Blueprint for Green Schools


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The author, Sophie Bathurst of Australia, won first place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. She answered the question "How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.

Tree protection zone in Bradleys Head, Sydney
   Photo © Sophie Bathurst

My vision for Australia is that of a nation where healthy people live in a healthy environment.  I believe that Australia's future social and economic prosperity as well as the livelihoods of our Pacific Island neighbours depend on our response to the climate challenge. An effective response demands the engagement of all sectors of society and involves both responsible adaptation to existing environmental problems as well as the mitigation of further climate change.

If we ignore the warnings, we will not only damage our precious ecosystems and lose our water resources but will also have to contend with disruption of services; decline in key industries such as agriculture, tourism and fisheries; and increased health problems for society’s most vulnerable, particularly the elderly and remote indigenous communities.

If we think long-term and embrace the challenge, however, climate change can present an opportunity for youth. It can contribute to the establishment of an energy sector based on renewable and clean fuels, the development of world-class research centres and the implementation of globally recognised education programs in sustainability.

Education lies at the core of an initiative that I proposed recently. I envision a series of new projects for primary schools that will be led by a 'Green Taskforce' composed mainly of unemployed youth. The projects are designed to build confidence and to equip young people with some of the skills required for permanent employment in environmental trades. At the same time, these projects will create a culture of ecological awareness and healthy living within primary schools and teach students to reduce their carbon footprint.

The project will be piloted in Sydney, where many parents are afraid of letting their small children walk to school alone. The Taskforce aims to provide ‘walking bus drivers’ within a structured and reliable program, so more children can enjoy the mental and physical benefits of walking to school while reducing their carbon footprint.  I hope that signs reading 'Walking Bus Stop' will be erected at stop-off locations and that their visual impact will encourage people of all ages to think twice about using their cars for short distances.

As consumers become more aware of climate change, industries and businesses are increasingly answerable for the environmental consequences of their actions. Cooperation with the Australian business community is therefore central to my vision. Participating schools will be given the opportunity to plant a vegetable patch in their grounds. Members of the taskforce that are eager to acquire business skills will focus on creating partnerships with businesses that pursue sustainability within their operations in order to acquire material and financial backing for this project. I hope that these vegetable patches will also be integrated into science and agriculture classes so that children will learn about the carbon emissions from long-distance transportation. A 'hands-on' experience with fresh seasonal produce will hopefully lead their families to make informed choices in the supermarket.

Education through partnership with local business is also the focus of my next project. I have noted that many saplings planted in my community on ‘National Tree Day’ do not survive as they are overrun by weeds. I propose that the Taskforce coordinates an ongoing maintenance program to prevent this. It will also create links with small businesses in the community to sponsor groups of trees. If the trees are still growing tall after a year, they will donate an environmental educational resource to the school. This will increase the number of native species, reinforce the idea of offsetting carbon emissions, and allow local business to show their commitment to sustainable living.

A Green Expo that showcases energy-saving products and green services will be held at one of the participating Sydney schools. Residents can acquire information about effective ways to tackle climate change in their homes and businesses. Several environmentally friendly 'check points' will also be available during the Expo, such as a station where car tyres can be inflated appropriately. The Expo will also allow students to publicly showcase their scientific, artistic and literary coursework developed through the initiative.

A celebration of community spirit is central to my final proposition. At a rewards ceremony, Taskforce members will receive formal acknowledgement of their participation. They might also receive a qualification in conservation and land management or horticulture. Representatives from businesses that supported the project will also receive acknowledgment on the website of the local council. Schools that have reduced their carbon footprint significantly will be awarded official green status. Finally, the school that has the smallest carbon footprint by the end of the project will be given the remaining money from the Expo. They will be encouraged to invest this in new energy-saving equipment.

In a country where individualism is highly valued, I believe that local initiatives such as these will foster a positive atmosphere of collective involvement which will benefit society at large. As the world contends with the current financial crisis, governments, industries and citizens alike may feel inclined to remove climate change from the top of their agendas. This would be misguided. I think it is very important to act now at every level.


Sophie Bathurst

Undergraduate Student

Join the Conversation

JP Brice
September 30, 2009

Hi sophie,

I appreciate your ideas a lot, as you know.

I think that educating a child contribute to educating the world. The green solutions you propose are so interesting and can really contyribute to combat global warming.

Please keep in touch with us to share their realisation.

See you !

March 08, 2010


I am with a small group of people in the U.S. who are putting together a nonprofit group which will focus on "green" schools and healthier learning environments by establishing environmentally friendly schools. Your paper is terrific and each member of our team was quite impressed with your vision and proposals for implementing that vision.

We're wondering if we can get a follow up on two things: 1) the status of your proposals, and 2) what else you are doing in the area of environmental education.

We're expecting to reference your blog on our web site, which is not yet public but is built and not too far away from becoming public.

Thank you.

Sophie Bathurst
March 11, 2010

Dear DN,
Thank you very much for reading and commenting on my blog. I am
very keen to take a look at your website on green education when it is launched. Sustainability can be integrated into curricula in such diverse ways and a dialogue on different methods is certainly very productive!

I am thrilled to see primary schools in Sydney adopting green policies such as the 'walking bus' and 'vegetable patch'. These solutions are often managed by local governments. North Sydney Council, for example, is particularly active in this area. I urge you to take a look at their comprehensive environmental website for some ideas. They are even able to offer schools financial assistance to undertake student inspired green initiatives.

