COP 28 has just finished with some commitments on reducing the reliance on fossil fuels, the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) regulations have also come into force, so this is an opportune moment to reflect on how schools can become more sustainable. In this article our Senior Consultant Mark Temperley delves into the role of the Business Manager in this important work and what they need to know.
As the regulatory authorities governing your school set out their ESG and Sustainability reporting requirements this may not initially affect your school. However, school Business Managers will need to understand the requirements as their stakeholders will expect or require this. From parents who ask what is the school doing, to students who demand action, to suppliers who request details of emissions. In addition, there is the moral aspect – schools educate children and should be at the forefront of sustainability practices.
Which organizations are affected?
If we take the EU as an example, the application of 12 European sustainability standards has started with the CSRD mandated as early as 2024 for companies with more than 500 employees. In order to report organizations will have to start measuring and compiling data, many of them for the first time. While some temporary opt outs exist, they are temporary and eventually organizations will need to report.
By 2026 any company will need to report under the CSRD if it has:
• More than 250 employees
• More than €40 million in annual revenue or
• More than €20 million in total assets
Many schools are going to fall within those limits and will need to prepare for reporting.
Business managers have a critical role in a school’s green journey, but it is not something they can do in isolation, other stakeholders will need to be involved in this collaborative change (students, staff, parents, community). The most material, useful and practical activities will need to be collectively determined. There may well be additional costs involved and there are also likely to be changes in behaviours required.
Typically schools can group their sustainability activities around 5 key areas:
1. Carbon footprint
2. Consumption of Energy
3. Supply chain miles
4. Water use
5. Waste reduction
In essence this measures the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the school and helps show how the school is contributing towards climate change. It’s not only carbon dioxide of course but also methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases; however, measuring the carbon dioxide emissions is the most significant.
Reporting of carbon foorprint is based on the GHG (Greenhouse Gas) protocol which breaks emissions into 3 “scopes”.
1. Direct from owned sources
2. Indirect from purchased electricity
3. Indirect from other sources
Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the school. Examples include:
• Emissions from the combustion of natural gas or fuel oil in boilers.
• Emissions from fuel in school-owned vehicles.
• Emissions from refrigerants used in air conditioning systems.
Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, or cooling consumed by the school.
Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions from other sources.
Examples include emissions from:
• student and staff commuting
• the production and disposal of waste generated by the school
• the production and disposal of goods and services purchased by the school, such as food, paper, and cleaning supplies
• business travel
Measurement of these will be on reporting managers’ minds over the next few years as mandatory reporting regulations begin.
As the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) reporting date will be aligned with that of the financial reporting period, school business managers can expect that some or all of the ESRS reporting will fall on their plate.
In addition, organizations reporting under ESRS will be required to seek "limited" assurance of the sustainability information they disclose, which may expand the scope of your annual audit.
Outside of the EU similar reporting is being required with the UK saying it will align with international standards. US legislation is coming too.
Consumption of Energy
Analyzing a school’s energy consumption in depth is a vital part of a plan to reduce Scope 2 emissions. Using the internet of things, a detailed picture of where energy use and potential savings exist can be made. For example, using energy-efficient lighting can make a significant reduction in a school’s electrical usage.
Supply chain miles
Buying local where possible can result in a lower carbon footprint. Of course, this does not mean buying from a supplier who imports from China instead of importing directly from China, but we have seen examples of European goods being shipped to America and then reimported into Europe because the school prefers to use a US-based supplier.
Managing water is an essential part of sustainability. Schools use a significant quantity of water for HVAC systems, toilets, swimming pools, playing field taps, canteens and laboratories.
Schools are likely to benefit from monitoring waste. One school we examined was producing 15% more food in the canteen each day than was actually consumed. The canteen, paper and printer usage, chemicals and materials are all areas to examine.
The philosophy of recycling, repurposing and reducing is a good one to use here. This can help to reduce waste sent to landfills and help schools save money on rubbish collection costs.
Recycling is an important part of any waste management plan, and it’s essential to educate students on the importance of recycling and how they can do their part to help reduce the amount of waste generated at school. Reducing waste is good for the bottom line too.
How to begin
A school needs to form a Sustainability Committee comprised of various stakeholders and/or recruit a Sustainability Officer if their budget permits.
Workshops would then be held to obtain community involvement and buy-in and an initial report on actions produced for Board consideration.
Schools could useful start the conversation with a tool such as the Sage Sustainability Matrix.
This takes contributions from stakeholders and visually shows their impact and is a great way to start the conversation about a school’s green journey. This can be further developed using an impact assessment tool to rank and prioritize actions
Deliverables can be then be established with a budget and a timeframe. One deliverable would be a sustainability report (perhaps in the form of KPI’s or a dashboard) included in board and management packs, and for communication with stakeholders.
What a dashboard might include:
· Energy consumption
· Solar energy generation
· Wind turbine generation
· Water usage
· Food Waste
· Financial Savings generated
Transitioning to the new requirements can be daunting. Sage Consultancy can assist in facilitating workshops, helping establish a sustainability committee, setting up sustainability dashboards with relevant KPI’s, aiding in setting up systems to collect data to measure emissions, offering recommendations to reduce emissions and preparing your school for the mandatory reporting standards. If you are interested in a conversation reach out to one of our consultants or email us.