July 2022 edition: Trusts as Civic Leaders in Sustainability

Trusts as Civic Leaders in Sustainability

Reflections on the CST Conference - #TrulyCivic

It was positive to hear from the then serving Secretary of State at the CST Conference that the Government recognises the impact that energy price rises are having on school budgets and applauded the role of school leaders as champions in sustainability. It will be interesting to see what financial and practical support they offer during these unprecedent inflationary times.

For now, there is little sign of energy prices dropping significantly – with some schools now reporting tariffs 260% higher than this time last year. It is unlikely that this issue will go away soon so, as Rob Gould argued in his article in October, doing nothing is no longer an option.

Put in context, through our own research we found that 120 of the largest Trusts consume over 1.36 billion kWh of energy each year. A 1-pence increase in electricity and gas equates to £13.1 million alone. In reality, many are seeing 10-20 pence rises. So, now must surely be the time to push sustainability and energy reduction action planning up the agenda.

Whilst rising energy costs present a significant financial challenge, they have also, somewhat perversely, become a catalyst to take necessary action. This in turn is a great opportunity for School Leaders to promote civic leadership, raise the profile of sustainability in their communities as they move to Net Carbon Zero, and inspire future generations.

The barriers to action: what the sector is saying

Through Live Poll we ran at the CST Conference it was clear that there are some common barriers that have prevented Trust leaders moving their organisations forward.

From our poll of 25 School Trusts, covering 300 schools, 21% had formulated a sustainability and energy policy. 14% of them had taken this further and devised a sustainability & energy action plan.

Why so few? The main reasons given were lack of funding, time, resources and not knowing where to begin – or in the case of 35% of those we asked – "all of the above”!

This, we believe, is illustrative of the size and complexity of the task at hand. It is clear that sustainability and energy is fighting against many other pressing issues involved with running a successful Trust. 

So, where to begin?

Start with energy. Whilst the subject of sustainability is wide reaching, comprising of both soft and hard benefits, the issue of energy should be top of your Trust’s agenda.

Consider quick actions such as identifying ways to turn things off. Look at where and when you are using energy and work out ways to reduce consumption. Smart metering can help enormously with this. Consider sharing usage data within your local teams to increase understanding of energy usage compared to others. Perhaps set targets or "energy league tables”, for energy usage reduction. It is amazing what can be achieved with a little healthy competition.

Other things to consider:

  • Spend to save | Understand the physical changes to your buildings and their systems that could result in energy saving or energy generation e.g. insulation, solar PV panels, LED lighting and heating controls.
  • Water | understand the condition of your drains, look at investment in water-saving tech
  • Waste | think about what you are buying as prevention is better than cure
  • Travel | provide cycle storage & showers, and EV charging for staff, understand student public transport options
  • Food | look at developing meat free menus and reducing how much waste is being produced.
  • School Grounds | use grounds to offset your carbon footprint by planting trees and hedges – biodiversity.

Showing leadership

In our experience, those School Trusts that have already made significant inroads into energy reduction and sustainable changes have one major characteristic in common - their most senior people promote and drive sustainable action.

However, don’t get caught up in the detail. It is not necessary to be an expert in sustainability to lead. A good example of this is establishing an "Eco-Committee”; a working group that is empowered by senior leaders to identify and make changes, setting a policy and devising an action plan. Another example is internal communications and events. We were delighted to speak at Windsor Academy Trust’s own WAT COP 22 event recently where over 100 students were brought together to hear about the Trust’s sustainability journey and offer their own ideas and enthusiasm.

Resources and help

To create an Energy & Sustainability Policy and Action Plan for your organisation,
Barker have provided free templates to CST members. These can be found on our CST Platinum Partner page here.

There is an abundance of education specific information sources available which may help. Examples include the Lets Go Zero campaign, Eco-Schools and Transform Our World. All offer free resources, templates and tools to get you started, save you time and prevent you reinventing the wheel.

Action planning

The actions you could take are many and varied. However, creating maximum impact requires prioritisation. Making School Trusts sustainable is a journey, not a single project, so do it at your own pace, but do something.

In our experience, those School Trusts that have already made significant inroads into energy reduction and sustainable changes have one major characteristic in common - their most senior people promote and drive sustainable action.

Tom Deacon

Some ideas to consider:

  • Consider establishing an "Eco-Committee” and empower them to take action. Delegate responsibility, but retain accountability for delivering against sustainable goals.
  • Provide necessary resources to enable action and results. This need not just be funding, but also time for people to spend making changes.
  • Develop an Energy & Sustainability Strategy and action plan. Consider energy audits as a way of creating tangible "things” you can do that will actually save carbon and money.
  • Use "quick wins” to kick start your journey.
  • Make the most of free resources available.
  • Be wise to funding opportunities and maximise your chances through planning in of resources and support.
  • Finally… be ambitious! Whilst the energy price rises are likely to be causing budgetary pain, it could actually be the catalyst needed for your teams to make changes that will have a lasting impact on the environmental impact of your schools.

So, to conclude, it was great to attend and contribute to this years #TrulyCivic conference. Listening to those who joined our session and those we met during the two days, it is clear that energy costs & organisational sustainability is quickly rising up the agenda of Trust Leaders. However, choosing what to do to make positive and impactful steps is the tricky part. However, there is plenty of support and lots of resources available to help you on your journey to net carbon zero.

Barker is a CST Platinum Partner.