Children are the future — and they will lead the charge to save our planet. Like no others before them, surveys reveal that Gen Z and Generation Alpha are uniquely environmentally conscious, having been born and raised in a climate crisis.
These young men and women will go on to lead, protest, and action genuine change to mitigate the effects of global warming. But in order to teach the new generations how they can be proactive and make the world a more sustainable place, what can teachers, parents and community leaders do on a local level?
The answer lies where children spend the vast majority of their formative years — in school. With that in mind, here are our top tips for making your school a more sustainable place for children to learn.
1. Invest in eco-friendly cleaning
In the spirit of optimising every part of the school day for sustainability, have you ever considered making the after-lesson cleanup eco-friendly? Classrooms and other school facilities can get especially untidy — particularly in the EYFS and KS1 — but many of the household chemicals and tools that are used to clean are polluting water courses and adding damaging aerosols to the atmosphere. Instead, consider cleaning up your operations with eco-friendly products.
However, cleaning the entire school isn’t a one-person job — and investing in a sustainable cleaning company that knows the tricks of the trade and correct products to use could prevent unnecessary environmental contamination. To ensure you’re hiring the right people for the job, consider a B Corp company, which is a certification awarded to businesses meeting certain social and environmental goals.
NuServe was the first cleaning agency to attain this coveted certification in the UK, with the company stating that they are “carbon neutral, which means we balance our carbon footprint through carbon offsetting”, while “pledging to achieve net zero by the year 2030.” By investing in products and people that centre an environmental ethos in their operations, your school can walk the walk while educating pupils on the merits of going green.
2. Reduce everyday waste
Making every classroom activity as sustainable as possible may sound like a large undertaking, but in reality, there are a number of quick fixes that can help to reduce waste and “green” your lessons. The first is to minimise paper and pen use. Consider biodegradable learning materials or applications like Google Classroom and ClassDojo to handle assignments.
This can be a worthwhile transition to stop sending your students home with swathes of paper and plastic that will end up in the bin and go on to occupy polluting landfills.
You can also boost your recycling efforts, for example by starting a school recycling centre. Here, students can learn about separating waste streams for the efficient disposal of different types of plastic, glass and food waste.
Much more packaging can usually be recycled at dedicated centres than in standard bins, so consider making this a whole-school initiative and organising periodic collections of your different materials.
Another method is to reduce food waste. As WWF explains, “when we waste food, we also waste all the energy and water it takes to grow, harvest, transport, and package it. And if food goes to the landfill and rots, it produces methane — a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide”.
To address this, take your learning outside and start a composting initiative, or even a vegetable garden. These can educate children about where food comes from, the importance of finishing their dinners, and the different ways to repurpose waste.
3. Prioritise plant-based foods
Meat-free diets are no foodie fad: in fact, research shows that a vegetarian diet generates an average of 2.5x fewer carbon emissions per person. What’s more, with the growing numbers of vegetarians and vegans eating plant-based in the UK, there is a more varied and nutritionally-balanced pool of foods to choose from than ever before, from meat substitutes to plain old veggies.
Out of their own volition, many children go vegetarian as they progress through the school years – but some parents won’t necessarily want their children to follow a completely meat-free diet. Instead, educate children about the climate benefits of reducing meat consumption and offer a larger selection of vegetarian snacks and school meal options.
Some opt for “meat-free Mondays” with exclusively meatless options offered at lunchtimes, or simply by encouraging parents to reduce their packed lunch meat purchases. Alternatively, more than five million UK schools have gone plant-based since the launch of the not-for-profit ProVeg UK programme that reviews school menus.
The scheme provides recommendations, develops creative new recipes and puts on workshops to encourage the uptake of vegetarian options. By going meatless a couple of days a week, your school could cut down the canteen’s carbon footprint and educate families about nutrition and different dietary choices in the process.