2021 has already seen many public sector bodies become more eco-aware: and by that, I mean not just half-heartedly encouraging better recycling habits, but actively becoming more conscious of their organisation’s material carbon output and broader contribution to the current climate crisis we face. As we begin to move out of the pandemic and the UK seeks to ‘Build Back Better’, there has been growing focus in terms of what this actually means in practice. Paired with the upcoming COP26 summit this year which will be taking place in Glasgow, the answer to this question has emerged relatively clear: we must build back better, and we must build back green.
This agenda is extremely relevant for education providers and for those responsible for the education estate, and for very good reason. Environmental organisation the Carbon Trust commissioned a report back in 2010 stating that the main components of a typical school’s carbon footprint are things such as heating, lighting, hot water and electricity. These are areas that most UK households have already made changes to so as to reduce carbon footprints: many UK homes are now fitted with smart meters to monitor electricity use, LED lighting, and other innovative yet simple to use tools to track water and gas usage in a bid to cut down carbon output. If the solutions exist, and are seemingly easy to implicate, why aren’t more schools looking at these small changes that make such a big difference to carbon output, even 11 years on from the original report?
Simply put, many schools are not aware of the breath of untapped resources available to them to tackle their carbon footprints, they are unsure how to access and implement these tools given the scale of school buildings. In some cases, school facilities are old and deteriorating – making it difficult for school bodies to commit to investing in sustainable features for worry that they will either be short-lived or ineffective due to the buildings poor state of repair. It is well-known that school refurbishment is one of the best ways to save energy - for example replacing old heating systems with new smart controllers can save huge amounts of energy each year – and this is why the UK Government has pledged to invest more than £1 billion in new school construction.
But refurbishment can be a lengthy process – and given the current and quite frankly stark warnings we currently face on the climate crisis – it is important that we look at ways we can tackle energy consumption right now.
Equipping education providers and those responsible for the education estate with easy to understand and accessible routes to reducing energy consumption is critical. The world of energy products can often be confusing or overly complex, and this creates a barrier to getting people on board with making the switch to greener alternatives: cutting through the red (or perhaps ‘green’ in this instance) tape will be significant in encouraging more organisations and public sector bodies to make conscious environmental choices in the bid to reach Net Zero.
Organisations are already working hard to achieve this, by creating procurement frameworks that offer tailored services to overcome some of the barriers that education providers face. For example, in the case of a school facility that is old and requires refurbishment, energy audits can ensure that appropriate services and products are recommended to support the wider school’s environmental targets. Not only does switching over to green products support environmental targets, but it can also create huge monetary savings for education providers, allowing additional funds to be made available to invest into providing exceptional education. Giving education providers better oversight of their spending on green products, by offering them access to competitively priced energy products, can generate substantial monetary savings whilst ensuring providers are equipped with the best products on the market. Providers are therefore empowered to make decisions that fit their unique organisations needs, whilst reaching their environmental goals and saving money.
There can often be an assumption around switching to greener alternatives that it is costly, and that this is a barrier to making the switch – however, if we can continue to overcome this assumption by demonstrating how investing in green alternatives can actually pay your investment back over time in energy savings, we will have made huge progress as a sector in achieving Net Zero. The Carbon Trust report outlines several important case studies on this topic; for example, at Heywood Comprehensive School in Gloucestershire, installing humidity and temperature sensors helped to maximise heating use (reducing wasted heat energy) and saved more than £7,000 a year – paying back the initial investment in just two years.
It is cases like this that highlight the importance of educating providers and empowering them to make conscious environmental choices. Not only can investing in green alternatives reduce carbon output and support the Net Zero agenda, but they can create huge cost savings that can be re-invested in education services. So, what are we waiting for? It’s time to make the change and go green, not only for the benefit of our students, but for the environment.
Ranjit Singh, Sourcing Manager at HealthTrust Europe