce the number of plastic water bottles we use at school, and in the 2018 autumn term, we managed to reduce our use by a staggering 22,000 (across both Millfield and Millfield Prep) compared with the same period during the previous year.

The reduction in the release of CO2 during the manufacturing process of the plastic bottles is equivalent to 1.8 tonnes of CO2, which is the same as the emissions produced by one passenger taking three return flights from Bristol to Paris each week.

Our staff have also stopped using disposable cups which produce huge amounts of waste and require lots of energy and water during their manufacture.

This is just the start. Our eco-committee constantly challenge all of our departments to reduce their plastic waste further, as well as working with our suppliers to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that they use. Our laundry team have successfully trialled a biodegradable wrap, to replace single-use plastic previously used to wrap over 1,500 to 2,000 shirts each week.

The biggest success for Millfield’s eco-committee over the last academic year has been the elimination of single-use plastic bottles – it has been revolutionary

Dining hall

Our in-house caterers, Chartwells, work with the UK’s largest food waste charity, FareShare, who redistribute surplus food to charities all over the country, who turn it into meals for those in need. We support National Stop Food Waste Day (24 April) every year and implement a data-based food system called Winnow, which is used to gather data on plate-waste at Millfield. We use this system to tailor menus to avoid uneaten food in the future. We also recycle our used cooking oil into biodiesel.

Last year, Millfield’s catering manager Denis Verrier became the environmental champion in Chartwell’s independent sector. He meets with the company’s eco and sustainability head to discuss plans and trial new ideas at Millfield. We source local produce whenever possible – our milk supply comes entirely from Midway Farm Dairy in Radstock, just 15 miles away.

We use 4,031.5 litres of Midway Farm’s milk every week! We are also looking into how we can source local apples in season.

Cleaning

It is important to consider what chemicals and additional plastics are used when keeping our schools clean. Our cleaning department has seen a 30% reduction in paper toilet roll usage thanks to a new system. We have also reduced the amount of paper towels provided around the school and encouraged the use of the electric hand dryers instead, and in larger support staff areas we are providing a food waste bin which can be composted.

We will also be implementing a chemical-free cleaning system called Tersano throughout Millfield, which uses a stabilised aqueous ozone, sanitising surfaces with only water. This will eliminate the use of the majority of chemicals, preventing them from being dumped into ground water systems and rivers. There are also the added benefits of reduction in packaging, transportation and manufacturing, reducing our carbon footprint.

Local community

Conservation tasks include clearing trees

Every week, a team of enthusiastic Millfield Prep children volunteer to take part in conservation efforts at the local Shapwick Moor Nature Reserve, part of the scenic Avalon Marshes wetlands. The moor is a haven for wild birds and Millfield Prep pupils volunteer over 100 hours of time between them each year, undertaking a variety of tasks such as constructing bird hides, clearing trees and digging out scrapes to attract more wildlife to the area.

Our year 7 pupils are particularly proud of their bog garden in the science department’s wildlife area, with a pond, orchard and hedge, as well as a greenhouse made from recycled plastic bottles, for future pupils to practise their gardening skills.

IT, grounds and gardens and estates

Millfield is a clean and naturally green campus, and we are lucky to have fantastic grounds staff who keep it so. Our grounds and gardens team compost all of our green waste and horse waste, creating a mulch which is subsequently used for the beds and borders across both Millfield and Millfield Prep.

Over the last few years, the school’s estates department has decreased our electricity consumption by 20% by replacing our lightbulbs with LED equivalents.

The school has also increased the number of solar panels to produce a total of around 100kW of energy (enough to run 40 domestic tumble dryers simultaneously).

Reducing our energy consumption involves changing people’s personal habits. We have almost 1,500 personal computers around the campus and it was not uncommon for around 350 of these devices to be left logged on overnight.

Our IT team uses a function that automatically shuts down computers that are logged off at the end of the day.

They also reduced the number of computers logged on overnight by 10% in one week by sending an email to remind staff. The pupils have challenged us to reduce this number to nearly zero in the coming autumn term.

Think bigger and find your voice

For the world to find a solution to its environmental crisis, we need international cooperation and peace. Being able to travel easily between nations makes this more likely and therefore we need to be careful about demonising all air travel. We believe that as a school with over 65 different nationalities making up our student body, a lot of the understanding and cooperation can start right here at school.

We encourage our pupils to be ‘disruptors’ – to challenge the status quo and make the changes they wish to see in the world. The majority of the initiatives that I have mentioned were suggested by pupils and members of our eco-committee, and it is encouraging to see their ambitions come to fruition. There is still so much that can be done to tackle the enormous challenge of climate change, but luckily, we can look to our current pupils to lead the charge and help to create a better world for future generations to come.


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