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Decisive action could halve schools’ carbon emissions by 2020

16 July 2008

A report published by the Sustainable Development Commission argues that decisive action, bold decisions and strong support from central and local government could allow schools to halve their carbon footprint by 2020.

The report, Carbon Emissions from Schools: Where they arise and how to reduce them finds that England's schools system is responsible for 9.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Heat and power used in school buildings account for 37% of those emissions.

However, the report also quantifies for the first time the emissions from school transport, waste and procurement - marking areas where schools have the potential to lead the way in tackling their entire carbon footprint. 45% of greenhouse gas emissions were found to come from the supply chain activities of companies providing goods and services to schools (including the procurement of new school buildings). The Sustainable Development Commission argues that this represents an opportunity for schools and local authorities to extend the reach of their good practice by building sustainability into procurement contracts.

Pupil and staff travel and school transport were responsible for 16% of greenhouse gases, while waste management and minimisation accounted for around 2%.

The Sustainable Development Commission recommends that the government works with schools to halve their carbon emissions by 2020, leading to an 80% reduction by 2050. As a first step towards establishing this aim with schools, the Commission also recommend that DCSF adopts the same aim for its own operations.

Ann Finlayson, the Sustainable Development Commission's Education Commissioner, said:
"Halving emissions by 2020 will not be easy, but we believe it is achievable with a combination of bold action and good support. We owe it to the children and young people going through our schools to achieve this. We are ultimately answerable to them for the choices we make today, and, as the decision makers of tomorrow, learning about sustainability at school will help these young people move towards a sustainable future.

"Schools are uniquely placed within their communities to encourage pupils, their families, staff and suppliers to take responsibility for their environmental impact. But they will need a great deal of dedicated support to achieve positive change.

"In central government, DCSF's efforts will need to be backed up by departments including the Treasury, DfT, CLG and BERR. Regionally and locally, the support of a range of professionals from local authorities, transport and town planning and procurement will all be crucial."

Download » Carbon Emissions from Schools: Where they arise and how to reduce them

Notes to Editors
1. For more information or to set up interviews, contact Rhian Thomas on 020 7270 8539 or 07825 106 803, or e-mail rhian.thomas@sd-commission.org.uk
2. The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's independent advisory body on sustainability issues, made up of 19 Commissioners and chaired by Jonathon Porritt. It reports directly to the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland.
3. Carbon Emissions from Schools: Where they arise and how to reduce them is based on work commissioned from the Sustainable Development Commission by DCSF. The scenarios in this report were developed using a schools carbon model created by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York. The model includes:
• Direct emissions from school buildings and energy-using equipment in buildings
• All travel emissions from commuting of pupils and staff to and from schools, and school transport
• All embodied (lifecycle) emissions of the goods and services procured by schools
• Emissions associated with the management, disposal and recycling of waste.

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