I wonder if you too have been made to feel a bit uncomfortable lately by the sense of having to do your bit to save the planet. Just a couple of months ago, few of us had ever heard of Extinction Rebellion. Now you can’t look at the news without seeing another story about the need to change the way we live.
Cycling through London a couple of months ago, I was frustrated to discover a couple of thousand protesters had taken over Waterloo Bridge and were preventing traffic from getting through.
However, I happened to notice a few cheeky cyclists were chancing their arms and being let through by the gathered protesters. I quickly joined them, and happily claimed my eco-warrior credentials when they extended me the same courtesy.
I was relieved to catch my train, but did feel a bit unsettled the following morning when I heard Emma Thompson speaking very convincingly on behalf of those people about the urgent need to reverse the climate change trends we’re currently seeing.
For starters, the total global insect population is dropping by 2.5% a year, with potentially devastating implications for the food chain.
Having spent so much of my life working with schools, I started thinking about their response to the environmental situation. I was shocked to learn that 25% of morning rush hour traffic – the slowest and smokiest – is down to school drop-offs. And yet there’s a lot we can do.
We can encourage wider use of school buses. A 49-seater coach is, based on average numbers per school run journey, equivalent to 31 cars. If parents can’t walk with their children to school, or encourage them to cycle, they should at least see if there’s a bus service available.
If they’re worried about their children’s safety, modern technology can now reassure them. CoachHire.com, one of the biggest school transport providers in the country, offers an app for parents which shows them whether their child boarded the bus and where their bus is at that very moment.
Schools are also among the biggest institutional users of electricity, with lighting accounting for more than half of that. Walk round a typical school and you’ll still find lights left on in unused classrooms and over-lit dining rooms, not to mention flickering striplights that cause issues for children with certain types of ADD and conditions such as epilepsy.
Again, there are solutions available. eLight, for instance, is transitioning schools to using LED lighting for a fixed monthly fee, with no requirement for capital investment. The savings unlocked are typically double the fee, thus freeing cash from the old lights and enabling schools to make enormous savings.
What about school uniform production? Many of us are increasingly concerned at the environmental damage caused by sweatshop factories, but there’s an alternative. ShopKeepEasy is an online shopping platform that schools can use to create and sell clothes and accessories with custom designs fashioned from environmentally-friendly materials, such as a type of polyester made using spent plastic bottles.
Maybe we can’t all cycle everywhere, but there are certainly other ways in which we can make sensible and easy decisions that will have a positive impact on our surrounding environment. If school pupils are the leaders of this burgeoning movement, then schools themselves should seize the chance to do what they can to adopt new behaviours and protect the futures of those they serve.
Fergal Roche is a former teacher, headteacher and founding CEO of The Key; he now runs Nobel Thinking, a consultancy supporting organisational leaders.