With back to school now a done deal, a national survey has revealed the significant potential to save energy and money in Australian schools goes largely untapped, yet the will for action is strong – with children found to be low carbon living influencers at home.
Funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL), the survey examined the attitudes and experiences of 120 people connected to schools and their beliefs around the built environment’s impact on health and learning.
Research leader, Curtin University research fellow and managing director of Climate Clever Dr Vanessa Rauland said there is no national approach for measuring the operational performance of school buildings, including setting targets for improvement, or systemic methods for schools to reduce energy and water consumption and a review is urgently needed.
“School buildings and their precincts provide a low-cost, high-impact opportunity to save energy, water and money, plus reduce waste and carbon emissions, while providing students with great STEM learning opportunities,” Dr Rauland said.
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“We discovered that although 94 per cent of respondents supported their schools in tracking energy, water and waste production, only 28 per cent of schools were tracking energy and 27 per cent – less than a third – had an action plan or tools in place to reduce consumption,” she said.
The survey also showed that while energy forms the largest component of a school’s carbon footprint, most school sustainability programs targeted waste (77 per cent) and water (49 per cent), which are much more tangible than energy, which saw only 39 per cent of programs target.
“The survey also showed that schools’ sustainability programs can influence the community, with 58 per cent of respondents saying their child had influenced decisions at home, based on the sustainability or low carbon programs they were involved with at school,” Dr Rauland said.
Almost all surveyed believed the built environment and the space where children learn impacts student’s learning outcomes, suggesting exemplary buildings can improve not only children’s ability to learn, but also their knowledge around sustainability by using their buildings as a living laboratory.
“Schools need more stringent design and building codes, plus clear performance targets, to help lower emissions and save energy – especially if we are to meet Paris Agreement targets,” Dr Rauland said.
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This was also supported by another report – Built to Reform – produced by the CRCLCL, ASBEC and ClimateWorks in 2018, which revealed that education buildings offered the most cost-effective carbon abatement opportunities within the built environment.
“Overall there is a need for a cost-effective, nationally coordinated effort to empower schools to pursue carbon and cost reduction individually, rather than rely on government,” Dr Rauland said.
“This approach can not only save money, it can provide significant learning opportunities for students around resource efficiency and low carbon living, which can also influence their families and the wider community.”
The national percentage breakdown for respondents was: Victoria (32 per cent), NSW (29 per cent), WA (20 per cent), QLD (7 per cent), SA (6 per cent), TAS (2 per cent), NT (1 per cent), Unspecified (3 per cent).