Our Say: A case for funding Sustainability Coordinators in schools

By Jane Burns
Education Outreach Manager

Schools can be well placed to provide a learning environment for educating the next generation of sustainable leaders. What sustainability looks like at each school is of differing kinds and degrees but based on the elements of the ResourceSmart Schools program model, a main contributor to engaging the school community in sustainability is an emphasis on leadership.

CERES works with over 275 schools who are engaged with the ResourceSmart Schools program. In fact, every day thousands of students are learning how to live more sustainably through ResourceSmart Schools, with Victorian schools amongst the most sustainable in Australia. If leadership is a main contributor to engaging the school community, how do schools utilise this on their journey towards sustainability?

In some schools the drivers for a school fostering education for sustainability come from a commitment by a school’s leadership. In other schools, it may be an active group of staff that drives change. But in all schools, a key to establishing and maintaining a culture of sustainability is a continuous commitment to resourcing a sustainability coordinator.

Such a role makes sustainability a priority in all decision making and allows for coordination of projects and engagement with staff, students and the community. A commitment to leading sustainability builds capacity for a number of learning and teaching outcomes, including;

  • students as active leaders in developing school environmental projects
  • using curriculum for utilising the school buildings and grounds as a learning platform for environmental education
  • embedding sustainability into learning areas as a cross-curriculum priority
  • improving student learning outcomes relating to our environment
  • involving staff members in professional learning to share the skills and knowledge for empowering the school community in learning to live more sustainably
  • and fostering a whole school approach to sustainability

If sustainability leadership is the goal, what’s the reality?

The ResourceSmart Schools program is generally coordinated by a classroom teacher whose passion for the environment has led to them becoming a driver of change within their school. But all too often they are working on their own and their coordination of sustainability can spill into evening and weekend hours. As they try to work out how to get things done with their limited resources, establishing and maintaining a culture of sustainability can seem like a distant reality.

Schools engaged with the program can make improvements to campus, centered on the sustainable use of electricity, water and waste, and improvements in biodiversity; link sustainability knowledge and skills to curriculum; and work in partnership with staff, student and the wider community.

But it’s a ‘whole school’ change program and the concept that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts rings true with sustainability – we all have a part to play. There are compelling reasons for resourcing a staff member in a sustainability coordination position and enabling a distribution of leadership in staff and students, and this is the focus of this opinion piece.

Reinvesting in Sustainability

A financial business case can be made using savings from the sustainable use of resources. Reinvesting these savings in sustainability is a way to fund one of the most important drivers of sustainability change in schools – the passionate leader!

If your school is engaged in the ResourceSmart Schools program and working with CERES we’ve got some great news for you! We’ve tallied the savings of over 265 schools that we work with, and the results are fantastic for these schools and for the environment.

In 2014-2015 these schools saved in dollar terms a staggering $3,253,299.45 (yes that’s right over 3 million dollars!) with an average school saving of $12,184.64.

Across the same period the environmental improvements were:

  • Energy savings – 55,015 Kwh of electricity and 27,968 GJ of natural gas
  • Waste savings – 332,985 M3 of landfill and 83,077 reams of paper
  • Water savings – 125,989 KL
  • Renewable energy generation – 91,466 Kwh of electricity
  • GHG Emissions (tonnes of CO2) – 7,933
  • Biodiversity – 13,643 trees planted

Time is money

With the average school saving of $12,184.64 across both years and around $6,000 saved per year, there is a compelling case to be made for funding time allocation to the sustainability coordinator.

Savings of around $6,000 per year could fund a 0.5 time allocation, allowing the coordinator dedicated time to work on ResourceSmart Schools or another sustainability framework.

In many of the 265 schools the annual savings will be far higher. One such example is St Monica’s College, Davidson Street Campus in Epping who commenced with ResourceSmart Schools in January 2014. Since starting the program, the school has saved $26,628.86 with an average annual savings per year of $11,018.

What is your school saving?

To see how much your school is saving in financial and environmental measures, go onto ResourceSmart online and use the Report tools to generate spreadsheets and charts. Tip: Make sure your bills are complete for the year you want to report on and your annual data is updated.

Adding these reports into an annual report is a great way to see your school’s savings, environmental impact and sustainability achievements in a year at a glance. It is also a very useful way to present a business case to your Principal for resourcing a coordination role. The report can also be presented to your school Council/Board on an annual basis and is a great way to keep sustainability on their agenda and to make sure other people at the school are aware of what is happening. CERES have created an annual report template for schools to use, click here to access this template.

It takes more than one lone crusader

Community is a big part of sustainability, and wouldn’t our work be better and easier if we work together? While we encounter the single teacher driving change, increasingly sustainability leadership is a network of teachers, non-teaching staff, students, and parents.

The importance of sustainability is not in doubt (unless you’re in a minority group called climate skeptics), and this broad support of sustainability in schools is reflected in the Australian Education for Sustainability Alliance (AESA) survey of more than 5,000 teachers, curriculum coordinators and principals from government and non-government schools across the country. More than 90% agreed that sustainability is important, of value to students, and should be integrated into the curriculum. A further 60 per cent said they were interested in including sustainability in their teaching, but asked for assistance to kick start sustainability teaching at their school.

Who’s onboard at your school?

Does your school have one or more of the following roles in sustainability?

• sustainability leader/coordinator
• staff green team
• student action team
• student eco captain
• business manager
• principal
• assistant principal
• maintenance staff
• parents


This map of sustainability leadership is an example of the various hands on deck when it comes to the environment. But we know that no two schools are the same and so we invite you to use our template and create your own map of what sustainability leadership looks like in your school.
Click here to download an editable template and email us at teacherprograms@ceres.org.au with your school’s sustainability leadership map.

We look forward to hearing from you!

By CERES Education – Outreach Team|2021-08-02T15:26:24+10:00June 7th, 2016|0 Comments