Sustainability has gone from being an optional extra to a central priority of Building Schools for the Future - and it’s an area of technology that’s getting more exciting

It’s fair to say that the S-word - sustainability - was not really a major feature of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) when the programme was launched back in 2003. Then the focus was on renewing the schools estate and ensuring that young people and teachers had access to safe, welcoming and inspiring learning environments and cutting-edge technology. But green? It was something of an optional extra.

Tim Byles and Ed Balls, the schools secretary, at Pimlico Academy

How things have changed in just a handful of years. And rightly so, with schools accounting for about 15% of public sector carbon emissions.

Two recent developments - the launch of a free energy display meter initiative for all schools in England, and the publication of a new document encouraging the refurbishment of historic buildings - demonstrate how Partnerships for Schools and school building programmes are increasingly important in the continuing campaign to secure a greener future.

Just last week the schools secretary visited Pimlico Academy in Westminster to see for himself the first energy display meter in action, as part of the new scheme which takes forward one of the recommendations by the government’s zero carbon taskforce. Primary and secondary schools across England can now apply for a meter (, which will be provided and installed free of charge by British Gas. Pimlico was the perfect setting to launch this national scheme, as it is already something of a flagship eco-school, thanks to contractors Bouygues and Westminster council. The new building already benefits from solar thermal panels, a rainwater harvesting tank, air source heat pumps and uses the local Pimlico District Heating Undertaking (PDHU) system, all of which reduce energy and water consumption. The new display meter will help pupils, teachers and out-of-hours school users alike become more aware of just how much electricity they are using - and when.

Energy display meter dashboard

The meter gives pupils real-time information about electricity use in their school to help them understand more about how simple changes in behaviour can make a big difference to the amount of energy consumed in their school. The good news is that meters like these are expected to help reduce consumption by 10-15% and it is estimated that it could save an average 900-pupil secondary school more than £3,000 a year on fuel bills alone.

Another way in which we are creating sustainable schools through BSF was highlighted recently with the publication of English Heritage’s new document, supported by PfS. Refurbishing Historic School Buildings encourages local authorities to consider the huge potential and flexibility of traditional school buildings which can be adapted, made more energy efficient and expanded. The publication features the award-winning Elm Court School, part of Lambeth’s BSF programme, which has transformed an unused and near derelict former Edwardian school into a refurbished learning environment for students with special educational needs. The Space for Personalised Learning (S4PL) project, now managed by PfS, is also giving inspiration to school leaders, showing how existing buildings can be adapted successfully and sustainably.

This is one issue where we cannot sit back and wait for someone else to take action - and I am pleased that the first month of 2010 has seen PfS and the BSF community take positive steps to build sustainably for the future.