Eco-School = Eco Community?

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La Chât was awarded the Eco-School label on October 28th 2019. So should we all pat ourselves on the back for a job well done, or is there still room for improvement at school and at home when it comes to sustainability?

Jan Dijkstra, Sustainability Coordinator, and teacher at La Chât, shares his experience and perspectives with En Bref, and also calls out to any members of the school community who can weld or have a knowledge of electronics, to help with the next phase of the plastics project!

Jan, can you start by telling us about the Eco-School Award, and what the school had to do to attain it?

The ES award is a type of accreditation, in recognition of the work a school has done in one of the areas related to sustainability. For us, our work in single use plastic (SUP) was in line with the category of ‘waste’. The main view of ES is that schools must demonstrate progress on the basis of their baseline. For us, that meant using less SUP than at the start of the process. We were awarded the label after a jury visit in October last year.

What has been achieved so far with the SUP project? Are there still areas for improvement?

We have reduced the amount of SUP used on a daily basis and during PTA events to almost nothing, only leaving packaging of meat, cans, etc. There are still areas of improvement, notably making sure that the alternatives we use for plastics are being disposed of properly at the waste plant.

EcoCREW at Kermesse (Photo: Jan Dijkstra)

What are the benefits of being an Eco-School?

The advantages are diverse: it is a convincing way to demonstrate to the community that one has actually made tangible progress in the area of choice. It is a formal recognition by a reputable institution, which is one of the first and biggest sustainability accreditations for schools around the world. Their framework is also helpful to shape the process while working on improvement and there is also a sizable community of schools, which makes collaboration easier.

Once a school has achieved the ES award do they retain it, no matter what, or are there frequent reviews?

Once the label has been awarded to the school, it is expected that the school continues to improve on its current standards, either in the same area or in another one.

And do you think that the commitment exists within La Chât and the Foundation to improve on current standards; to become more ‘green’?

I am not sure how one would determine such a level of commitment and whether this would pertain to students, parents, staff, administration, leadership or Board. Having worked on sustainability since 2012, I can say that there is more awareness and commitment now than there was 8 years ago. I have found allies among all stakeholders and am encouraged by the progress we have made. An awareness has grown across the community and I am grateful for the support initiatives have received thus far and am keen to take this further.

Can you say what initiatives that you are referring to, and what plans there are for the future?

For example there’s the joint initiative at LGB and La Chât around ‘Car Free Fridays’, which will launch on February 28th. I also know for a fact that all building plans across the foundation have a sustainability check built in. In addition, existing buildings are being upgraded to become more heat and energy efficient, such as the Alps building. There are also plans to put solar panels on some of the other buildings in the near future.

That gives a flavour of commitment at school management level, but what do you think the level of commitment is among students? Take for example, Y13s who participated in the Climate March, but chose a destination for their grad trip which required them to book flights. Do you think that there is a disconnect, for students, between the theory and the reality of climate change?

The commitment among students varies, of course, as it does among members of the community in general. Some make quite dramatic changes in their lives, to become vegan for instance, or by shopping more sustainably. Few are currently making the choice to stop flying, which is, admittedly, difficult in such an international community. The point you raise is an interesting one, which I think we could frankly extend to all school trips. Should we not favour destinations that can be reached by bus or train instead? I am grateful for the effort made by the students in the EcoCREW and do not doubt that many others are also worried about the environment and wished to attend the Climate March for that reason. I agree that their commitment becomes more convincing when they make changes in their own lives and recommend they try eating less meat and travelling less by car or plane. Of course everything that I say also applies to me. I think we do what we can at an individual level, be it that some do more than others. As a community, I would love to see a commitment be made by Ecolint to become carbon neutral, as cities and corporations around the world are also doing at this time!

Is there anything else that La Chât families do to live in a more environmentally-friendly way?

As said before, eat more plant-rich diets, leave the car at home and drive a hybrid or electric car when you have to, fly less, shop at bulk stores to reduce packaging, turn the heating down a couple of degrees and wear a sweater instead, etc. Once one starts, one finds that there are many things that can be done. I like the approach that Rob Greenfield, one of our visiting speakers shared: he started out as someone who was completely unaware of sustainable alternatives in his lifestyle, but then decided to change one thing every week. This led to him changing more than a 100 things in two years! I wish I had his drive, but have to remain true to myself – I try to change at least a couple of things every year and steadily decrease my carbon footprint.

Post-plastics, what is the next big sustainability project for La Chât?

I have already mentioned Car Free Fridays and the upgrading of buildings. Within the EcoCREW we are also looking forward to building and using the Plastics Upgrading station for which we have received a grant of the PTA.
If there are people out there who can weld and/or have a working knowledge of electronics, we need you!

Read more about the La Chât Single Use Plastics project in the Spring 2020 International School Parent Magazine.

Interview By: Olive Fenton.

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