A year in the life of a sustainability head

Abby Miller, a biology teacher, was appointed as head of sustainability at St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen, in August 2021

Abby Miller was appointed as a dedicated head of sustainability at St Margaret’s School for Girls, Aberdeen, in August 2021. One year on, she has been reflecting on why she took the role, the highlights so far, and her hopes for the future.

I am head of biology and, even within this amazing subject, fitting deep dives into issues such as climate change has become difficult. Learning for sustainability [a fixture in Scottish curricula] encompasses global citizenship, sustainability, outdoor learning, and enshrines them through the UN convention on the rights of the child, particularly article 12: ‘Children and young people have the human right to have opinions and for these opinions to be heard and taken seriously’. Their world is becoming increasingly crisis-driven, and I believe that all girls should leave St Margaret’s equipped with the knowledge, skills and values which enable them to become change-makers in society.

My goal is to facilitate our staff to identify and resource opportunities to weave learning for sustainability into the curriculum at every level, so that our pupils are developing the knowledge, skills and values they need to become truly global citizens. As a school community, we will learn to look at our own sustainability as individuals, as a community, and globally. I would like to make connections with schools internationally to help our girls establish the friendships, self-awareness, empathy and reflective skills needed to understand other perspectives, value diversity and develop a commitment to change.

Everybody can make a huge impact by thinking about the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’

All pupils can become involved in any of our initiatives. Every pupil had the opportunity during COP26 to participate in our ‘forest of promises’, where they expressed their own promise to the planet and also one which they wished the world leaders to make on their behalf. Our analysis of these promises showed that there was a groundswell of interest in reducing transport emissions, use of plastics, increasing recycling, and working together.

These have been the cornerstone of our activities this year, and have formed the basis of our action plan. All form classes are involved in the upkeep of our new soft plastics recycling drive, and we collected 3kg of plastics in the summer term alone. We have held information assemblies about the correct disposal of waste – including e-waste – and fair trade. Following our Learning for Sustainability Day, pupils expressed a desire to take their learning forward. We are exploring setting up interest groups in response to this, such as learning how to upcycle clothes.

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Our sustainability teams comprise one representative from each form class. We meet fortnightly to work on issues which have been raised by their classes, or to take forward an action plan, which we developed together, to raise awareness of sustainability and compliance with recycling. The girls have produced assemblies on COP26, recycling awareness and fair trade, and have initiated form quizzes. When it comes to young people taking a lead towards a more sustainable lifestyle, the smallest acts make a difference. From recycling wrappers to buying local to turning off a charger when it is finished, everyone can make a change which will benefit our planet.

We can make a better world if we learn to think about roots; the roots of issues, of material goods, of our food, water and economy. When we understand these, solutions become possible, so my top tip is to learn and educate yourself on the importance of sustainability, and how you can actively create positive change for social justice. Everybody can make also a huge impact by thinking about the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’ and learning about the effects our decisions have on others.

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