05 October 2021

Young people to lead the way on cutting carbon in Aberdeenshire schools

Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee is set to discuss the approach taken to reducing carbon in the area’s schools this week, and how pupils are already playing a leading role in the development of the service’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy.

It is part of the local authority’s wider Routemap to 2030, which will drive focused work on climate change across Aberdeenshire Council.

The committee is presented with updates on carbon reduction every six months, and as the service acknowledges the impact of the pandemic a renewed emphasis is being placed on developing actions pupils themselves can get behind.

A newly established Sustainability and Climate Change team made up of officers within Education and Children’s Services aims to help young people and staff to understand the impact of climate change and the measures required to develop solutions to reduce the carbon budget. The team is committed to ensuring pupils’ ambitions and ideas about climate action are recognised in the strategy and as plans develop.

Discussions with pupil groups started in September, focusing on the ongoing development of the Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy as well as shaping a new Sustainability in Schools Policy. The strategy aims to bring about behaviour change and the policy aims to support this by ensuring learning for sustainability is included in the curriculum, litter management and green space management is more effective, recycling is increased, the volume of waste sent to landfill is reduced and energy use is kept to a minimum.

Some of the feedback from young people so far highlights the need to keep language and presentation plain and simple, to think about how to encourage peers to ‘come on our journey’ and to explain the ‘so what?’ and what difference this work will make at the end of the day.

Representatives from schools across Aberdeenshire have been involved in discussion so far, including pupils from Kemnay Academy. Asked what’s the main message she would like to get across to all young people in Aberdeenshire, Katie Elrick who is in S5 said: “Be more conscious of what you’re spending and where you’re spending. Look into where you’re buying something from and think about ‘can you thrift that?’ It lowers cost and carbon.

“As a Pupil Voice Captain we’re talking about introducing a ‘Basics Bank’ which can help with sustainability as well as supporting the cost of the school day, by providing water bottles, for example. It will mean people don’t have to go and buy drinks, and using the water fountain can increase hydration and it’s good for your health.”

Head Teacher Lizbeth Paul agrees it is absolutely essential young people are listened to when it comes to making a difference. She said: “Put simply, we can’t make the impact we’d like to in schools unless our young people and colleagues are on board. Everyone has to understand the benefit of taking the time to separate food waste and recycling, for example, or switch off lights and equipment when not in use. I’m very proud of the Eco Schools group we have here at Kemnay and I know they’ll provide a valuable contribution to this area of work across our local area.”

Cllr Gillian Owen, Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee chair, added: “There could not be a more opportune time for these discussions to take place with the COP26 international climate change conference coming to Scotland soon. We must ensure children and young people here in Aberdeenshire get the opportunity they deserve to shape actions taken locally as well as globally. I am looking forward to seeing the impact they make as our service plans develop over the coming months.”

Committee vice chair Cllr Rosemary Bruce commented: “As Aberdeenshire councillors, we now consider the impact on sustainability as part of all our decision-making, through integrated impact assessments officers present alongside reports. Empowering children and young people to help us make the changes that are needed is essential.”

View the digital interactive version of the Education and Children’s Services Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/1464574308054466562

The report is available in full by visiting: https://committees.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/committees.aspx?commid=494&meetid=19868

You can also watch a webcast of the Education and Children’s Services Committee by visiting https://aberdeenshire.public-i.tv/core/portal/home

Members of Aberdeenshire’s Pupil Participation Forum from Kemnay Academy as well as members of the school’s Eco Schools Group have given their feedback on the sustainability strategy and helped to shape its ongoing development. They enjoyed a session discussing their thoughts with Aberdeenshire Council’s core sustainability team.

Here are some of their thoughts:

Tola Adeleke (S5)
“We have made the strategy more accessible so people go into learning about it with a positive attitude and we’ve tried to make it more clear.

“We hope to see decreasing waste [going to landfill], and want to see activities done in all PSE classes to make everyone more aware. Engaging young people on a personal level means they’re more interested in making a change.”

Katie Elrick (S5) – What’s the main message you’d like to get across to all young people in Aberdeenshire?

“Be more conscious of what you’re spending and where you’re spending. Look into where you’re buying something from and think about ‘can you thrift that?’ It lowers cost and carbon.

“As a Pupil Voice Captain we’re talking about introducing a ‘Basics Bank’ which can help with sustainability as well as supporting the cost of the school day, by providing water bottles, for example. It will mean people don’t have to go and buy drinks and using the water fountain can increase hydration and it’s good for your health.”

Louisa Smith (S1)
“I think the strategy will affect the school and surrounding area a lot. It will make people more aware about their carbon footprint and be more self-conscious about what they’re buying and doing.”

Alexander Rogoez (S3)
“As a member of the Eco Schools Committee, I feel that the sustainability goals will help to focus our actions so that everyone can play their part in tackling climate change and improve our community, one goal at a time.”

Eris Rose Black (S1)
“It is important to take action as it only takes one word to start an avalanche.”

Tyla Mackay (S2)
“To help with the bin issue, I feel we should get more recycling bins that are actually visible around the schools. It may take a lot to make an impact but at least we are trying.”

Orlaith Michie (S2)
“I found this a very great opportunity as in school I feel like we always talk about climate change and the stuff we could do to help but this gave us the chance to actually do the stuff that will make an impact. It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you are helping the planet and making a positive impact.”

Joe Myles (S4)
“I hope what we’ve talked about will have a deep impact, but even a small one is also enough if today has reduced the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in 2050 by a kilo, it’s all worth it.”

Alex Carnochan (S2)
“I think it is great that this is educating young people like myself. I hope that this will result in less rubbish around local areas. I think schools everywhere can learn about their impact and try to act on it.”