‘We need a government commitment that all schools will be zero carbon by 2030’

With the new government climate strategy falling short, independent schools can be trailblazers in sustainability, says Suzanne Gibbon, programme co-ordinator, Let’s Go Zero

Scientists agree that for us to truly address the climate emergency we need to act quickly and drastically in our transition away from fossil fuels. We cannot fail our children and jeopardise their future by being too slow.

This is why the Let’s Go Zero campaign has united more than 1,250 UK schools, colleges and nurseries working towards becoming zero carbon by 2030. And more are joining the campaign every week.

Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy

The Department for Education launched its Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy in April. We were pleased to see some of our campaign’s policy suggestions included: for example, that every school have a Climate Action Plan, a Sustainability Lead, and include sustainability and climate change throughout teacher training.

However, the strategy lacked urgency in implementing these steps and other key initiatives. Even the new Natural History GCSE, with its focus on climate issues, won’t be ready for another five years – meaning the first awards won’t be given until 2027 . The government has committed to piloting new building technologies that may support the future retrofit of the education estate, but it won’t be rolled out further until 2025. This is just too late.

Action in the independent school sector will be crucial to creating green schools across the UK


We need a government commitment that all schools will be zero carbon by 2030, something that will require an urgent retrofit of the school estate. Our campaign also calls for embedding sustainability as a statutory feature of careers guidance.

Action in the independent school sector will be crucial to creating green schools across the UK. We know many independent schools are already taking steps to become more sustainable, lowering their emissions and inspiring students through building improvements, greener menus, thriving eco clubs and many other measures. With energy prices soaring, we expect even more schools to look at bill-cutting measures like improving insulation and investing in on-site power generation.

Joining Let’s Go Zero helps schools access resources created by leading sustainability organisations, get inspired, and call for support from government. But it also allows pioneering schools to collaborate and share insights with neighbouring schools of all kinds, creating positive change beyond their own classrooms and corridors.

The benefits of green schools are felt right across communities. In particular, the effort to upgrade school buildings will boost local businesses, create new jobs, and support the government’s net zero and levelling-up targets.

The government’s new strategy will expect a Climate Action Plan with set goals from every school


Some independent schools have already taken a leadership role when it has come to climate action. North London Collegiate School is one of our trailblazing Let’s Go Zero schools. Staff have worked with non-profit organisation One Carbon World to measure the school’s carbon footprint and create an action plan to become carbon neutral by 2030.

The government’s new strategy will expect a Climate Action Plan with set goals from every school, with possible future ‘mandatory reporting’. Schools will be expected to have a named sustainability lead to monitor and support their plan and ensure the school stays on target. The pioneering work of North London Collegiate School could soon be replicated up and down the UK.

Wellington College in Berkshire is empowering students to become ‘agents of change’ taking on the climate crisis. Young people have taken a lead in greening school life: cutting single use plastic, organising ‘meat-free Mondays’ and recommending changes to procurement policies.

The strategy acknowledges the importance of providing climate education… through the… school environment and hands-on activity


This experience will help prepare students for working life – in the future, as legislation and social pressure drives a reduction in emissions, a wealth of jobs in every sector and industry will include making processes and activities more sustainable.

This fact is reflected in the new government strategy, which highlights how schools should prepare young people to pursue a green career pathway in their chosen field. The strategy also acknowledges the importance of providing climate education not just through the curriculum, but the school environment and hands-on activity.

We are proud to have been named in the strategy as working with the Department for Education on setting targets for schools, and while we do recognise that it includes several steps in the right direction, it does not go anywhere near far enough, fast enough in the face of a climate emergency.

Let’s Go Zero sign-ups

The schools signed up to Let’s Go Zero represent over 104,000 teachers and nearly 620,000 pupils, with numbers rising rapidly. As our numbers continue to grow, we will continue to push the government on behalf of our schools, staff, and pupils. We will call for ambitious action to be taken much quicker, and for immediate funding to be given to schools, so they can adapt and retrofit the school estate as a matter of urgency.

We know that the call for low-carbon schools is one supported right across society – the partners and backers of our campaign range from individual schools and academy chains to the Church of England, NGOs such as Sustrans and WWF, and our corporate supporter IKEA.

Independent schools are already innovating and collaborating to become more sustainable. But there is only so much any school can do without government action. The more schools that sign up to Let’s Go Zero, the louder the call for change-making policies that can transform our schools.

Main image: Kings Academy Ringmer School in Lewes, East Sussex, a Let’s Go Zero school, has been working on becoming more sustainable since 2005. The school has 70kW of panels on their roofs. The Let’s Go Zero campaign wants all schools to have the ability to generate their own energy.

For more on thisSustainability and Climate Change Strategy: Must do better, far, far quicker, says Let’s Go Zero

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