Back in 2007, on my way home from the ICEF workshop in Berlin, I was trying to think of new ways that we could make IH Barcelona stand out from the ever-increasing crowd of private language schools offering Intensive Spanish courses in our fair city. Having spent the previous few days in environmentally conscious Berlin, an idea occurred to me: we could perhaps become the world’s first accredited environmentally friendly language school. This could have three real benefits:
- It could become a useful marketing tool, helping us attract environmentally conscious students from other parts of the world.
- It might help us lower some costs, by cutting back on the amount of paper, water and energy we use.
- It would lessen the impact our activities have on the environment and, as the slogan says, every little helps.
Having spent some time researching options, we eventually decided to go for EMAS which is the European Union’s Eco Management and Audit Scheme. To summarise what this involves:
- We have to publish an Environment Policy which specifies our aims and approach
- We have to set ourselves targets to reduce the consumption of energy, water, paper and so on.
- We have to recycle everything that can be recycled
- We have to ensure that we avoid purchasing products that can be damaging to the environment (e.g. cleaning materials) and replace them with products that are as benign as possible
- We have to keep detailed records of all of the above and undergo two external audits each year.
We almost certainly were the first language school in Spain (if not the world) to achieve EMAS accreditation and we have now been on the register for 8 years.
So have the benefits we anticipated from adopting this policy materialised? Yes and no.
- Our Eco-friendly policy probably hasn’t as much impact as a marketing tool as we originally hoped, although these things are notoriously difficult to gauge. One corporate client once told us that they had chosen us to be their provider as they were also on the EMAS register. But that’s just one case of our environmental policy having tipped the buyer’s decision in our favour. Has this policy influenced other clients in some shape or form? Our surveys suggest it might have, but not to any great extent.
- While we’ve clearly lowered the amount of money we spend on utilities and consumables, we’ve had to spend rather more money than we’ve saved. Primarily because we’ve had to employ a part-time (but extremely enthusiastic) Environment Officer to oversee and manage the whole process. Secondly because the cost of the external audits isn’t exactly cheap.
- The area where the policy has probably been most successful has been on lessening our impact on the environment. We have reduced the amount of energy we use in relation to student numbers consistently, year on year. The same with water and paper. We still have room for improvement – we still can’t persuade all our staff and students to always switch the lights off when they leave a room; and the amount of paper we use still seems excessive to me. But there is definitely a greater awareness of these issues in the school and while there will always be a number of cynics, peer pressure to consider how our behaviour impacts the environment increases each and every year.
So has it all been worth it? On balance I believe it has. We’re not about to stop global warming on our own, but at the very least we’re able to help raise awareness and we’re seriously trying to set a good example.
As our slogan says “The Earth is our International House”.
For more information on EMAS: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/emas/index_en.htm
To see our environment policy: http://www.ihes.com/bcn/medioamb.html