Case study: Sustainable schools

Written by: Marion Plant | Published:
Energy-efficient: Staff from North Warwickshire and Hinckley College accepting their Ashden Sustainable School Award (Photo: Andy Aitchison)

Among the winners in last year’s Ashden Sustainable Schools Awards was North Warwickshire and Hinckley College. Principal Marion Plant explains what they did and how

North Warwickshire and Hinckley College has 14,000 students over five campuses. The college first started to think about its impact on the environment back in 2010 when the Carbon Trust helped us to develop a five-year plan to manage our carbon output, worth an enormous £2 million per annum. This plan was linked to the college’s own Sustainable Development Action Plan which is reviewed and updated annually.

It set us some ambitious targets to hit by the end of August 2015 which we managed to meet and then, with almost perfect timing, we found out that we were one of the 2015 Ashden Sustainable School Award winners in October.

It was a bit overwhelming back then, knowing where to start in the first place, but our group sustainability officer, Serena Baccuzi, and our incredible estates team have been excellent leaders in energy management.

We started off by thinking about how we could influence behaviour change to reduce energy use, both in staff and students. It was also important that we kept an accurate record of housekeeping and monitored our energy use throughout.

To spread the message of our ambitious energy-saving plans to staff and students, we held a range of events during our fresher’s week, such as making a smoothie bike in our engineering department to show just how much energy can be generated without electricity, as well as organising competitions and charity cycle events. We also have an annual Green Week that promotes every aspect of sustainable living – as well as fun games and activities, there are also sustainable energy tutorials.

Everybody in the college is involved and has a responsibility to keep us on track, whether through senior management of the buildings or students switching off equipment. This holistic approach is key to our success.

Our Nuneaton campus dates back to the 1950s and inevitably there is on on-going programme of refurbishment. Updating always includes measures to save energy such as energy efficient boilers, improved insulation, double glazing and heating and lighting controls.

We gradually introduced a programme of improvements including the installation of our 50kWp solar array on the roof of our Nuneaton campus, which has reduced our energy bills significantly. There is an eye-catching display panel in the reception area that shows the amount of electricity we have generated and the corresponding CO2 savings. We also currently have a programme to install LED lighting and sensor controls where appropriate.

Another thing that really helps us is our impressive Building Management System. Staff are able to set temperature levels in different parts of the buildings (17 degrees Celsius being the norm) and adjust if necessary. Excessive use of energy can be identified fairly quickly and the team can respond accordingly.

We try to incorporate energy saving into our teaching as much as we can when it is relevant – some of our courses lend themselves more to it than others. We have two lesson plans on sustainability that include an energy audit activity.

Giving students and staff more control of their environment is eminently sensible and it means that the whole building is not heated to the same temperature – ideal when you have some very sunny warm classrooms.

We have had an 18 per cent reduction in electricity use over the past five years and a 40 per cent reduction in our gas use. This has enabled us to re-invest the savings made back into the college. In the future we hope to reduce our energy use even more and to use the savings to invest in more clean energy technology, upgrading our older buildings and to engage more with the students.

My advice for other schools and colleges would be to take part in the Ashden LESS CO2 programme for a start, where you can learn from other schools and take part in the four workshops over the school year that guide you along the process.
Your local council should also be able to help, as well as organisations like Salix and the Carbon Trust.

  • Marion Plant is principal of North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.

The Ashden Sustainable School Awards

The Ashden Sustainable School Awards reward schools that have developed both an ethos and practice of sustainability, in which the responsible use of energy is a key component.

Ashden looks for winners that integrate the sustainable use of energy into the curriculum, pupil behaviour and the school building and grounds. To win an award, schools do not need to have renewable energy technology (like solar panels), although of course this is welcome.

Nor do they need to have the highest energy efficiency rating on its DEC certificate. Ashden wants winners that will inspire other schools to follow them.

Any school for four to 18-year-olds based in the UK, whether state, independent or academy, can apply. For details, visit www.ashden.org/apply/schools


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