News analysis: Criticism and case studies offered at environmental education conference yesterday

A sustainable conference looking at the practical issues involved in building sustainable schools took place yesterday with a whole host of industry experts giving their thoughts on the challenges that face local authorities.

The event, called Are we Building Sustainable Schools and organised by networking group Policy Connect, brought together government officials, local authorities representatives and staff from schools involved in the first wave of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) campaign to discuss the difficulties experienced during schemes.


There was disapproval from the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment (CABE) who suggested there were several inconsistencies in the first wave of the scheme which needed to be ironed out.

Richard Simmons
CABE chief executive Richard Simmons

"We work in a field where there are too many targets," said Richard Simmons, CABE chief executive. He highlighted the important role of architects and designers in the design stages of the schools and how their role is sometimes underutilised.

In response to Minister of State for Schools and Learners, Jim Knight’s earlier comment that the UK has the highest proportion of electronic whiteboards in the world, Simmons retorted: “We have found that heat and energy used by the electronic whiteboards is too high. They don’t use renewable energy and they tend to overheat.” This would suggest increased energy consumption on the whiteboards they have replaced.


Simmons highlighted three key ingredients to a carbon neutral school:

  • Thinking – It is important to decide the sustainable goals early on and that young people in schools are already thinking about it and we need to get them involved.
  • Design – The orientation of a building is important as it affects solar gain. Good ventilation, light and materials as important factors.
  • Construction – Materials for construction travel hundreds of miles to the construction site thus increasing the projects carbon footprint. 30% of materials are wasted so the recycling of waste needs to be in the spec from the start.

Mike Entwisle, Associate Director of Buro Happold highlighted a practical solution for the increasing technology management problem: “The ones that are delivered with the lowest energy consumption are the simplest to run. The people running the systems often do not have the time or the skills to manage it efficiently. If they can’t run it efficiently it is all for nought.”

Cast Studies

A variety of schools were used as case studies to demonstrate the positive aspects of the first wave of BSF schools:

Academy of St Francis of Assisi

Vice Principal Ursula Penarski talked about the £20 million redevelopment of St Francis of Assisi Academy in Liverpool. Labelled the greenest school in Britain, the school specialises in the environment and was keen to incorporate its core values in the reconstruction of the school under the BSF scheme.

Interior of the St Francis school

Built on a former council environmental depot, the school is concrete framed, using a flat-slab construction, with floor slabs and basement walls left exposed for thermal benefits. The external walls are clad in Douglas fir while the projecting bays are copper clad.

Sandstone excavated from the site has been recycled as topping for the brown roofs and the two single-storey classrooms have sedum roofs which continue down the battered north elevations to provide planted facades.

The building incorporated several quirky recycled features including counter splash backs made from recycled mobile phones and recycled yogurt pot table tops for the science laboratory.

Penarski highlighted two key challenges in making a success of the BSF project - educating students and managing the technology used in the development.

She also discussed the problem of energy wastage from computers. “You have to manage what you’ve got. We use a BMS system which monitors electricity usage. This highlighted high electricity use overnight because projectors, computers etc were left on. It shouldn’t be the job of the maintenance people to turn them off; it’s about raising awareness of the people who use the equipment.”

Redhill Primary School, Worcester

Dr Stewart Davies, Business Commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission talked about ‘The 8 Doorways’ framework, detailng how it had been used in the redevelopment of Redhill Primary School in Worcester.

The school is packed with environmental features, including a ground source heating system that heats the building and provides hot water by drawing heat from 33 boreholes under the car park. Rainwater from half of the roof is recycled to flush the toilets and the other rain falling on the site is channeled on site into swales and ponds to provide habitats and study areas, as well as to prevent flooding.

The 8 Doorways

  • Building and Grounds The school was demolished and rebuilt on the same site because the cost of refurbishment was too high. The rebuild allowed for a completely new layout and designers could take into consideration to high noise pollution. To reduce the buildings carbon footprint, the school has a low surface area, steel frame and wooden structure. It’s also a low energy building to maximise daylight and allow natural ventilation.
  • Energy and Water Ground source heating was used because although it involved a large capital investment, it requires low maintenance and is highly efficient. It also caters for under floor heating, hot water and cooling requirements of the school. There is also a rainwater harvester to supply the flushing of toilets.
  • Purchasing and Waste The use of low embodied materials with high thermal performance was paramount. The brick from the demolition was recycled to supply hardcore fill and in total, one quarter of the new building was recycled.
  • Local Well Being A sustainable urban drainage system was installed to reduce flooding in the local area as water was retained and absorbed on site.
  • Food & Drink Vegetable gardens were landscaped for school children to maintain.
  • Travel & Traffic Travel schemes, cycle plans, lockers and changing rooms for cyclists all contribute to reducing carbon emissions.
  • Inclusion and Participation Use of the school for community events means there was less of a need for separate community facilities to be built.
  • Global Dimension With climate change in mind, the school aims to reduce carbon emissions. This is evident in the ventilation systems, large roof with over hangs and low roof profile