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Moving to Net Zero: The education sector still has much to learn

In 2015, 190 countries signed the international treaty on climate change in Paris – the first ever legally binding global climate change agreement. Among the many commitments was a pledge to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C. The Paris Accords recognised the urgency of dealing with the climate change crisis sooner rather than later, which is why it has been at the forefront of global political agendas ever since.

In Australia, while many large corporations and businesses have generally embraced the challenges of achieving net zero, one area that, perhaps surprisingly, has not been as forward-thinking, is the education sector. As an  article in the Sustainability Journal says, “Despite the abundant environmental and social benefits, and the imperative to address rising emissions, utility consumption and costs, there has been mixed ambition and approaches from various levels of government in Australia to push quantifiable carbon reduction in schools1.”

This despite our school system being “the fifth largest emitter of Carbon Dioxide and Equivalent (CO2e), in energy alone, in Australia2,” according to not-for-profit emissions reduction program, Zero Positive. The Clean Energy Council suggests that, on average, school classrooms use around 3800 kWh of electricity per year, or roughly half the consumption of an average Aussie household3. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the enthusiasm of today’s school and university students for action on climate change and what’s actually happening in our school and university campuses.  

Room for improvement

When we consider the power needed to run multiple school and university buildings – classrooms, sports halls, dining rooms, dormitories, research labs and so on – it’s easy to see why energy consumption is high. Especially when many of the buildings are ageing and inefficient. Still, there is plenty of scope for improvement in terms of energy consumption and energy efficiency.

Rob Breur, CEO Solar schools, makes a simple observation: “Australians spend $876M a year on ‘standby’ energy, which contributes to 2.4M tonnes of CO2e. If ONE school turned their appliances off at the wall every night it would save, on average, $2,225 per school per month. If the 9,500 schools in Australia did that, it would reduce costs by $21M a month or $235M per annum. 4

Study shows a way forward

An article published in the Sustainability Journal1 entitled ‘Schools: An untapped Opportunity for a Carbon Neutral Future’ shows a way towards net zero for the education sector. The study involved 13 schools in Perth, WA, during a 2-year Low Carbon Schools Pilot Program (LCSPP). It looked at how schools can reduce their carbon emissions and operational costs on buildings and infrastructure. Data from electricity, gas and water was analysed, in conjunction with the initiatives each school implemented. Results revealed the schools participating were able to achieve:

The last number, in particular, demonstrates the simple benefit of action vs. inaction.

Act now to make an impact tomorrow

Energy Action has helped thousands of businesses, local councils, strata organisations and more transition to Net Zero. (We achieved Net Zero ourselves this year.) Energy Action has a five step process to help customers lower emissions.

STEP 1: Measure your usage and emissions: you can’t improve what you don’t measure.

STEP 2: Lower your costs: use the measured data to establish areas for improvement.

STEP 3: Consider your emission reduction options: match your appetite for renewables to your budget and timeline.

STEP 4: Procure at least-cost: let energy retailers, renewable energy producers and/or installers compete to win your business.

STEP 5: Manage: from contract fulfilment to certification management, Energy Action can help you secure the ongoing management of your energy.


1. MDPI: ‘Schools: An untapped Opportunity for a Carbon Neutral Future’ Sustainability Journal 2021, 13, 46

2 & 4.

3. Clean Energy Council: Renewable Energy Powering Australian Education

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