Australian schools going green to combat climate change

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A trial program is hoping to shine the spotlight on schools and show them how they can help to combat climate change.

A Perth high school was the first in Australia to be accredited carbon neutral, but the school still wants to do more.

South Fremantle Senior High School in Perth’s south signed up to the Low Carbon Schools Pilot Program to help reduce its carbon footprint.

Fifteen-year-old Taylah Kippo told SBS News the time to act on climate change was now.

She said she was worried about her own generation, but also the ones after.

“You see the effects of climate change every day in our life now at the moment,” she said.

“You see it in many other countries including Australia in areas like farming and many different areas from the changing of the climates.

“It’s not good.”

Fellow Year 10 student Lauren Hunter said her school, which uses photovoltaic cells and has air conditioners on timers, could do more.

“There could be much more money put into other things rather than electricity and things in schools, and put towards the kids and not so much the actual school,” she said.

Down the road, Winterfold Primary School principal Steve Berry is of the same mind.

His school has also signed up to the program that promises to show schools how they can save money as well as the environment.

“If we could affect even a 10 per cent saving in our utility bill that generated $6000, that would go close to funding all of our resources for funding literacy and numeracy for a year,” he said.

Mr Berry said although principals at independent public schools like his, which receive public funding, are focused on the bottom line, they are not experts on making schools more sustainable.

Winterfold Primary School has a water recycling program and a sustainable vegetable garden, but after comparing gas bills with another school and then discovering more than 10 gas leaks, Mr Berry said it was clear there were more things that could be done.

“This has really sharpened our focus to think that we can actually make this level of savings and again it’s not always about savings it’s also what we can do for our kids,” he said.

“These kids have grown up with sustainability as part of their lives and the school needs to reflect and support that.”

School captains Annabelle Geoghegan and Elliot Martin agree.

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“I think that getting more solar panels and wind farms would be better for the world,” Annabelle said.

“I think that if everyone starts to do a little step, even getting solar panels, will make a big difference to the world,” Elliot said.

The program has been devised by a team of sustainability entrepreneurs including low carbon researchers Vanessa Rauland and Samantha Hall.

It will run for two years across 20 schools and promises to reduce emissions, save money and teach future leaders about climate change.

“There’s some really practical tips and there’s some really interesting ways that schools just need to understand their utility use more,” Dr Hall said.

“Often we find that people aren’t even aware of what their electricity, water or gas bills are and that’s where we’re really starting from.

“We want to be able to benchmark that for schools as well and see how you perform against your peers and other schools so they have some kind of benchmark performance.

“Then there’s some really easy ones from behaviour change initiatives from switching off computers because computers also cause excess heat in classrooms and increase the air conditioning load so there’s some simple ones like that, and then there’s some more capital intensive projects like the solar panels and replacing lighting.”

Dr Rauland said the program would also connect schools with each other to share tips, but would also try to bring energy companies, food providers or solar power companies together with several schools to find savings through bulk purchases.

“The other really exciting thing that we see with this program is the opportunity to use the schools as a living laboratory,” she said.

“Many of the schools are doing a lot around the curriculum for energy, water, waste, transport, but they’re not necessarily doing that in their schools so we really want to encourage schools to use their facilities to teach the students."

The trial program, which schools pay to join, will begin next year.

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