How To Calculate a School Carbon Footprint

Calculating your school’s energy footprint means looking at energy consumption and emissions associated with every part of school life. This is a sensible starting point for any school and will calculate the direct and indirect carbon emissions from the school’s energy use. 

A more detailed carbon footprint considers the school buildings, transportation (to and from school), food and drink served on the premises, materials and supplies, and waste generated by the school and how it is managed. 

To get a full picture, it may also be helpful to consider the digital footprint generated on the premises, and through online activities. We’ll take a closer look at each of these areas below.

Energy Use

Energy is used for multiple functions in a school building:

  • Lighting
  • Heating and Cooling
  • Cooking/ Food Preparation (If there is a kitchen on site.)
  • Electrical Outlets and Equipment

The process of looking at energy usage and how to reduce it is known as an energy audit. During an energy audit you will of course analyse how much energy is used by the school over a given period. Installing a smart energy meter (if one is not already in place) will certainly help in providing a clearer picture of current energy use.

In order to then work out the carbon footprint of that energy use, it is of course also important to look at where the energy that is used comes from. Schools may derive energy from national grid systems, or generate their own power on site. 

Of course, the carbon footprint of a school’s energy use will be considerably lower where renewable energy sources make up a higher proportion of the energy mix, or where renewable energy is generated on site. Switching to a green energy supplier, or generating renewable energy on site can be one key way to reduce the school’s carbon footprint when it comes to energy use. 

Transportation

Another key factor to consider in calculating a school’s carbon footprint is transportation. It is important to factor in the emissions associated with a school’s own transport fleet, where there are school buses etc.. Taking into consideration the emissions associated with the different modes of independent travel which staff and pupils use to go to and from school. Do not forget the additional journeys made during school operations (on school trips, for example, or for staff conferences). 

Where a school operates school vehicles, switching to EVs will of course significantly reduce carbon footprint when it comes to transportation. The age and efficiency of vehicles should also be taken into account when trying to get a clearer picture of the carbon footprint of a school. 

Schools may already have taken steps to encourage slow travel (walking, cycling etc.) and to enable and promote healthy options among pupils and staff. Recording and reporting any progress made in this arena is crucial if you are to gain an accurate idea of a school’s carbon footprint. 

Food and Drink

One important area often overlooked by those trying to work out a school’s carbon footprint is food and drink. It is important to look at whether food is prepared on or off site, or whether pupils and staff tend to bring their own meals to school. 

When calculating the carbon footprint of food and drink, you need to consider not only the energy usage in school kitchens, but also the emissions associated with the growth and production of all ingredients, and the emissions associated with ‘food miles’. 

One key strategy that a school can employ to reduce carbon emissions associated with food and drink is to grow at least some of their food on the premises. Whether or not this is possible, sustainable procurement of fresh, local, organic, seasonal, sustainably grown produce is key. Plant based alternatives are increasing in their popularity and meat free days are widely being adopted in schools across the UK.

Materials and Supplies

The true carbon costs of a school should also take into account the carbon emissions associated with materials and supplies– from the paper and stationary used, to tools and equipment, any anything else purchased in the course of operations. Mapping your supply chain and setting baseline supplier standards can make a positive impact on your carbon footprint. Where any construction or new fitting out is undertaken, it is also important to consider the long-term efficiency of building improvements coupled with the materials costs.

Waste

Waste is another significant aspect to consider when trying to work out a school’s carbon footprint. Waste in all forms carries a high carbon cost. Where possible a school needs to work towards zero waste in all arenas in order to become as sustainable as possible. Plastic waste is, of course, a hot topic and should be considered when calculating carbon footprint. Food waste is another key arena to look at within this category. 

Waste begins not with what a school throws away, but with what it buys. It is important to look at waste not just at site level, but throughout supply chains. Elimination of unnecessary purchases, and life-cycle analysis are crucial to gain an accurate picture of the carbon footprint of the school. 

Those responsible for calculating the carbon footprint of a school need to look closely at supplies, procurement, and waste management to get a full picture of the true costs of the school premises and its operations. 

Digital Footprint

The above categories are definitely the most important to consider when trying to build an accurate picture of a school’s carbon footprint. But to gain a full picture, it is also a good idea to look a little into a school’s digital footprint. A digital footprint is the emissions associated with emails, websites, and all online activity. It is important to remember, as we move more and more into the digital realm, that every action in the digital world has a carbon cost too. 

Taking account of emissions associated with online activity can help gain a clearer picture of all emissions associated with the school. And can also help you identify further areas where carbon costs can be cut and sustainability can be improved.

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