Recently, I have started working with schools to help them re-invent their school grounds and create more opportunities for outdoor learning for their students. There are way too many schools out there developed according to building standards rather than optimizing learning environments. This not only creates industrial looking, non-stimulating buildings, classrooms and school grounds, it also neglects environmental efficiency which means many schools are flushing money down the drain by paying more for water, electricity and maintenance than need be.

There’s a movement out there to revolutionize the way schools are built and operate and I think it can’t happen fast enough. There are so many opportunities for graduating students in environmental and health industries emerging and the world is crying out for passionate, engaged, creative environmental leaders. Most classrooms and school grounds can do with a serious overhaul if we want to keep kids engaged and actively learning. Green schools initiatives are starting to fire up all over the US and globally. My favourite example so far has to be Green School built by John Hardy and other creative’s in Bali, if your ever there you need to visit it, its amazing (http://www.ted.com/talks/john_hardy_my_green_school_dream?language=en).

Here’s 5 ways your school can get started on its green journey:

  1. Start by conducting school audits. Get students measuring water use, waste generation and energy consumption to establish a baseline and to get everyone thinking about where the school currently stands. This is important so you can quantify and celebrate the milestones as your school becomes more environmentally aware and efficient over time. Generate custom data sheets and start measuring times, amounts, locations and costs and make the results as public as possible.
  2. Get serious about recycling your waste products. Start a composting program. This is a simple way to start reducing waste going to landfill which places extra burden on local soil and groundwater quality and adds to the expense of waste collection services. The organic waste stream from schools is generally large which means that composting can be an effective way of generating top quality soil improvers for edible garden projects onsite.
  3. Involve the kids. Bring in the experts to do the big jobs if your changing infrastructure and need expert advice but get the students input into the design and help them for example, suggest ways in which the school could be developed and the planting of your school garden be it edible or not. Tie the design theme to the curriculum and make it a practical lesson which involves the calculations of volumes, the basics of design, practical lessons in biology and ecology and the like.
  4. Get inspired. Have a look at what other schools are doing and familiarize the board or governing council with the green school initiatives in Australia and abroad (http://www.healthygreenschools.com/index.php; http://centerforgreenschools.org/home.aspx). Themes like kitchen gardens, Nature Play and outdoor classrooms are just the beginning.
  5. Consider your school as a whole? This is really important! Look at your built environment. Realize that everything there interacts like one big ecosystem. How many trees are there on your school grounds? How much area in your school is dedicated to lawn or hard surfaces? What do you do with your storm and waste water? Does your school contribute to regional and community projects? Tying together themes that reduce energy usage, capture and re-use water, grow food, include parent groups and increase the natural environment on the school grounds can significantly reduce operational costs and improve educational and development opportunities helping create the leaders of tomorrow.

Cultural changes like this take time so consider taking the first steps now. They are always the hardest.

Please get in touch if you need further inspiration. I have plenty of great examples of schools doing just this and would love to see many more take the plunge. Get on it!