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  • Writer's pictureAndy Clark

The Zero-Carbon School Is In

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Transitioning to a Zero Carbon economy is going to require adaptations throughout society, and while any individual's action can seem challenging or insignificant when considered in isolation, remembering that we are all part of a vibrant intertwined ecosystem can make our singular actions feel far more affirmative.

That's some of the ethos behind the Ashmount [Zero Carbon] Primary School anyway - an ethos exemplified by the school themselves and the building company behind the actual work done, Willmot Dixon.

When you're looking to pioneer a cultural shift in society, what better place to start than a school?

  • You have the chance to influence children's experiences and expectations about the world from a very young age.

  • You're automatically connected to the wider community from parents and governance.

  • Unique grants can be available to help trial or demonstrate new building techniques or retrofitting ideas.

  • The whole thing can then serve as a model for inspiring other schools, other developers, and other communities.

Ashmount looks brilliantly designed, and as well as simply being the first carbon-neutral school in the UK, it's able to boast "virtually no waste during construction", an included energy centre comprised of a Combined Heat & Power plant and a large biomass boiler, the delivery of surplus energy to a nearby housing estate, and zero carbon emissions during operation.

An easy takeaway for anyone owning or developing large buildings would be the E-Stack ventilation system that Willmot Dixon speaks proudly of - low-velocity ventilation that mixes warm and cool air to keep the buildings comfortable, low in ambient CO2, and act to save the school £1K a year!

An element of this that I find particularly admirable is Willmot Dixon's (who, I should state before I go any further, have not paid me to say this; they don't even know I'm writing this) application of sustainability, which they've called their "Now or Never" strategy.

This company seems to have their heads screwed on pretty well when it comes to embracing sustainability. On their website, they state:

"For Willmott Dixon, sustainability means:

  • making a difference to the lives of people local to our projects – for example, by providing work experience or creating apprenticeships

  • reducing our carbon emissions, and helping our supply chain partners to do the same

  • offsetting our unavoidable carbon emissions to make us carbon neutral

  • making the most of our resources, and reducing waste

  • supporting and developing our people

  • protecting and enhancing biodiversity on our projects

  • spending and employing people local to our projects

  • constructing energy-efficient buildings that support the wellbeing of the people who use them

  • playing an active role in the industry to drive change for good

  • and much more…"

I love this, because it's such a holistic appreciation of their impact on the world. They're looking not only at their individual projects, or their in-house habits, but looking to inspire and influence all of their supply chains, all of their customers, and everyone else in their industry.

In so doing, they're proving that they're not simply in this game - tagging onto trendy sustainability - for the sake of profit, but really care about making a positive difference. If everyone, and every company, cared so much about building each other up, and about nurturing every small effort to have a positive impact, we would be leaping into a sustainable (and eminently just) future.

In the spirit of recognising specific efforts and the positive impact they make - alone, and even more when shared - this school is a tremendous achievement.

That said, I am a holistic ecologist, and so while I'll delight in celebrating every single little bit of the big picture in it's own right, I can't resist looking at other ways that something ties into the whole. Now, of course, I don't know whether these things have been included at Ashmount School (they're not mentioned in the references above), but here are a few extra things that I would advise to any school that wants to reduce it's carbon footprint and to take steps towards a better tomorrow:

  • Permeable paving on walkways, car parks, playgrounds, etc.

  • Flow-slowing measures (as exampled in the video below) that teach children about their relationship with water while helping to reduce flood and drought risk.

  • Wildflower or biodiversity areas.

  • Plant-based (options at least) school dinners.

  • Using refurbished technology as much as possible (which will also save a few bob!)

  • Using energy-saving parameters on all school technology.

  • Installing Ecosia as the default search engine on all school browsers.

  • Encouraging - or better yet, facilitating - low-emission transport to and from the school.

When small positive measures are integrated into school systems, particularly in ways that allow children and visitors to learn about the interrelation of all things, the impacts can be truly inspirational.

(For an even more delightful re-telling of this case study by the Proprietor of the School, skip to 17:30 in this short film).

To find out more about the particular installations at Ashmount Primary School, contact Willmot Dixon.

If you're involved with a school and would like to take some steps to make your school more sustainable, why not check out Sustainability & Environmental Education:

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