Our goal is clear: to reduce our negative impact on the environment and increase our positive impact. But how do we know if our actions are making any difference and we are achieving this aim? We need to know how measure our environmental impact.
Just as we measure bookings, website visits, student progress and staff satisfaction to see how well things are going, we can track our energy consumption, waste, travel miles and number of green lessons to check our environmental impact.
Measurement lets us see if our actions are having an impact and seeing the difference you are making is motivating!
Measurement also means you can demonstrate progress. That means you can celebrate your actions publicly, inspiring others and engaging with staff and student values with credibility. This evidence can also be used if you want to pursue environmental accreditation from Green Standard Schools.
> Watch Jonathan Dykes (Green Standard Schools) presentation
on how to measure a language school’s environmental impact
What can we do?
- How to measure your negative environmental impact
- How to measure your positive environmental impact
- Understand your numbers in relation to student hours (or m2)
- Take action even when you can’t measure (or – what not to measure)
- Involve your team
- Auditing your environmental impact
- Share your progress
- Useful resources
Measure your negative environmental impact
Your electricity and gas bills are an easy and important place to start your environmental monitoring. Not only is burning fossil fuels the main cause of global warming, but our bills and meters come with clear numbers making consumption easy to monitor. Plus saving costs is a great motivation too.
Once you have the figures, kilowatt-hours, cubic meters of water or kilos of waste, you can start thinking about how to reduce them.
✓ Electricity and gas consumption
✓ Travel miles and method (alone in a car or first class flights have the highest emissions)
✓ Water consumption
✓ Website carbon footprint
✓ Materials like paper
✓ Waste (how much is recycled and how much is going to landfill?)
✓ Food (e.g. number of low emission, plant-based meals consumed)
Measure your positive environmental impact
There are two sides to taking environmental action – reducing our negative environmental impact and increasing the positive. The latter is sometimes called your carbon handprint.
As educators we have an amazing opportunity to raise awareness of and engagement with environmental topics. You can measure the number of environmental topics in lessons, the amount of litter your students collect, hours of volunteering and if your students feel more motivated or aware of environmental topics by the end of their stay.
We can also support environmental projects and organisations to mitigate the emissions we cannot cut, measuring the amount of money donated or the number of trees planted.
✓ Number of lessons taught based on environmental themes
✓ Number of green activities (litter picking, volunteering…)
✓ Fundraising/ donations to environmental projects (including offsetting)
✓ Awareness and interest among staff and students via surveys
✓ Your impact on suppliers
Understand your numbers in relation to student hours
Your consumption has to be taken in relation to the number of students you have. As many English language schools will have sadly discovered during the pandemic, it is easy to reduce your bills when no one is using your classrooms.
To account for this, Jonathan Dykes of Green Standard Schools recommends tracking your progress as a ratio of student hours to energy use, water use etc.
For other UK ELT sector organisations, consider measuring your energy consumption relative to the size of your office space, e.g. 100kWh per m2.
✓ Calculate your student hours
✓ Create a spreadsheet to calculate ratios of consumption or material use relative to student hours
✓ Measure your progress as your ratio improves
✓ Celebrate lower emissions and smaller bills!
Take action even when you can’t measure (or – what not to measure)
Some things are just too difficult to measure and the effort would take energy away from positive changes we can make.
For example, measuring how many microfibers are released into the ocean from student laundry is beyond most language centres. So just take action. Count positive actions, like stocking the laundry room with environmentally friendly detergent and microfiber catchers instead.
Or treating your teachers to a pizza lunch to celebrate a milestone is not worth the effort of calculation. But it is always worth action. Choose plant based options and a local provider and rest assured you have minimised emissions!
These have an impact and you can make worthwhile changes, but it is not worth measuring. Just take action.
✓ Don’t measure anything that takes more effort than it’s worth
✓ Just take action instead
Involve your team
Once you have set up set up a way to record electricity consumption or environmental topics taught and filled in figures for the previous year, it’s time to set a target and think about how to achieve it. (You can always date your figures back to 2019 or your last busy year to help you set goals)
Involve as many people as possible – environmental action has to be a collective effort to work. Together a team will come up with lots of good ideas, feel ownership over the project and take action more enthusiastically. Students too will have great ideas to contribute and
✓ Get staff and students involved for the best results
✓ Appoint a green lead or green team
✓ Share regular updates
✓ Celebrate successes
✓ Welcome feedback and new ideas at any time
Auditing your environmental impact
Doing an environmental audit is a great way to take stock of your current emissions and environmental impact. It serves a base line against which you can measure your improvement. It often reveals new opportunities to reduce consumption, environmental damage and costs too.
You can engage an external auditing company or use the information on this website. We continue to research and write up guides for green ELT, which are full of ideas on actions to take.
- Travel and transport
- Food and waste
- Energy and water
- Digital carbon footprint
- Environmental education
- Consumption, waste and recycling
You can also use Green Standard School‘s self-assessment tool. It is free and designed specifically to help language schools monitor their environmental performance. After signing up you can work through questions about energy, accommodation, travel, teaching and more.
✓ Assign someone to lead the audit
✓ Encourage as many people to contribute ideas as possible
✓ Use our website or GSS’s self-assessment tool for a list of what to look for
✓ Record all your findings, set targets and take action
Share your progress
It is not only motivating to be able to see your negative impact decreasing but sharing your goals and progress openly will build trust with students, staff and your local community. Celebrating you green achievements and sharing the challenges will inspire others to make changes too.
✓ Share success internally
✓ Create an area of your website about your environmental action
✓ Post about your action, achievements and struggles on social media using #GreenELT
- Carbon Trust Better business guide to energy saving
- ISO 14001 Checklist (A generic industry checklist that may help ELT organisations in audit and measuring their environmental impact)
- Free carbon calculator
- Eco Schools Programme: WWF programme aiming to build awareness and good practice in schools, leading to a Green Flag award
- Environment: treading lightly on the Earth (free Open University course)
- The Green Ration Book: Assessing the carbon cost of everyday living