Government, organisations, schools, families all face dilemmas in balancing potentially competing agendas. Issues around climate change and the environment are no different, as explored in my blog Climate Change, Hypocrisy and me.

At Cranleigh, if we are to live up to our founding Christian ethos then clearly stewardship of our environment has to drive how we act. That stewardship principle also applies to the resources that are at our disposal, in short the income we receive from parents.

Equally, Governors and Heads have a responsibility to secure a school’s future and environment for the very long term whereas generations of pupils pass through in relatively short periods of time. It is understandable for members of the existing generation to question whether it is fair that they appear to be footing the bill for an investment their children might not see.

For example, should we allocate finances to solar power investment over new sports surfaces which we then push out another 5 years? That would be a decision where the current generation receives little direct benefit. Although with any facility, each generation benefits from the investment of the previous, it does not negate the dilemma.

As a school, I think we have a duty to say to the current generation of pupils that our responsibility to the environment, conservation, climate change is paramount both in terms of our ethos and in terms of the future that they will inherit and pass on. Stewardship is an important principle to teach the young. That means we will have to make changes and sacrifices now but in a sustainable way.

Environmental concerns have been at the heart of our decision making, especially around development projects. Lessons, assemblies, environmental conferences and outside speakers have all addressed the issue of climate change, plastic oceans, conservation trying to inspire and educate. Of course, being a boarding school is in itself an advantage with the reduced number of daily journeys for both travel to school and shopping for food as one truck delivers all to the kitchens.

However, this is one area where the pupils have to find their own voice and, to use a cliché, take ownership. Thanks to the inspiration of Greta Thunberg, Sir David Attenborough and whether or not you agree with the method, Extinction Rebellion, this has happened. This year a newly formed committee has really taken up the leadership challenge and put it very much at the forefront of Cranleigh life.

So what have we been doing and where do we need to go? I would call our policy up until this point ethical greening in that our stewardship responsibilities mean that we must always consider environmental impact when we make decisions, and we have therefore made gradual steps.

  • For new buildings we have tried to target a BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) of ‘very good’. This reflects that balancing of priorities so that the full environmental cost is not placed on one generation of parents. West and the VHC both have solar panels.
  • The whole idea of the 2015 masterplan was to build a more environmentally sustainable classroom block and then re-use an older building rather than look to build more, which is why we built around the squash courts too – a re-use philosophy.
  • The refurbishment of existing buildings and school houses is core business for our works department with energy efficiency at its heart, improving windows, insulation etc. and whilst doing so spend money on windows, insulation etc., putting in movement sensors and LED lighting wherever we can. It is hard to measure the impact in terms of total energy saved as not all buildings are on isolated systems and of course new buildings add to our energy use.
  • The Woodland Fitness Centre won eco awards as a carbon neutral building and was built from local wood. We try to ensure all wood used is from sustainable sources.
  • It has not all been plain sailing. When the school built the sports centre part of the offset was to plant Millennium Copse behind the sports centre, which is maturing well. To allow the Emms Centre to generate some of its power from renewables, we put in a wind turbine near the stables. We were the first school to do so in the country. Sadly it was so unreliable that it became a white elephant. Sometimes being a technology pioneer is not good stewardship. Likewise the school conducted some extensive research into biomass boilers but they simply were not cost effective.
  • We have planted over a hundred trees across the two sites since the millennium. We have left some areas of the school fallow from cutting and we are looking to do more of this The Head of the Prep School has bought some Red Mason bees (non-stinging) and we hope to create corridors of wilder areas linking some of our more bio diverse sites. The community will have to accept a different aesthetic and appreciate the beauty of a less pristine site in all areas.
  • All single-use plastic bottles are gradually being phased out of catering. By Easter 2020 there will be none in packed lunches and Gatley’s and pupils will have to bring water bottles. All disposable plates, cups, cutlery is now Vegware.
  • We have formed a link with the new biogas plant at Dunsfold and all our food waste is being taken there to be converted into biogas or compost. In the period from mid November 2019 until the end of term recycling food waste saved 200,000 litres of water as it used to be flushed down the drains, and the labour costs of disposing 400 bags of rubbish were saved.
  • We are looking at securing more eco products in the school shop – soap bar shampoos and skin gentle products.

The Eco Group has done a fantastic job of putting the environment squarely on the agenda and we are very supportive of that voice. We now need to move from the gradual process of ethical greening to an environmental strategy, considering targets and measuring impacts to build on this momentum. If I were writing a report it would be ‘could do better…should do better.

However, there is a deeper question for all of us – are we going to be a green school or a green community? What about all those gas guzzling motors we like to drive? I would love to know the mood music of the parent body because we will have to respond perhaps with charging points in car parks. What burden is this generation prepared to carry? Difficult isn’t it. And we wonder why Greta Thunberg gets frustrated at the silence of politicians facing complexity.