Sustaining Sustainability

This week Mrs Franklin (the Academy’s Sustainability and Marketing Manager) joined me to present to a national conference of School Business Leaders. We were asked to present our work on reducing the Academy’s carbon footprint towards our goal of net-zero by 2030, and we also took the opportunity to look more broadly at our sustainability priority.

Many of the things we spoke about in our presentation are captured in the blog post I wrote around the #COP26 summit in Glasgow last November – Going Green: Churchill and #COP26. We emphasised how important it is to us that sustainability is one of the five priorities in the Academy’s five-year strategic plan, and that sustainability is driven by our students – as we owe it to them to protect the planet they will grow up on. In fact, I will be judging the students’ Seeking Sustainability competition entries next week!

Solar PV array on the roof of the Athene Donald Building

Mrs Franklin was able to update the conference delegates on the impact of some of our carbon reduction work:

  • Reviewing our controls and boiler optimisation so that boilers are only on when they are absolutely needed has saved 22,000 kWh of energy
  • The replacement of our lighting with LED units has saved 150,000 kWh on electricity
  • The solar panels (or photovoltaic cells as they’re more properly called) which cover much of our roof space across the site can deliver up to 40% of the Academy’s electricity needs in peak summer weather
  • The introduction of point-of-use hot water heaters mean that our boilers can be completely switched off for long periods of time in warm weather, saving 300,000 kWh in gas

Finally, Mrs Franklin was able to present an updated carbon emissions chart which shows we have reduced our carbon footprint by 70% since 2015 – a further 20% reduction since the 2020 figures.

This presentation wasn’t all celebration however. As a school, we have picked almost all of the “low hanging fruit” in our battle to reduce our carbon footprint. The next stage of our journey to net zero involves the bigger challenge: reducing or removing our dependence on natural gas completely. As we look at heating and cooling solutions across the Academy’s estate, to replace our ageing gas boilers, we really want to find low-carbon solutions. Our Trustees last week commissioned work to explore how best to achieve this.

What we already know is that we will need additional funding to enable this work. We also know that the Department for Education is facing an estimated £11.4 billion bill just to bring the school building estate up to standard across the UK – and that’s before they begin to think about decarbonising that estate. And so, whilst we are grateful for the existence of the DfE’s Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems – we feel that it doesn’t go far enough. If we are serious about net zero, we need to tackle the big ticket items which contribute to our carbon footprint: gas-fired heating systems, and emissions from transport. Whilst we can make progress on these issues ourselves, we’re going to need help if we’re going to solve them for good – and that means investment to back up the sentiments.

We know our students are ambitious for a greener future – and we owe it to them to deliver it.

Going Green: Churchill and #COP26

The COP26 summit is an opportunity to change the world. Leaders are meeting in Glasgow to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They will attempt to agree significant actions to reduce carbon emissions, control global warming, and save our planet for future generations. Whether they succeed or not, is out of our hands. But, at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, we are committed to doing what we can to reduce our impact on the environment, and to improving the prospects of a greener future for our students and those that follow in their footsteps.

Our commitment

We’ve taken the Let’s Go Zero pledge, declaring our aim to become zero carbon by 2030. We know that schools can be the trailblazers for their community, responding to young people’s calls for action.  In fact, they can inspire whole communities to tackle the climate crisis. In the coming pivotal ‘climate decade,’ we will be part of Let’s Go Zero’s national network of schools and sustainability organisations, sharing information about how to reach zero carbon, and working with local councils and government to make it happen.  

Our ambition

In our aim to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, we will:

  • Recycle more waste material than we send to landfill
  • Achieve the decarbonisation of our heating system on site, reducing reliance on gas 
  • Re-invest financial savings from sustainability initiatives back into programmes that will deliver towards our carbon emission target

We will show Kindness to the environment, demonstrate Curiosity when looking at how to do things differently, and practice Determination to make a positive difference.

Here are some of the things we’ve already done:

The built environment

Over the past five years we have transformed the built environment of our Academy. In 2019 we finally demolished the original school building, the 1956 block which was latterly home to Tudor House, Science, IT and Business. The energy-inefficient, single-glazed, concrete building has been replaced by modern, well-insulated facilities including the Alan Turing Building and the Athene Donald Building. Both of these were built with sustainability in mind, not just in their construction methods but as sources of energy generation. The roofs of both blocks are completely covered in solar panels, as you can see in the shot of the Athene Donald Building below:

It’s not just the new builds, either. We have solar panels across the roofs of Performing Arts and Music as well, as you can see in the latest Google Maps satellite images of our site:

We are currently halfway through the complete internal rebuild of the Stuart and Lancaster House building, home to languages and humanities. This includes ripping out and completely replacing all the heating, lighting and electrical systems to run as efficiently as possible, as well as ensuring the building is properly insulated and ventilated.

Hot water

A point-of-use water heater

This is the unglamorous part of decarbonisation! Previously, hot water for the site was provided by tanks, heated by boilers in big boiler room facilities for each separate block. This process was energy-inefficient and wasteful, as it heated large amounts of water whether it was needed or not. Over the past year we have been phasing out these hot water tanks and replacing them with point-of-use water heaters, which only heat water as it is needed. These heaters reduce wasted energy, and also free up spaces which previously housed tanks and boilers for storage. We will continue this work in the future.

Lighting

All of our new builds and refurbished facilities have been equipped with LED lighting, and over the past years we have been phasing out any remaining fluorescent tubes to replace them with energy-efficient units. They actually provide better quality light too! Many of our corridor lights are now linked to motion sensors as well, so they are not on unnecessarily, and the external lighting has been upgraded as well. Let there be light!

