Schools and students take charge on sustainability

Student climate change protest

The climate has become front of mind this summer with the current drought and bushfires across the country. It’s a topic many young Australians are actively engaged in as hundreds of thousands rallying in capital cities and regional centres last September.

The largest annual survey of young people aged 15 to 19 by Mission Australia found that the environment rose to second place in the list of most important issues in 2019. Out of the 25,126 respondents, one in three indicated that they were concerned about climate change and other environmental issues.

Initiatives on climate and sustainability

The importance of the issue has seen every State Government in the country launching initiatives at schools. The focus has not just been on climate change, but teaching students about practical steps they can take to lessen its impact and create a more sustainable environment.

Government initiatives differ between states and range from providing resources and toolkits for schools to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum. They range from providing grants to help develop hands-on projects that help students learn about sustainable practices to direct funding for schools to help reduce electricity costs, energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Taking advantage of the sun

The largest and most visible initiative has been the installation of solar panels at schools to reduce costs and carbon footprint. In NSW, more than 1,430 schools have had solar panels installed in the past decade while the Queensland Government announced last month that 10,000 new solar panels have been installed at schools.

Many schools in NSW, QLD and the NT are also taking advantage of the Hivve sustainable classroom initiative where in addition to installing solar energy, monitors have been setup in the classroom so students and teachers can see how much energy they’re using, as well as comparing their school’s energy consumption with other similar schools.

Schools have experienced substantial benefits since turning to solar. Camberwell Grammar School in Melbourne which installed Australia’s largest school solar system generated 1GWh in the first year - enough to power 300,000 homes. While at St Margaret Mary's Catholic Primary School in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, they have cut its energy consumption in half since installing solar panels and replacing lighting with energy-efficient LEDs.

War on waste

Many schools have also been focusing on waste management and recycling as part of their sustainability efforts. This includes minimising single-use items and plastic being brought onto school grounds, having students conduct waste audit to ensure correct items are going into landfill as well as teaching students on how to reuse and upcycle.

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