The Atlas Project has a threefold mission: • help schools to reduce their carbon emissions and save money on their energy bills, • create an interactive tool that both measures carbon emissions and educates the next generation as to their personal and collective carbon footprint as well as possible solutions • create jobs and growth in low carbon industries.
The Atlas schools project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of a targeted Green House Gas (GHG) reduction in the built environment and in particular the value of looking at a specific subset of buildings (schools). In almost every school across the EU, GHG reductions could be made across the entire school system from poorly insulated buildings or inefficient energy use to high carbon mobility choices and procurement practices. The lack of care in school environment’s to reduce emissions across the system due to financial constraints from the outset often results in greater costs and inefficiencies. Investment in the modernisation of school buildings as well as systemic changes such as low carbon mobility patterns and broader environmental improvements such as organic gardens, recycling and reuse projects, can bring real benefits to the community at large. The Project addresses the challenge of increasing knowledge and awareness of the full carbon footprint of school systems and the cost effectiveness of such an approach. Most importantly the project focuses on encouraging targeted action by pupils, school staff, local government and education authorities.
We have developed a pioneering low carbon toolkit, which is free to use and helps schools to define their holistic carbon footprint covering energy, travel, products and services. It therefore goes some way beyond more traditional calculator tools, which tend to be focused purely on energy consumption, and is focused on a more interactive teaching and “learning by doing” approach so as to catalyse behavioural change in the younger generation. The toolkit results help schools to understand how different activities affect carbon emissions and generate an action plan to reduce their carbon footprint. The possible actions include inexpensive immediate management solutions (e.g. switching off lights, reviewing procurement) as well as longer-term ideas such as large scale retrofitting. We also aim to promote policy and action in EU countries and ultimately in other regions to give schools access to low carbon technologies and expertise. This will allow the promotion of local, regional and national policy solutions that enable the greater de-carbonisation of schools, reduce costs and create green jobs and growth.
Buildings account for 40% of the total energy consumption of the EU and are one of the most significant sources of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions (36% of the EU total). The school building stock accounts for approximately 20% of public sector emissions. 75-80% of schools are very energy inefficient and use conventional energy sources. One of the biggest hurdles in reducing carbon emissions is a lack of data. By using the Atlas toolkit to define their carbon usage in areas as diverse as energy use, food consumption, purchasing and transportation, schools are taking a step in the right direction to tackle their carbon emissions. The toolkit also helps to promote climate—friendly behaviour amongst young people. The hands-on nature of the toolkit places pupils in a position to increase their knowledge and understanding of carbon impacts and possible solutions. Feedback we have received during the pilot phase of the project suggests that pupils also share their knowledge with their families and have even requested a version of the toolkit for use in their homes.
The Project benefits schools (pupils, teachers and directors), businesses, policy makers and ultimately the planet. By enabling schools to quantify their carbon footprints, the Atlas Project gives school directors, teachers and young people the opportunity to play a full part in pinpointing their impact on climate change. At the same time, it improves their understanding of the scientific and social factors lying behind the issues in an engaging and accessible way. There is also a potential financial benefit for the participating schools. Through the cost-effective greening of energy and reductions in costs, it will be possible to ensure a redeployment of schools’ funds to core teaching and learning. The actions that schools decide to take as a result of the toolkit can also benefit businesses working with low carbon products and solutions. Policy makers also stand to benefit from the project. At a local and regional level, we want to help schools work with their local authorities in order to help implement strategic, large-scale retrofit programmes for school buildings and low carbon actions that enhance the community. Ultimately the project has the potential to help the EU achieve its GHG emissions targets and so play a part in the global fight against climate change.
We have already completed the most important phase of development work by creating a sample toolkit for use by schools and have tested it in a number of demonstration schools in Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and the UK. The feedback received has been extremely positive, and we have now developed a final version of the toolkit which schools agree is straightforward and easy to use. We have also taken the step of developing a website and have made the toolkit freely available for download. We are beginning to build up links with local and regional authorities in order to scale-up and replicate the effects of the project.
The secretariat for the project is the Brussels Office of the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership. The project is currently running with schools in Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and the UK.
University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership
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