Recycling

We have always tried to recycle as much waste as possible, and this term we have increased the number of recycling bins on site to encourage pre-sorting of waste as it is thrown away.

The real battle, of course, is reducing the amount of waste we produce in the first place! There is much we can still do in this area, and students and staff are already moving forward with plans to use technology instead of paper, to reduce packaging waste, and to continue our battle against litter.

The green environment

We are lucky in our rural site, surrounded by trees, fields, orchards, and the Mendip Hills. We do all we can to preserve and enhance our green and pleasant site wherever possible. This includes a massive programme of tree planting across the site, including across our car parks and around the perimeter. We are also keen to encourage biodiversity, working with local partners to ensure the wildlife that shares our environment can continue to flourish.

Student Leadership

The student-led Green Team has been operating in the Sixth Form for the past five years. Previously they have introduced reusable and recyclable coffee cups for the Common Room, used the “no power hour” to highlight energy usage, and redeveloped the pond area next to the Sixth Form Centre. This year, the Green Team has great plans – and they’re going whole school, to bring main school students on board too. Look out for further updates later this year!

Energy and CO2 impact so far

Our CO2 monitoring graph, with future projections

The efforts above have already had a significant impact on our CO2 emissions, which have been cut by half in the past five years. We know there is more to do if we are to achieve our ambition to be an environmentally sustainable institution – in particular, reducing our reliance on gas, and continuing to improve the efficiency of our site. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far – but we’re just getting started.

Green Churchill

Schools are in the business of making the future. Our job as educators is to give young people the best possible knowledge, skills, confidence and character to go out and make the world better. And one of the biggest problems that needs to be solved if that better future is going to be a reality is the problem of climate change.

It isn’t like this problem has crept up on us. I remember using Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth to teach students about climate change (and documentary film-making) back in 2006 – before many of our current students were even born. Yet, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that we are causing climate change, the crisis has deepened since then. As a species, we are not doing enough to fix it.

Here at Churchill, we are determined to do what we can to put that right. We have made a start – but we also have a long way to go.

A Greener Site

This week the Churchill Green Team, working with volunteers from Extinction Rebellion, have been hard at work across the Academy planting 105 saplings donated by the Woodland Trust. Over the summer the new broadwalk path down the centre of the Academy site was planted up to develop a sustainable habitat. The Sixth Form have worked hard on developing green spaces around the Sixth Form centre. This vital work is just one part of what we have been doing to help make – and keep – Churchill Academy & Sixth Form “green.”

Solar Panels

As part of the site redevelopment, all of our new buildings (and many of the existing ones) have their roofs covered in solar panels. These panels have vastly increased our reliance on renewable energy. The energy generated from our own solar panels has accounted for between 22-35% of our electricity consumption over the last three months. We were also delighted to see that for several (small) periods over the summer, when the sun was at its most powerful and the energy usage was at its lowest, the site was running entirely self-sufficiently for energy.

Energy Efficiency

Internal works two years ago replaced all the Academy’s traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient LED lighting. These lights uses a fraction of the energy, last longer, and are better to see by. A win-win-win! The Sixth Form have also twice run a “no-power-hour” to see if they can switch off everything possible to get to zero power in the Sixth Form Centre!

Green Team Initiatives

The Green Team have also been busy. This student-led team pioneered reusable “green” coffee cups for Sixth Formers and staff to use at the Sixth Form coffee bar. They have also designed green spaces, including the newly-planted broadwalk down the middle of the school. There are plans to open up vegetable and herb gardens so each house can grown their own produce for use in Food Science and Nutrition, and to install a greenhouse!

Recycling and recyclables

All of our waste is currently processed for recycling, but we plan to make sorting waste more high-profile for our staff and students. We have moved to recycled materials for our take-away cutlery and packaging, and we are committed to reducing the amount of plastic in our catering and our school as a whole. Our caterers, Aspens, also use locally sourced ingredients to reduce food miles and our carbon footprint. The new benches we have ordered and installed at the front of the school and in the Sixth Form area are made from recycled plastic bottles, rather than wood.

Political pressure

greta_thunberg_4

Climate activist Greta Thunberg has been an inspiration to many people around the world for her determined, straight-talking challenge to those in power to take immediate action on the climate crisis. My position on the “school strikes” movement is that education is vital to solving the climate crisis. Those who deny climate change have not been educated well enough to recognise the facts that science can demonstrate. Only through education can we therefore solve the climate crisis. Therefore, rather than going on strike, I have urged Churchill students to use their education, knowledge and skills to help save the planet for future generations.

As a result of just such a conversation, Ellie, Saffron, Ruby and Eve from Year 11 met with John Penrose MP when he came into school recently, to discuss the climate crisis and what could be done about it. Their passionate and eloquent speech certainly impressed our current Member of Parliament, although he was quick to point out the complexity of the global climate problem. There are no easy answers – but we have to do something, and each of us can play our part. The quality of our students’ arguments and ideas gave me hope that we can – and will – save the planet. And they made me think about what we can do at Churchill.

A carbon-neutral school?

One question I have been asking myself recently is “what would it take to become a carbon-neutral school?” Schools are energy-hungry places: we have lots of buildings, lots of people, lots of technology which all use power. We use a lot of paper every day – it’s our stock in trade. Many of our children travel to school on diesel-engined buses. We have a significant carbon footprint. How could we reduce and offset that footprint to minimise our impact? I don’t know all the answers yet. But over the course of this year, as we think about the future of our school intertwined with the future of our children, our society and our planet, I am determined to find some.

If you have any suggestions, or connections or ideas which may help us, please let us know in the comments below!