two women working on whiteboard

Sustainability strategy for schools

Alex Hindson, Partner, Head of Sustainability
two women working on whiteboard
In our previous insight, Sustainability for Schools, we outlined how materiality assessments are a great way to start prioritising what matters for schools when it comes to sustainability issues. Here, we’re considering how to develop a sustainability strategy that both articulates these priorities, but also what you will do to address them over the medium term.

Having put the effort into producing a materiality assessment, the next stage is to step back and think ‘So what?’ - what does this mean and what do we need to do? This inevitably means identifying and agreeing on the key sustainability issues to address. This will vary from school to school and the community it sits within. Typically, climate change and inclusion will be key issues, but mental health or transparent governance may be equally important. However, it is important to make sensible choices and focus resources on making a difference in a few key areas.

Having identified a handful of areas to target, the next stage, as shown in Figure 1 is to develop action plans for each area. Inevitably this implies having discussions about how far to go. There will be trade-offs and its likely sustainability plans will need to compete for resources with other important priorities. In some ways, integration is the solution. Making sure that sustainability issues are being addressed through the school’s core plans for the future.

sustainability strategy schools

Figure 1 – typical Sustainability Strategy development

Inevitably, this will lead to a debate regarding the school’s level of ‘ambition’ around sustainability. There are different ways of tackling this step but typically it is about aligning stakeholder views on why sustainability is important to the school, what the pressures are to improve and how quickly you need to move forward. This allows the wide-ranging action plan to be refined and calibrated to the agreed level of ambition.

It can feel daunting to write a sustainability strategy statement from scratch. However, hopefully by following a structured process as we have laid out schools will have the information required to do so. The strategy in simple terms just needs to capture and explain the steps that you have been through to articulate what is most important and what is being done to address it. The trick is to keep it fairly concise and grounded in the practical steps that the school is committing to take.

The approach outlined delivers three key outcomes: 

  1. The school can explain the choices it has made and what it is focusing on; 
  2. The school debates and agrees its ambition, so it can clearly explain what sustainability means in simple terms and why it is a priority; 
  3. The strategy itself is a tool for communicating internally and externally and a way of maintaining a dialogue with stakeholders.

Sharing the sustainability strategy will generate a valuable debate with stakeholders and creates transparency about how the issues raised in the materiality assessment are being addressed. School leaders should of course not miss the opportunity to involve their pupils in the solution. It is not only the best way to make things happen in practice, but it is also a learning opportunity that allows pupils to actively get involved in addressing sustainability issues in a meaningful way.

In a subsequent article, we will explore the use of maturity models to help gauge where you sit as an organisation right now and how to move purposefully towards your ambition. If you would like to discuss this topic further, please get in touch with Alex Hindson or your usual Crowe contact.


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Alex Hindson
Alex Hindson
Partner, Head of Sustainability