Case Study

Sustainability at St Helen’s

It is undeniable that in recent years the world has a renewed focus on sustainability and environmentalism. With personalities such as Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough campaigning regularly for positive climate action in the public eye, the impact of last year’s COP26 discussions still being felt today and now the rise of the activist group Just Stop Oil, it is not surprising that today’s young people are so conscious about the planet they will inherit.

As a leading independent day school for girls, St Helen and St Katharine is making a conscious effort to ensure that the discussions had around sustainability are not merely talk but catalysts for actionable change that students can actively be a part of.

This does not mean that sustainability at St Helen’s is new – in fact, far from it. As part of the School’s effort to be recognised as an Eco-School with a Green Flag Award, our new-look, student-led Eco Council has been working with students and staff to spearhead new projects and initiatives in almost every department.

One prime example is our annual Climate Awareness Fortnight. Started in conjunction with the School’s Sixth Form Geography Society during COP26, the two-week event challenges students to pick a particular environmental focus and try to enact change – however big or small. Last year, the School’s focus was on food and fashion; this resulted in students bringing in old clothes to donate to charity, as well as the introduction of a weekly meat-free Monday lunchtime that has continued throughout the past year.

This year, held again to coincide with COP 27, our sustainability focus has been on water and technology. Launched by Sixth Form geography students who led an assembly explaining the importance of climate awareness, what COP27 is, as well as sharing some ‘top tips’ on how to save energy and be mindful of water consumption, the fortnight has involved departments throughout the school. Curriculum activities have included quizzing students on their knowledge of sustainable practices in different languages; creating a soundscape of water recorded by students and staff in our Music Department; the science department’s participation in ‘Protecting our Planet Day’ to celebrate the United Nations World Environment Day; as well as a philosophical discussion, led by our Classics Department, which posed the question of what the past can teach us about human adaptation to climate change.

During the fortnight, the school also hosted a number of guest speakers: ‘Let’s Talk About Climate Change’, an evening event which welcomed Dr Ken Amor from Oxford University and gave A level Geography students from across the OX14 Learning Partnership an opportunity to find out more about climate change. Similarly, our Art Department welcomed Suzi Delaney, founder of R-planet, to discuss with students how she is striving to create a positive response to some of the most challenging sustainability issues faced by the fashion industry.

Other successes from around the school have included:

  • Reduced paper consumption by 17% from the same period in 2021
  • Geography students using public transport for field work rather than hiring coaches
  • Introducing items of clothing into our sports kit that are made from recycled materials
  • Reduced use of plastics like acrylic produced from crude oil for 3D printing and favouring PLA which is produced from corn starch and is compostable
  • Replacing house lights in our performance spaces to use more sustainable, dimmable LEDs
  • And, our Food and Nutrition Department has begun composting all fruit and vegetable scraps; collecting and recycling all food packaging; and has reduced its overall rubbish going to landfills by 5/6ths

At St Helen and St Katharine we believe that, as a school, we have an important role to play in supporting girls to grow into intellectually curious and erudite young women. Learning about sustainability and the environment is a key component on that journey.

St Helen and St Katharine