Still some room for improvement. Snap poll on the subject of sustainability

By Mathias Maurer, June 2020

We used a snap poll to get a picture of what the German Waldorf schools are (already) doing with regard to sustainability. That includes aspects of the running of the school, energy management, nutrition, architecture (conversions/new builds/building materials), lessons (subjects and practice placements) and public relations work (guiding principles). The questionnaire went to all German Waldorf schools and they only had just under four weeks to respond to twenty-one questions. Twenty-nine Waldorf schools responded – thank you. Here is a provisional result which makes no claim to being representative.

1. Running of the school

The running of the school also includes money matters. A good third was consistent in making sure to bank with a sustainable bank, another third did so to some extent. The teaching materials were not consistently sustainable: partially with two thirds, rigorously with one third. A similar distribution applied with regard to cleaning materials with the exception of two cases which did not pay attention to this at all. With regard to interior furnishings, half paid full attention to sustainability, the other half partially.

2. Energy

The criteria of a passive house were not fully met by any of the schools – partially by two. Green electricity and windgas as an energy source were quite a way ahead with two thirds. Service and drinking water were separated in five instances, rainwater purified in three cases, partially in four cases. Waste water was not purified by any school. Toilets and gardens benefited from rainwater in only two cases. Heating was mainly with gas (13) or district heating (6), wood (3), wood chips (1) and pellets (1). One cogeneration unit and one photovoltaic installation were each in use.

3. Construction

With new builds, more than half of schools met environmental criteria in full, about one third in part. With conversions or renovations this proportion was reversed.

4. Nutrition

All schools used organically grown food, four of them to some extent. The majority (18) was also mindful of regional products, ten of them to some extent. Two thirds of schools had a school garden which they could fall back on to some extent.

5. Lessons

There were fixed sustainability main lessons or projects in eleven schools; an equal number offered them to some extent. But the concept of sustainability flowed fully into regular lessons in twelve schools, in 17 schools to some extent. Two schools even participated regularly in sustainability competitions.

6. School profile

In three schools sustainability was one of the declared profile characteristics of their guiding principles which they advertised publicly, six schools worked with it to some extent, the majority (20) did not. Two schools had a representative who looked after sustainability questions.

General comments

One school set up a working group for climate protection and sustainability, another one a climate council. The pupil company “basic­unverpackt” was set up at one school.

Conclusion

What sustainability goals can a school set itself? Distinguishing between short, medium and long-term perspectives is undoubtedly something that has to be taken into consideration when formulating such goals. We can take immediate measures regarding the content of lessons, above all in upper school. Small measures, such as for example sustainable waste management (plastic and paper), can be implemented with equal speed, or intelligent control systems can help to reduce water and energy consumption. Here building maintenance can extend its sustainability expertise. Not least, it should include – with a view to the chaotic traffic situation in front of schools each morning as the result of individual transport – school transport. The more far-reaching the measures, the more expensive they become; they can only be implemented in longer timeframes (renovation/conversion or new builds).

Overall, the schools are well set up in matters of sustainability with regard to interior furnishings/materials, nutrition and alternative energies (green electricity/windgas). No oil-fired central heating is in use, but then neither are photovoltaics and solar systems. In terms of teaching, they are close to the subject through gardening and farming field work as well as in general teaching – the holistic approach of Waldorf education is also something that supports this. Equally, attention is paid to the use of environmental building materials in new builds and renovations.

But the subject of sustainability is not something that can be used effectively in public relations work and in the guiding principles if there is still considerable room for improvement. If your school has experience with exemplary sustainability projects, you are warmly invited to report about them in Erziehungskunst.

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