Environment and Sustainability have been gaining increasing importance over the past couple of years. With the increase in consumption of raw materials and the apparent signs of global warming, sustainability is set to increase even more in importance. Turning things around will be a lengthy process in which we all need to participate. In addition to improving our own awareness towards environment and sustainability, it is important that our children are suitably educated about the impact we can have on our environment and its resources. This can be done by parents at home but increasingly, this is also being taught at school through environmental awareness classes and programmes organised by the FEE such as the Eco Schools Project. Participation in these types of programmes could lead to a better living environment for our children in the future.
FEE stands for Foundation of Environmental Education. It is an international non-profit organisation aimed at improving sustainable development through environmental education. FEE is active in 58 countries around the world and provides environmental education through five different educational programmes, such as Learning about Forests, Blue Flag, Green Key and Young Reporters for the Environment. Since 1994, the FEE has also been organising the Eco Schools Programme.
What is the Eco Schools Project?
The Eco Schools Project was first established in 1994 as the Eco-Schools International Programme following the UN Conference on Environment and Development of 1992. In 2003, the Eco Schools Project was identified as a model initiative for Education for Sustainable Development by the United Nations Environment Programme. The Project has become increasingly popular with schools and in 2006 more than 22,000 schools were participating in the project. This is nearly double as much as in 2004. In 2009, the Eco Schools Programme joined in the Flick The Switch Campaign, a european campaign for the reduction of unnecessary energy consumption.
The Eco Schools Project is a programme which aims to give Sustainability a place in every day school life. It has a democratic approach and aims to include both students and teachers within the decision making process. The Eco Schools Programme is based on ISO 14001, an international standard concerning environmental management systems.This standard provides guidance on an organisation's environmental managemant system, ranging from the development and implementation of an environmental policy and objectives to the identification of significant environmental aspects.
How does the Eco Schools Project work?
The Eco Schools Programme uses a 7 step approach to incorporate sustainability in the school environment. Sustainability and Environment is included in the curriculum and is aimed at engaging the students, teachers and school board to become a more environmentally friendly school. Environmental awareness is brought about through studying topics such as Water, Energy, Waste and Biodiversity, both in a theoretical and practical way. The Eco Schools Project doesn't limit itself to providing classes, the idea is to change the school board and student's behaviour and to improve the school's performance in terms of their energy and water consumption, waste generation and disposal.
As said before, the Eco Schools Project uses a 7 step approach:
- Signing up: The school signs up to the Eco Schools Project. This can usually be done by registering on the Eco-Schools website of the relevant country and signing the sign-up agreement.
- Formation of a committee: The school must set up an Eco-Schools Committee. The task of this committee is to draw up the school's sustainability policy and to ensure its implementation.
- Environmental review: The Committee performs an initial environmental review to assess the school's current situation on the topics of Water, Energy, Waste and Biodiversity.
- Develop an action plan: Based on the findings from the environmental review, the committee develops an action plan. This will include choosing a theme to work on for the year and measurable targets for improvement. Part of the action plan will also be the development of the Eco Code, the school's mission statement with regards to environment and sustainability.
- The curriculum: Teachers assess the current curriculum and determine if additional activities are required to achieve the targets in the action plan.
- Informing and involving: Carrying out the activities from the action plan, providing environmental and sustainability information through the curriculum and involving the wider community where possible.
- The Green Flag: The school is visited by the national Eco Schools Programme administrators and upon successful review is awarded the Green Flag. Though the assessment criteria are internationally the same, there is flexibility for each country to have their own award ceremony and awarding process. Certain countries give out bronze and silver awards before finally awarding the Green Flag, others award one or two stars first.
Benefits of the Eco Schools Project
The Eco Schools programme can bring many benefits to any school wishing to increase their green credentials.
- As students and teachers work together to reduce waste, litter and energy consumption, the school environment is greatly improved.
- Involving the local community is a number of activities will increase integration of the school within the local community. Local businesses with expertise in sustainability or which manage environmental aspects may be willing to share their expertise and provide sponsorship where needed.
- Activities and classes will increase the environmental awareness of the students. Students will also be encouraged to use their environmental knowledge in and outside of the school. This not only leads to an improved school environment but also an improved local environment.
- Through the project, students are encouraged to actively participate in the Eco Schools project. The Eco Schools programme is based on a democratic process which enables students not only to be part of the Eco Schools Committee but also to take control of their own environment.
- The Eco Schools Programme can save schools money. Reducing water and energy consumption will almost definitely lead to financial benefits. Additional savings can be made by reducing waste and increasing recycling.
- The Eco Schools Programme facilitates links between schools in its member countries. This way they can not only share environmental information but it can also be used to improve student's language skills and facilitate cultural exchange.
- Implementation of the programme can increase the school's credentials within the local environment and may attract new students.