The damage to the environment from plastic is receiving national attention, with a government committee launching an inquiry into disposable drinks packaging, and Sky News actively promoting its Ocean Rescue campaign. According to Sky News, more than eight million tonnes of plastic is thrown away each year and washed out to sea.
Independent schools need take notice of several new environmental targets set by the government. Missing these targets won’t simply affect reputation but could now result in hefty fines.
Rather than simply avoiding these potentially negative issues, schools should seize the initiative and demonstrate best practice. One of the ways schools could reduce the amount of plastic on school premises is by investing in a sustainable drinking water system and promoting the use of reusable, as opposed to disposable, drinking water bottles.
Fines levied for environmental offences have increased since the introduction of new sentencing guidelines in 2014, according to data from the Sentencing Council and The Environmentalist.
Figures show that the median fine for an environmental offence in England rose from £12,500 between January 2013 and June 2014 to £21,500 between July 2014 and December 2015 – a rise of 72%.
This reinforces that breaches of environmental regulations should not be taken lightly; this area is becoming more litigious and should be treated as seriously as health and safety.
The ISO 14001 provides a framework for measuring, monitoring and improving the impact the school has on the environment. The certificate can assist with procurement and demonstrate a proactive approach to environmental management.
Another option is attaining BREEAM (the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) which provides recognition that a building supports sustainability, energy efficiency and healthy working.
Alternatively, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is another option which encourages low carbon, low water and low waste measures.
The main difference between the accreditations is that ISO 14001 has a broader focus on environmental management while BREEAM and LEED involves an environmental assessment of the building.
Reusing over Recycling
As we’ve outlined above, one particular environmental area which schools can start tackling today involves drinking water.
Schools should try and avoid the need to bring in pre-bottled water to reduce the amount of plastic on school grounds. Reusable glass bottles are recommended instead of disposable plastic ones, because re-using will always be more efficient than recycling and will provide an immediate and dramatic impact on carbon footprint.
Schools should also consider investing in a system such as BRITA Vivreau’s ViTap which dispenses instant, chilled, still and sparkling water, and can also come with instant boiling hot water, so that only what is needed is used. This can reduce unnecessary water waste and remove the queue for the kettle! Students and staff can then be encouraged to refill bottles in-between lessons from the ViTaps placed in easily accessible locations across the campus, in corridors, vending areas, canteens and the staff room.
Encouraging regular hydration will also improve wellbeing and research has shown that a hydrated student body will result in better attention spans, memory and consequently, better grades!
Investing in one central chiller unit such as BRITA Vivreau’s LinkLine system, instead of multiple individual units around the building, can be up to 45% more cost effective and up to 55% more energy efficient, plus it provides more space in the building.
To sustain this environmental approach, it is crucial to get staff and student buy-in. Staff and student pride in working for/studying at an environmentally friendly school will increase, which will in turn improve the school’s reputation and contribute to its long-term success.