Alex Green is Programme Manager of the campaign Let’s Go Zero which unites UK schools working to become carbon zero by 2030. The campaign run by Ashden, a charity with a mission to accelerate transformative climate solutions, has nearly 850 schools signed-up having launched in 2020. spoke to Alex to learn about the campaign and to discuss the challenges facing schools in their drive to become net carbon zero by 2030.

IO: When schools sign-up to the Let’s Go Zero campaign what are your expectations of those schools?
Alex Green: It’s about showing ambition. The outcome isn’t a commitment from schools and is instead about intentional ambition. For most schools, it’s not within their power to commit to something in seven years-time but what they can do is show ambition and direction and through the partners working with us on the campaign, we can then support schools to take action.

Let’s Go Zero is not about school demonstrating anything to us and they don’t report to us on their progress in any way. Instead, it’s about them saying publicly that they want to get to zero carbon by 2030 and then we hope that ambition becomes self-regulating because your students, your parents, your staff and your wider community know that you have set this ambition.

IO: What support do schools get when they sign-up?
AG: One of our coalition partners, Global Action Plan, provides a climate action planning tool. Schools receive this and their first point of action is to work out what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. This tool helps schools to plan the first, and next steps of their journey to zero carbon.

IO: What actions are schools implementing as part of their plan?
AG: It varies greatly. Overall many schools have to tackle the challenges in their school estates. However energy use in a building can be as little as 20% of the school’s carbon impact so we need to look beyond that. This includes thinking about what schools purchase, how people travel to school, their waste and water use on site and how they manage their sites for biodiversity and nature.

In addition, schools have to think about how they can play a role beyond the school gate in creating wider behavioural change and that is one of the reasons why the campaign works with schools.

IO: If a school needs more support delivering on their action plan and making change, what does that process look like?
AG: What we are trying to do through the campaign is work out where more support is needed and work with various partners to see how those gaps can be plugged. We also want to get a better understanding of the impact that different areas have. For example is the main route to behaviour change around carbon emissions all about travel? So then we need to see more investment and work dedicated to school travel processes. Or is it all to do with what schools buy or their school trips? A key part of our process is understanding where the opportunities are and thinking through what more can be done.

IO: The campaign only launched in 2020 but at this stage what are your observations of what those opportunities are?
AG: We see a definite need for more skills and knowledge within schools so that site managers and senior leaders can understand in greater detail about energy management, carbon management, climate impact and climate education.

Funding for building retrofit is also a gap that we know exists already and we are working with the Department for Education on their current strategy to see how that can feed into better government investment and how we can bring in private investment.

IO: Is data or a lack of data a gap for schools?
AG: Massively. Both the data and a lack of understanding of how to use that data.

Often the data is there and is pretty good, but it is in lots of different places and nobody is using it. There are more ways to collect data in schools now and we are seeing an increase in the usage of smart meters but generally nobody is in place to use that information. The DfE doesn’t have access to this information so nobody is using the wealth of data which is out there.
For example they know that collectively schools in England spend £630m per year on energy but they don’t have the detail on the breakdown on the carbon impact.

We know that the DfE recognizes the challenges faced with the data and are looking at how they can address that.

IO: Are you seeing more schools creating positions for sustainability leads?
AG: Yes we are seeing that more and more, especially in academies.

One of the things we are asking in our policy ask to the DFE is that every school has a named sustainability lead in the same way that they have a safeguarding lead and a careers lead.

IO: How is the campaign funded?
AG: We are working in partnership with IKEA, who are funding the campaign.

IO: How long will the campaign run?
AG: We are on an annual funding process and at the moment we are viewing it as a minimum of a three year programme.

IO: How do schools find out more and join the campaign?
AG: They visit the website where they can find all of the information and they can sign-up to the campaign which takes roughly a minute to do.

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