Green school project proves its worth

Posted: 19 January 2007

Author: Shankar Musafir

Some 300 schools across India are now involved in a unique Green Schools Programme through which the students themselves audit and record their school's environmental performance. Many have proved successful in finding new ways to save resources used by the school, including water, land, energy and waste.

Green Schools Manual, CSE
Green Schools Manual, CSE
Green Schools Manual - the guide to the audit
To do this environmental self-assessment the students use a workbook - the Green Schools Manual. In this the students rate how their school has been performing with respect to management of water, land, air, energy and waste inside the school.

The idea was the brainchild of the environmental education unit of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in Delhi. [This non-government Centre was founded by Anil Agarwal in 1980 and is now led by Sunita Narain, who recently won the Stockholm Water Prize for 2005 and the Padma Shri (highest Indian Honour) by the Government of India for her commitment to environment protection.]

Green Schools Programme logo, CSE
Green Schools Programme logo, CSE
The Green Schools Programme logo
Started in November 2004, when the first part of the manual was published, it moved a step further in April this year when it began registering schools on-line to take part in the data reporting system. Already it has registered 50 schools in various parts of India, including Dehradun, Pune, Lucknow and Bangalore, but mostly in Delhi.

Many schools are still sending in hard copies of their reports, but CSE is expecting a lot more on-line registrations once the new school year opens in July.

School rating One problem faced by the programme was just how to rate and give points to the school.

The first step in the process is to form a team comprising of 5-10 students, one teacher facilitator and a member of the administrative staff. This is called the audit team as it actually does an environmental audit of the school. The administrative staff of the school plays a key role in facilitating the provision of school data to the audit team, for example providing the exact area of the school from revenue records and other sources.

Green Schools Programme cartoon, CSE
Green Schools Programme cartoon, CSE
Working together for the audit is fun and is a good opportunity to get to know. people.© CSE
The Green Schools Manual is the guide to doing the audit in the school. It includes interesting exploratory activities, whereby students go around the school and collect information about the use and management of resources such as the use of water and the disposal of waste. The process and methodology of collecting data and assigning points is given in the Manual.

The process of collection and interpretation of the information/data helps the students to appreciate key environmental issues. The students rate the school on the basis of the survey/audit and assign points for each activity.

The result is a 'report card' of the school prepared by its own students regarding environmental practices. And instead of subjects like Maths and History, the subjects are Water, Air, energy use and so on. The school comes to know where it stands on the environmental sustainability index and identifies areas of improvement - how can the report card look better next year?

Five sections

The five major sections of the Manual are worth 100 marks each. Each section has various sub-sections encouraging students to explore different facets of resource use in the school premises. Certain key components in natural resource and environmental management like rainwater harvesting, water reuse, waste segregation, energy consumption are explained with the help of activities.

Once the survey is done, and points agreed, the report card is ready. The students prepare a certificate for the school. The schools can report the collected data to us by using the online Data Reporting System. This also makes them part of network of the schools, implementing this programme - the Gobar Times Green Schools Network.

The member schools can get regular support from CSE in implementing the programme. Moreover, every month the schools will get an activity letter to engage students in interesting activities concerning environmental issues.

So far the project has had excellent support from both national and local government. In fact the local govenment for New Delhi has asked CSE to train all the schools in the city. And the national level school chains have responded positively.

Teachers' role

More difficult has been the fact that it is not as easy to collect data from the schools as it seems. As India is a diverse country with a mixture of government aided and private schools, the conditions vary greatly. Some schools do not even have a regular water supply or demarcated boundary walls. Even where conditions are right, there are some data that is difficult to collect, such as the mileage of vehicles.

Consulting staff
Consulting staff
Consulting staff.
Nevertheless teachers are proving valuable facilitators. They are part of the audit team to guide students if they get stuck and to give them leads to places where they can look for data. They are trained in comprehensive three-day workshops, which includes a complete run of the Green Schools Programme and understanding of issues through case studies, films, interactive exercises and fun calculations.

As for the students, they enjoy learning through doing. As Rohini Singh from the Modern Englsh Academy at Barrakpore, Kolkata, said: "The Green Schools Programme will benefit the students in my school by relating them with what they are learning theoretically, and not in a boring way."

Best schools

The best Green Schools in India were acknowledged recently in the first Gobar Times Green Schools Award ceremony held in New Delhi. All theory was put in action by about 100 odd schools, which submitted complete Green Schools Reports to CSE before the last date.

A small village school from Boormajra, Ropar, Punjab bagged the first prize leaving all the urban schools behind. The reason - it reuses almost 50 per cent of the water it uses. The top 20 Green Schools of India were acknowledged. There were special prizes for the Best Student Audit Team and the Best Teachers' Team.

Students from schools across India, collected precise data about each of the five themes of the Green Schools Programme - water, air, land, energy and waste. A lot of innovative environmental practices came to light from the reports submitted.

Water: Many schools are collecting the spillage from drinking water fountains and reusing the wastewater for gardening. They precisely measured the water spillage. Students found out the total water consumption by monitoring overhead tanks.

Checking roof tank
Checking roof tank
Monitoring roof tank.

Land: Apart from collecting the usual information about biodiversity, the students managed to do a precise tree count in the school by marking the trees. G-4 meant Guava tree no. 4. The students had lots of fun finding out the oldest tree of the school. In fact many found the oldest employee of the school in the process.

Air: Students went class by class and carried out a detailed survery of how people commute to the school. School bus drivers were interviewed to know the mileages of the vehicle to know the health of the vehicles.

Energy: Electricity bills were dug out from the school office and transport log books unearthed to find the units of electricity and fuel consumed in the school. After all it's all the energy which the schools use.

Waste: Students stayed back after school time, let the housekeeping staff collect all waste and segregate it. This segregated waste was then individually weighed using a spring balance to find out the quantity of each type of waste generated. Now the schools can confidently say "We produce X kg of paper everyday and recycle the whole of it."

If you think you have missed out on the action, it's never too late for teachers and staff in India. They can catch hold of a Green Schools Programme manual and start preparing a report card of your school right away. It's the only chance you get to give a report card than to receive one.

Shankar Musafir, Assistant Coordinator, Environment Education Unit, CSE trainer-facilitator working with adolescents and teachers on issues of sustainable development.

Teachers or students who would like more information can visit www.cseindia.org or email: