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Be Positive: Think Schools Net Zero.

Schools are increasingly looking at their estates not only in the context of suitability, but also sustainability. Indeed, the two are more closely linked than it might first appear. Schools Net Zero is both a mantra, and the goal. Or at least, it could and should be. That’s where Warneford Consulting can help.

Because school can support or compromise our children’s future, schools net zero as a guiding principle makes perfect sense. If our society isn’t going to enable schools to achieve net zero, then the latter suddenly becomes the more likely outcome. And that benefits no-one.

“Teaching and learning in the worst school buildings can have a negative impact on pupils’ motivation and engagement.” The Royal Institute of British Architects.

Schools are where our children learn about net zero, and why it matters. It befalls the decision-makers, and the specialists who advise them, to make those schools net zero achievable and affordable, complete the circle and lead by example. In this way, the school is a tangible example of net zero.

schools net zero

Schools Net Zero: The Ultimate Win/Win?

“Concerns about structural safety in schools can generate anxiety among students and staff.” – National Education Union. Too often, teachers explain the importance of net zero from classrooms that are anything but. The spotlight on reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) is the lightning rod for a storm prompting attention from the Public Accounts Committee and questions in Parliament. Decarbonising the school estate would answer many of them. But how is schools net zero going to be done? And by whom?

State of Schools: ‘Unacceptable and Alarming’.

This recent (November 2023) House of Commons Committee Report noted that in England alone, 8.4 million pupils are spread across 21,600 state schools in a estate of 64,000 buildings which vary in age, design, and quality – even on the same site.

Setting aside new builds, school buildings are often a patchwork of old and older buildings. Schools net zero wasn’t an issue when they were created, and retrofitting simply isn’t possible when the core infrastructure isn’t suitable.

This government blog cites sympathetic stats, as one might expect, that suggest that 31% of current school estates are modern, i.e. built since 2000. But net zero? There’s a promise that any “new or refurbished school [sic] delivered centrally by the DfE will be designed to be Net Zero in operation”, but the buck for delivering schools net zero lies with the ‘responsible body’ – a local authority, academy trust or voluntary-aided body – and too often that is where it ends.

Schools Net Zero: A Roadmap to Nowhere?

The government’s Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems plan submerses schools net zero in the context of the wider Building Back Greener agenda.

While it acknowledges a responsibility to give the 16 million children, young people, and adults in education the opportunity to ‘learn in buildings designed for net zero’, too often there’s little budget to do more than ensure buildings are safe from imminent collapse, which as the RAAC scandal proved, is a challenge. Any aspiration towards net zero is worthy not essential.

Beyond that, the more focused, Let’s Go Zero 2030 is single-issue national campaign. It lives outside government mandates, and aspires to ‘unite teachers, pupils, parents, and their schools as they all work together to be zero carbon by 2030.

And the solution?

Green Net Zero and Warneford Consulting are a combined force for good, and a driver for positive change. Green Net Zero was formed with the sole purpose of decarbonising existing estate, while the full suite of energy-related services Warneford Consulting deliver support the transition towards the wider net zero goals. Combined, this partnership represents a full support package for any schools net zero project.

At a time of pressure from multiple fronts, with resourcing shortfalls keenly felt, it’s a challenge to know where to begin the process, how it works, and what success looks like in a period of rising gas and electricity costs. Crucially for the budget-conscious, we can accurately predict the likely return on investment (ROI) for different renewable energy technologies and carbon reduction behaviours.

Schools Net Zero: A partnership for progress.

Green Net Zero and Warneford Consulting understand what funding is available (and how to access it), which are Academy Trust Handbook-compliant, what ROI to expect from different renewable energy options – and which are appropriate for every school building.

Clearly, it’s not a one-size-fits all deal, any more than two schools mirror each other in terms of infrastructure and carbon profile, so we will first assess the performance of their buildings’ existing fabric and work to bring it up to speed with what users need, and net zero compliance demands.

Our network of independent strategy and finance specialists work exclusively with schools to maintain, improve, and optimise their built assets. The result is sustainable, efficient, and quality teaching facilities that benefit all who use them and, by being schools net zero, meets wider climate change mitigation aspirations. So be positive. Think net zero for schools.

school net zero view

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