Green policy

Carbon offsetting

At some point over the next 3-6 months, travel restrictions are likely to be lifted and the number of planes flying eager travellers around the world will start to climb back up towards pre-Covid levels. This is great news for those language schools that rely mainly on students coming from abroad to study with them; it’s not such good news for the planet, as aviation is one of the main sources of green-house gases. Students may have the option of traveling by train on certain routes (e.g. from London to Paris) but this cleaner option is often considerably more time consuming and costly than flying, and in many cases is downright impossible (think Riyadh to Dublin).

While modern aircraft are much more fuel efficient than older models, the massive (pre-Covid) increase in the number of flights worldwide led to a significant increase in the volume of green-house gases generated by the aviation industry. According to Wikipedia, in 2018, global commercial operations produced over 900 million tonnes of CO₂, which was around 2.4% of all global CO₂ emissions.  Aware of the problem (and motivated by the need to cut fuel costs) the aviation industry is already experimenting with cleaner, hybrid engines (some powered by aviation fuel, others by electricity). Hydrogen powered aircraft that emit zero carbon could also enter service by 2035 (see https://cnb.cx/2LojPmB)

In the meantime, environmentally conscious language schools face something of a conundrum. On the one hand they want to attract as many students to their schools as they can comfortably cater for; on the other hand they don’t want to contribute to the disastrous consequences of global warming. But there is a way through this conundrum. The first step is to measure the amount of carbon students generate by flying to study at your school (and flying home again). This sounds complicated, but there are dozens of websites designed to help us make these calculations (see for example www.flightfootprint.net )

Once you have an idea of the volume of carbon your students have generated, you can then investigate ways to offset the carbon by subscribing to one of the many projects that have been set up specifically for this purpose.  See for example https://bit.ly/39zzqaT 

Of course offsetting projects all cost money and it may be too much of a challenge for hard up language schools to offset all the carbon their students are responsible for. But, as the saying goes, every little helps. And schools may find that their students – who are also increasingly conscious of the threats of global warming – are prepared to contribute, by paying a small additional carbon offsetting fee. It would perhaps be interesting to make such a fee optional on the school’s application form, then monitor the proportion of students that agree to it.

Two of the schools that have recently become accredited by Green Standard Schools are showing the way, by participating in different offsetting projects. 

First we have Scuola Leonardo da Vinci Milano, a school specialising in teaching Italian, which contributes towards a tree planting project called Treedom. This organisation not only plants trees on behalf of their partners in those areas of the world where they are most needed, they also measure the amount of carbon the tree planting project is offsetting. See https://bit.ly/35Bq4dq

Secondly, English Country Schools, an organisation that specialises in running summer schools for children and teenagers in the south-west of England, supports offsetting projects in Uganda, China and India. These include the provision of energy efficient cooking stoves designed both to reduce fuel consumption (mainly non-renewable biomass) and improve levels of indoor air pollution. See https://bit.ly/3sslLuE In 2019 ECS was credited with offsetting 150 tonnes of carbon by their partners, Carbon Footprint Ltd.

Green Standard Schools would like to applaud its members for this sort of initiative and encourage other language schools to consider the feasibility of following their lead.

(Post first published on https://greenstandardschools.org )

Why it’s good to be green

Butterfly

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:

  1. It could become a useful marketing tool, helping us attract environmentally conscious students from other parts of the world.
  2. It might help us lower some costs, by cutting back on the amount of paper, water and energy we use.
  3. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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