The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Lisa Griffin

Five ways to make your MAT more sustainable

Looking for ways to go greener in your multi-academy trust? Use these ideas to inspire you to creating a more sustainable and environmentally friendly trust.

More and more schools are adopting environmental sustainability as a core value and raising awareness of it among staff, pupils, and parents. There are easy things you can start doing today, such as: 

  • turning off school lights and shutting down computers at the end of the day
  • keeping classroom doors shut to stop heat escaping
  • not blocking heaters with equipment or furniture.

These are just a few simple ways to go green, but what else can you and your school community do? We spoke to several multi-academy trusts who provided examples of how they have made energy efficiencies, reduced their carbon footprint, and engaged in activities which benefit the environment.

1. Be energy efficient

With over 4700 students and 700 staff across eight sites, Abbey Multi-Academy Trust recognise the potential impact and influence they have on the environment and so have transformed how they source and use energy, leading to savings of around £160,000.

By funding building improvements through school conditions allocations (SCA), they were able to upgrade roofs, insulation, and old windows with new double glazing. 

In the space of 12 months, Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET) cut energy consumption by 25% and saved 59 tonnes of carbon. One of things they did was to upgrade five schools to LED lighting, which reduced lighting energy costs by 60%, cut carbon emissions by 30 tonnes per year and is expected to save the trust £330,000 over 10 years. 

East Midlands Academy Trust (EMAT) has introduced a new building management system which includes practices such as reducing the temperature to 19 degrees in all buildings. They also use energy efficient heating solutions in new buildings where possible, including air source heat pumps which have a low carbon footprint. 

These are examples of large-scale projects but there are some simpler things you can do.

  • Use natural ventilation as much as possible; close the blinds on hot days, open the windows in the morning to let in cold air and close them when it’s hot, and keep doors and windows closed when it’s cold.
  • Check your insulation and look for sources of heat loss such as broken window or door seals, or holes in the flooring.
  • Ensure equipment is regularly serviced or inspected and functioning efficiently. 
  • Don’t leave devices on standby or charging unnecessarily and turn lights off when not in use. Make sure everything is switched off at the wall at the end of the day, before weekends and holidays. 

2. Improve biodiversity

By making school grounds planet friendly, we can create more space for local nature, release less carbon into the atmosphere and produce less waste, benefiting our biodiversity and the climate. 

If you’re looking for inspiration, how about Northern Star Academies Trust who introduced apiaries at two school sites, working in close partnership with the Wharfedale Beekeepers Association. This unique partnership has provided training for both students and staff in the art of beekeeping, and they are now producing their own honey!

Abbey MAT secured a £40,000 grant to plant over 7000 trees on one school site and worked with White Rose Forests to undertake the huge project with students and other community members. And one of the schools in BPET has even planted its own orchard! 

3. Involve the whole school community

Make all staff, governors, pupils, and parents aware of your sustainability strategy; let them know what you’re doing and how they can help.

Schools in Windsor Academy Trust (WAT) are creating eco walls where eco action plans and important environmental messages are displayed, as well as dashboards showing carbon savings and how much energy schools have produced and saved. 

One of the school’s junior leadership team at EMAT agreed to create a ‘Litter Wombles’ team which saw pupils complete a tidy up of a road near their school, picking up two bags of rubbish. The team continues to tidy other roads in the area.

Every local governing body in Abbey MAT have made the Greener Governor Pledge and students are involved in monitoring energy usage and reporting when they identify issues.

Northern Star have established allotments in each of their schools, underpinned by active school gardening clubs. In working to engage hard to reach families and disadvantaged cohorts they have formally partnered with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS Harlow Carr) to teach about planting for the planet. 

One of their primary schools has also established community allotments, where individual families each have their own raised growing bed to access all year round. 

4. Less waste, more recycling

All schools can try to reduce their use of single-use plastics, switch to reusable items and install paper recycling bins next to printers and in classrooms so that more paper gets recycled and less wasted.

Demanding change from suppliers can be part of your strategy to minimise waste. WAT reviewed the number of waste providers used across their estate and their methods of disposal to help establish principles for zero waste management and promote waste reduction, reuse, and recycling.

Abbey MAT work with food waste social enterprises to reduce waste and educate learners on the importance of healthy and sustainable eating. They also provide families in need with food supplies that would otherwise go to waste.

Have you tried working with businesses to help support your efforts? BPET removed all old light fittings, and, with the help of Recycling Lives, who support and sustain charity programmes for offender rehabilitation, residential support, and food redistribution, these were sorted and recycled.  

5. Climate education

Lots of schools are already doing fantastic work educating pupils (and staff) about how to go greener, such as the below.

  • Using the school grounds to ensure students learn in and about the natural environment.
  • Starting a school gardening project: even smaller school grounds can accommodate herbs and salad leaves in tubs, for example.
  • Encouraging walking to school where possible, for staff and pupils!

WAT embed sustainability into the primary curriculum with a six-week topic area for key stages 1 and 2. Sustainability themes also feature in the secondary curriculum, particularly in geography, science, and product design. Pupils are part of eco committees and clubs, and WAT also promote green skills and careers among pupils and have developed links with the Black Country Chamber of Commerce to support students leaving school to enter green industries.

BPET use the Green Schools Project to embed climate education into lessons and give teachers and young people the tools they need to tackle the climate crisis at school, in their communities and throughout their lives. BPET now see pupils challenging how much energy is used in their school and appreciate how this is reduced when they change their behaviour.  

Creating a love of nature

Sustainable schools are created from a combination of environmentally driven education and whole school community engagement. Achieving this starts with educating everyone in a nurturing and sustainable environment and one that is engaging and enjoyable.

Even the simplest, smallest of changes can make a huge difference and create for pupils a life-long love and awareness of nature and human responsibility for it.

MAT Excellence Awards

This unique event will give trusts the opportunity to celebrate their achievements and recognise their impact on pupils, staff and the community. Presented by Optimus Education, the leaders in national educational events.

Find out more.

Congratulations to all the trusts shortlisted for the Environmental trust of the year 2023. We’re already looking forward to reading nominations for next year’s awards.

Nominate your trust


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