One of the cornerstones of my initiative was the creation of 'green jobs', particularly for unemployed youth. I was very pleased to note earlier this year that the current government announced the introduction of the National Green Jobs Corps. This 'green investment' in unemployed youth was very similar to what I had envisaged in my essay, but on a national scale!
Please see the following website for more information:…

Like many university students, I enjoy the chance to learn about
sustainability issues through extra-curricular lectures and forums. I hope that such experiences will assist me in formulating informed solutions for the future. I also have a broader interest in educational programs across a range of social issues. I refer you to a recent 'role play' activity on domestic violence that I trialled with my team in Germany. I think such a format could also be appropriated for an activity on sustainability for a younger audience. Unfortunately the text is only available in German:…

October 15, 2010

Never heard the term 'green jobs' before and wondering what they may be. Youth doing work that supports a green initiative? It's a interesting concept.

October 15, 2010

Why get involved?
The Big Climate Connection on 5–6 November is the next step in the
growing movement to stop climate chaos.
Smart solutions
Here’s a list of smart solutions: examples of what we’re doing to help people adapt to climate change, reducing its impact on their lives. None of these on its own is enough. But each one can help people thrive in spite of a changing climate.

1. You
When extreme weather means the worst happens to people already struggling to survive, the support of amazing people like you saves lives. Get involved and make a donation.
2. Raising homes
In areas where floods are getting higher, lasting longer and threatening more lives, we’re working with local people to raise homes above the flood level by moving houses onto higher foundations.
3. Faster maturing crops
Speedy seeds that take just 70 days to mature can be used to schedule an extra growing season or make sure crops are grown and harvested before expected droughts or floods.
4. Weather forecasts
With traditional farming calendars becoming unreliable, we work to ensure communities can access the information they need to stay on top of the weather – radios to access Met office information, and training on how to interpret short- and long-term forecasts and climate change reports.
5. Rainwater harvesting
When rainy seasons are unpredictable and uncertain, every drop of rainwater is precious. Water pans harvest rain for vegetable gardens and to irrigate crops, while rooftop collections go towards household needs.
6. Camellones
Raised platforms of earth for growing crops, surrounded by water channels – used in Bolivia as a great solution to the seasonal flooding and increasing drought conditions. They mean crops aren’t lost, and as a bonus water and nutrients are captured in the channels, so less watering is needed during the dry season.
7. Seed and food storage
A ridiculously simple solution – waterproof plastic tubs with lids protect seed and food, making it quick and easy to transport if families need to move to safety fast.
8. Flood shelters
When extreme weather hits, life has to go on. Flood shelters on raised ground provide a safe space for clinics and schools where families and livestock can wait out the worst.
9. Raised wells
When floods hit, contaminated water supplies mean diseases spread – so we’re working with communities to raise wells above flood levels.
10. Income diversification
Helping people who traditionally make a living off the land explore less climate-dependent ways to supplement their income.
11. Micro-irrigation
Irrigation systems fed by local rivers and powered by solar pumps bring dwindling harvests back to full productivity again. And that means good food and an improved source of income all year round.
12. Drought-tolerant seeds
We work with local people to identify the ideal crops for the worsening conditions, including less thirsty seeds that take just 70 days to mature.
13. Portable clay stoves
Lightweight and easy to carry to higher ground during flood alerts, the portable clay stoves used in Bangladesh help families prepare food whatever happens.
14. Farmer field schools
Knowledge is power. We help farmers understand what climate change means to them and provide a buffer zone for them to take risks and try new farming methods and crops, guaranteeing income or food if their experiments don’t work.
15. Aviation and Maritime Tax
We think it’s only right that international shipping and aviation emissions are subject to a sensible tax – particularly as it could reduce emissions and raise up to $30bn a year. If you agree, ask Chris Huhne, the UK’s climate change secretary, to support it too.
16. Natural flood barriers
Frontline protection against floods and storm surges, as nature intended – we work with communities to rehabilitate natural barriers such as mangroves, or plant new grasses and trees that bind the soil and break the water surges.
17. Disaster preparedness training
Swimming lessons, First Aid courses, search and rescue training, evacuation planning... learning lifesaving skills when the going’s good means communities are better equipped to help themselves in harder times.
18. Roof platforms
For families in Vietnam, sometimes it’s good to be left high and dry. Raised platforms in the roofs of homes provide safe storage for dried foods and important documents in the event of a flood, and a safe, dry place for families to wait out the waters.
19. Raising latrines
Low-level toilet facilities create an unsanitary soup when floods strike, contaminating water sources with severe waterborne diseases like diarrhoea and cholera. Building latrines on higher ground means waste stays where it should when the waters come.
20. Reforestation
Trees are lifesavers. They help to regulate local rainfall, smoothing out the extremes of drought and deluge, and also help prevent floods and landslides by absorbing the waters that would otherwise run off.
21. Robin Hood Tax
We’re huge supporters of the proposed Robin Hood Tax – a tiny transactional tax on bankers that could free up $400bn globally for adapting to climate change and other good causes. Why not ask Chris Huhne, the UK’s climate change secretary, to support it too?
22. Floating vegetable gardens
Rafts of bamboo, plant-material and dung make a brilliant base for growing fruit and veg. So even during floods, families have food to eat and a means to make a living.
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