Our young people are very aware of the issues at hand: according to recent research, 84% of young people worldwide are worried about the climate crisis. This anxiety is playing out first-hand in their educational establishments, with schools paying vastly more for their energy than was expected a year ago, squeezing tight budgets further. This week the government announced that schools and colleges in England would be allocated a share of £500 million to spend on energy efficiency upgrades, helping to save on bills during the winter months and manage energy consumption. Although we welcome this funding, school buildings are a very big and broad issue that needs to be looked at in a more strategic, long-term, and purposeful way, whilst tackling the current energy crisis.

There is an urgent need to integrate different policy arenas where energy efficiency, demand response, and climate change programs are developed holistically. Energy use in schools and colleges is specialised, with high occupancy hours resulting in high heat demand that can form 60% of bills. The amount schools pay for energy use can vary up to four times between sites, depending on the infrastructure. Schools also play a unique role in helping shape attitudes about climate and the environment our nation’s students carry with them for the rest of their lives. We must leverage our collective influence and their energy and build them a future by inspiring new solutions, not by sticking plasters over the past. To tackle the broader issues, long-term comprehensive strategies need to both increase capacity within our educational teams to look at the issues as a whole and create holistic plans for our ageing school buildings, the majority of which will still exist in 2050.

One such green shoot of hope lies with our client, The Girls School Day Trust. As part of their transformative ‘One World, One Future, One Chance’ initiative, they have not only implemented robust environmental sustainability targets. They are empowering girls as much as possible as a generation of future leaders, policymakers, change-makers and innovators. Schools across the GDST student Eco-Group or Green Team are encouraged to promote fundamental environmental changes in their schools.

Our work together is addressing long-term energy reduction by first learning about the schools within their local context and enabling us to identify past solutions that have turned into problems. This approach invites more transformative innovation with the young people. To develop a meaningful heat decarbonisation plan that supports wider net zero journeys, we must create a deep understanding of people, stakeholders and how schools operate in the wider community. By taking an approach of looking to add value to the social, economic and physical well-being of the communities this project serves. By looking at the issues from a wider lens, we can start conversations that will reap much deeper and longer-term benefits, around sharing heat, using nature-based solutions and bringing more profound benefits to people, places and the natural environment.