We can have sustainable schools if we pull together

The best place to start the green revolution is in our schools, say Mathilde Iveson and Amelie Nichols

We’ve been honoured to be called Yorkshire’s answer to Greta Thunberg in coverage of our eco team’s work. But it’s too easy to say environmentalism is a young people’s issue, and then let us solve all the problems. For sure, when we have the support of other pupils, we find being part of the eco team easier and more encouraging, but it isn’t always the case. It’s the support of the adults that really makes the difference and keeps us going, and we are lucky that all the staff at St Francis Xavier support what we are doing.

After all, it’s our future that is most at risk if we don’t care for our environment. By doing small things such as picking up litter, measuring our food waste, making eco presentations and publishing a trust-wide eco newsletter, we are showing our communities not just where the problems are, but how to solve them. Meanwhile, we’re developing our knowledge of science, English and our public speaking skills. It’s a win for us, for the school and for the community.

And when we all pull together, it’s surprising what we can achieve. We were recently invited to The Guardian  offices after one of our group wrote to them about the single-use wrapping on their magazines. Shortly after that letter, the newspaper changed to a potato starch wrapping. Now we’ve written to our MP, Rishi Sunak, with some ideas about making improvements in our constituency. Little things lead to big changes, but some things are simply out of our reach. If Mr Sunak shows leadership on environmental issues, then others will follow. We will be able to achieve much more with his support than without.

Let’s be honest. Preventing devastating climate change is urgent. A report this week says we are already past a point of no return. But we can’t give up on making the planet sustainable for longer. We deserve that hope, and that’s why we challenge our leaders, whether that’s our MP or our headteacher, Stuart McGhee.

To be fair to them, they have responded positively. Mr Sunak visited the school when it was awarded the 2019 Education Estates Award for Sustainability. And we couldn’t have received that award without Mr McGhee, who has signed St Francis Xavier (SFX) up to Ashden’s LetsGoZero campaign to make schools sustainable by 2030, or without the staff at SFX – who mostly manage to stay on the right side of our Eco Team Police Department, switching off their lights, computers and projectors when they’re not in use!

The government has said it will fund £1 billion to help improve the energy efficiency of public buildings. More solar panels would help us power our school as well as St Mary’s primary next door. But our heating system and insulation need improving too, and there are a lot of schools. One billion pounds sounds like a lot, but it’s only a first step to making schools carbon-neutral, which is what we really need. It makes sense for so many reasons.

First, the money saved on bills could be spent on teachers and resources. Second, where schools lead, communities follow. Delivering the prime minister’s “green industrial revolution” depends on us. And third, it would mean that our schools could teach us about respecting our environment, not just through their words, but through their actions.

Maybe when we have that, then more of our peers will join in with the little things. In the meantime, we’ll keep acting locally and thinking globally. And if you’re sitting around waiting for another Greta to get your school started, don’t. The talent and passion are there if you just nurture them.

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