I am incredibly lucky to have the responsibility of leading sustainability at Cranleigh this year – the first since my role has been officially created. And it has been a year of huge excitement and experimentation.
At the start of the year, the horizon was already set with the launch of the IPCC report which warned that climate-related risks to almost every important aspect of human life would increase unless global carbon emissions come down rapidly.
“I have tried to eschew calamity warnings and opted for positive engagement.”
How, then, to get the urgency of this across to our community without the accompanying feelings of helplessness that are common amongst those trying to address climate change? For right or wrong, I have tried in the first instance to eschew calamity warnings, and opted for positive engagement, though it is hard to escape the threat of such reporting.
Rather, I have hoped to begin to instil a sense of personal and communal responsibility in our members, whilst empowering them to be the change that is needed. As Robert Swan said, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”
We started with House Sustainability Strategies and a really strong push on waste and rubbish, and my intention is also that every subject will begin to “green season” their curriculum to acknowledge climate change wherever possible.
A great opportunity to contextualise this also appeared on the horizon in the guise of COP26. An opportunity for the UK to commit to making the world a more sustainable and equitable place.
At Cranleigh, we marked this with a collaboration with all four Cranleigh Schools to explore the importance of COP and how we may rise to the challenges it sets. Another way we prepared for COP26 was through the United Kingdom Schools Sustainability Network (UKSSN), of which Cranleigh is a member school and I am the staff lead for the Surrey Area.
We took 20 students from around the country and as a result of our efforts at COP26, the UKSSN has been directly involved in the development of the DfE’s new Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy.
Whilst no pupils from Cranleigh came with us to COP26, unfortunately, we supported Kelo Uchendu, the amazing youth activist from Nigeria who came to deliver powerful speeches for the future of Nigeria’s youth. Our excellent Sustainability Council also attended a fantastic mock COP debate in the Surrey County Council Chambers, organised by Zero Carbon Guildford.
“Approximately 94 per cent of students think climate change is a significant world problem.”
Many pledges were agreed on issues such as greenhouse gas emission and deforestation, although things like this have been promised before and not happened, so watch this space.
A survey of attitudes at Cranleigh from our COP26 PSHE session found that approximately 94 per cent of students think climate change is a significant world problem, with nearly 30 per cent thinking it is the most significant problem the world currently faces.
Equally, 83 per cent believe the school should be behaving sustainably and working towards targets such as Net Zero. However, about 72 per cent only feel somewhat (and 5 per cent of these, not at all) empowered to live their lives more sustainably themselves. Clearly we, as individuals, as a community and as a planet, have much to do.
After the mixed emotions of COP26, the Sustainability Council has been busy with a raft of initiatives to drive us forwards and re-engage us with the planet. First, we moved from a Meat Free Monday to a Meat Free “One Day” strategy, with plant-based meals being spread over a week.
The intention here is to reduce the one day “hit” and to reflect the type of lifestyle that will be more common in the future. The end of Lent term also heralded Eco Week which was, like its first instalment last year, an incredibly positive and busy event. We had a whole week of, environmentally-focused events from nature walks to star-gazing and an essay competition.
“The positive effects on young people of engaging with nature and learning outside are clear.”
Our recent new flexible plastic recycling scheme sees us at the start of a journey with all the schools in Cranleigh. After Christmas we started to offer “Teracycle” recycling – various forms of flexible plastic – in school. Another collaboration going strongly is the outdoor work we are doing in the community – our vegetable garden in the Medical Centre Garden continues to thrive and be great fun. We also take pupils most weeks to our three local community sites where we plant, tidy and maintain.
This year we embarked upon our first ever Outdoor Curricular Learning Week. The Eco Council set out 20 different sites around Cranleigh’s outdoor space and asked teachers to take as many classes as they could outside to teach a curriculum lesson. I saw a huge range of lessons being taught, from mathematics calculating the flight of paper aeroplanes, to geography surveys to art. The positive effects on young people of engaging with nature and learning outside are clear and our grounds are too good a resource not to use.
Next year should herald a more strategic approach to sustainability and environmental education after a frenetic year of experimenting and engagement. Amongst other things, we will be setting up a Sustainability Committee to draw on the experience, energy and knowledge of everyone involved with the school and shape strategy to help us achieve well-defined operational sustainability goals.