The internationally accepted (Brundtland) definition of sustainable development is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
The Government has pledged to make this the ‘greenest government ever’. Sustainable development is a key part of the Coalition Agreement, which states that we ‘need to protect the environment for future generations, make our economy more environmentally sustainable, and improve our quality of life and wellbeing’.
The Government is fully committed to sustainable development and the importance of preparing young people for the future. Our approach to reform is based on the belief that schools perform better when they take responsibility for their own improvement.
We want schools to make their own judgements on how sustainable development should be reflected in their ethos, day-to-day operations and through education for sustainable development. Those judgements should be based on sound knowledge and local needs.
An updated set of top tips on sustainability in schools is now available which suggests practical ways for schools to become more sustainable, should they choose to, whilst at the same time saving money.
Multiple sources of evidence suggest that being a sustainable school raises standards and enhances young people’s well-being. Research supports the idea that this is because sustainable schools engage young people in their learning, thereby improving motivation and behaviour, and also promote healthy school environments and lifestyles.
Saving resources such as energy and water can also save schools significant sums of money. There are also physical and psychological benefits related to walking or cycling to school, eating more healthily and spending time in nature. The Natural Environment White Paper includes the aspiration that ‘we want to see every child in England given the chance to experience and learn about the natural environment’.
The full set of good practice materials that underpin the National Framework for Sustainable Schools is also available online.
Climate change has the potential to disrupt significantly the delivery of children’s services, with subsequent negative effects on children’s education and wider wellbeing. The Climate Change Act 2008 establishes a long-term framework to tackle climate change.
The Act aims to encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy in the UK through unilateral legally binding emissions reduction targets. This means a reduction of at least 34 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and at least 80 per cent by 2050.
Carbon emissions in the school sector arise from energy use in schools, procurement of goods and services by schools, and school travel. We are giving schools the tools and information to take action on all of these areas.
The Act also commits the UK to developing and implementing a National Adaptation Programme. The Department for Education is contributing to the cross-government National Adaptation Plan, led by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Our work focuses on the effect of overheating on children’s education, our school building programme and how we operate our own estate.
We are helping schools to be more sustainable by working with the Sustainable Schools Alliance, who are working together to provide a clear and compelling offer of support to all schools in the country. This will help and encourage schools to put sustainability at the heart of what they do.
The Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD), for which UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) is the lead agency, aims to change the approach to education so that it integrates the principles, values and practices of sustainable development. The Department signed up to the strategy in March 2005.
The Decade’s goals can be broken down into four key objectives:
Following a reorganisation of UNESCO’s UK National Commission in 2011, we are exploring how to support this work in ways which maintain schools’ responsibility for their own development, and how to exchange best practice in productive ways between the devolved administrations, practitioners from across the education sector and civil society organisations.
As part of the Government’s pledge to make this the ‘greenest government ever’, government departments must take action to reduce significantly the impact we have on our environment by cutting our waste, bringing down our water usage and making our procurement more sustainable.
We are fully committed to operating an efficient estate and to reducing the environmental impact of our own operations and their associated costs.
The Department is working towards the Greening Government Commitments (GGC) for operations and procurement. These commitments replace targets for Sustainable Operations on the Government Estate (SOGE).
The GGC framework sets out targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, domestic flights, waste and water by 2015, and paper usage in 2011/12.
There are also targets and transparency commitments covering sustainable procurement, climate change adaptation, biodiversity, sustainable construction and people.
To set out our commitment to continual improvement in how we manage our buildings and operations, our Sustainable Operations Policy Statement is displayed in our building reception areas and online. This underpins our Environmental Management System (EMS) for managing our environmental impacts, which is modelled on ISO14001:2004.
In July 2012, the Department was awarded the Carbon Saver Gold Standard following external verification of our carbon management programme. This was in recognition of how much we have reduced our carbon emissions over three consecutive years.
In 2011/12, we reported a 37 per cent reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions from our energy use and travel since 2009/10.
Also in July 2012, the Department introduced a new ‘closed loop’ paper recycling system across our estate. Closed loop paper recycling allows for the safe and secure disposal of confidential and non-confidential waste paper and for the very same paper to reprocessed and supplied back to Government as 100 per cent recycled at a lower cost.
As well as economic benefits, this initiative offers significant environmental savings, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions and fewer chemicals and bleaching agents used in the recycling process.
In May 2010, the Prime Minister committed to reducing carbon emissions from the Government’s office buildings by 10 per cent over a 12 month period. We were ranked as the top performing Department, reducing our emissions by over 21 per cent.
The Department is now focusing on the GGC targets and developing strategies for delivering them. Initial analysis of cross-Government GGC performance indicates that we are performing well in comparison to other departments.
Our 2011/12 performance shows continued progress towards achieving the targets, achieving the in-year 10 per cent paper reduction target, and already meeting the 2015 domestic flights target.
Throughout 2012/13, the Department’s sustainable operations team is focusing on reducing our water consumption to meet the GGC office benchmark target (of four-six m3 per employee per year), and further reducing the amount of waste we produce.
For more information on what the Department is doing to reduce the environmental impact of its own activities, please use the contact email address on this page.
Sustainable development enquiries
Practical ways for schools to become more sustainable.
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Top tips to reduce energy and water use in schools.
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Outline of ISO 14000 and what constitutes an Environmental Management System.
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Legislation introducing the world’s first long-term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of climate change.
Evidence of the impact of sustainable schools
United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).
Sustainable school resources.
The coalition’s programme for Government
Defra’s Natural Environment White Paper
OGC information on SDiG.
Government delivery on sustainable development targets.
Government delivery on sustainable development targets.
Defra information on greening Government commitments.
Embedding sustainability into Government
Information on the development of a National Adaptation Plan.