Simplicity is the key for sustainability in schools

It’s now crucial to empower young people with sustainability in schools, and keeping things simple is the way to inspire action, says Tuu co-founder Ian Paynton

The Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global average temperature rise to 1.5°C requires less talking and more doing from everyone. Particularly world leaders. Sustainability in schools is crucial too ⁠— schools are responsible today for the politicians, entrepreneurs and activists of tomorrow.

Young people are our final hope in reducing the impending catastrophe of the climate crisis. An average temperature rise of between 1.5.°C and 2°C has been dubbed ‘a death sentence’ for small island states such as the Maldives and anything more than 2°C is a complete disaster for everyone else. Rising temperatures mean sea level rise, coastal flooding, intensified natural disasters, loss of life, mass migration, and reduced societal security.

Sustainability is a huge topic. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are helpful because they break it down into 17 goals.

This means that countries, organizations and communities can work towards the greater good in manageable steps.

SDGs set out to help tackle the climate crisis and also work towards better education and wellbeing, as well as reducing hunger, poverty and inequalities.

But even the 17 goals ⁠— and their 169 associated targets ⁠— can seem daunting to school leaders, who also have their day job to do.

Making changes to processes can be a challenge in small organisations, so tackling sustainability in schools will most likely feel overwhelming.

The danger here is inaction and there is no time for inaction.

Which is why simplicity is key.

A simple approach to sustainability in schools

Something is better than nothing.

If you track your school’s progress and continuously make better decisions to improve your sustainability metrics each month, then you can be sure your school is doing the best it can. 

Getting started is the most important thing.

1. Create a sustainability playbook

Know what Sustainable Development Goals you want to work towards and which metrics you want to improve.

Base this on how you can limit your carbon impact rather than offsetting it.

2. Empower a small sustainability team

Put a small leadership team in charge of sustainability efforts.

It could be a team headed up by a member of staff and volunteer students, which meets every other week.

Give them ownership and empower them to make sustainability proposals based on actual data.

3. Unblock information flows

To make better sustainability decisions at school means knowing where your school stands today with its current metrics. Communicate from above the importance of giving the sustainability team complete access to the data they need.

Simplify the flow of information between departments at school and free up information channels containing key sustainability metrics.

Nothing should be kept secret. No department should feel cagey about letting others see the numbers.

Create shared folders on the cloud and ensure the deposit of monthly metrics into these folders is part of the job description for the gatekeepers of critical information.

4. Set SMART sustainability goals

Set sustainability targets that are simple and SMART.

This means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

For example a SMART goal around water consumption at your school could look like this:

“Reduce water usage from 24 litres per student per day to between 14-21 litres per student per day, which is average in the UK according to the UK Department of Education and Skills, to contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals “Responsible Consumption and Production” by Half Term in October this year.”

5. Consistently track progress

Keep all sustainability data in one place. Visualise it clearly to easily spot improvement opportunities.

Clearly presented data will help you tell stories and win buy-in when presenting to decision makers.

If you require extra budget or authorisation for a sustainability initiative around campus, having the data on hand and visualised will work wonders.

6. Communicate results to build momentum

Transparently communicate the wins⁠ — and areas for improvements! ⁠— internally as a way to keep your school accountable on its sustainability journey.

Celebrate achievements too. Reward the young people leading the way to build momentum.

By keeping things simple to start with, your school can do something.

Small steps will mean greater leaps for your school as it does its part to proactively protect the planet and  nurture the green leaders of tomorrow.

Your monthly goals will lead to improved quarterly and yearly sustainability outcomes as your school and its students contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030. 


Ian Paynton is the cofounder of Tuu – a sustainability tracking dashboard for schools.

Tuu gives schools a simple playbook by which to start tracking their sustainability efforts and a monthly Tuu Rating to measure progress.

The Tuu Rating is made up of 68 data points across 9 sections and can be broken down and visualised on a collaborative dashboard. 

By providing schools with a monthly Tuu Rating ⁠— calculated using best practice standards from existing environmental agencies and research bodies ⁠— Tuu offers school leaders and students an easy-to-understand score out of 100 that they set out to beat each month.

Once a school’s sustainability metrics are supported with uploaded evidence, schools are able to use the Tuu Rating in external communications as a way to highlight its genuine sustainability efforts among stakeholders, parents and the wider community.