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Schools paving the way to low-carbon economy

Empowering young people on energy use

Young people in Europe today are increasingly getting involved in the fight against climate change, especially in terms of concrete actions that they can take in their everyday lives. An innovative Portuguese project is harnessing this enthusiasm to help schools reduce their energy footprints and encourage behavioural change across school communities.  

Based in Lisbon, ClimACT is working with some 14,000 students, 2,000 parents and over 1,000 teachers in almost 40 schools in Portugal, Spain, France and Gibraltar. Funded through the Interreg programme (Interreg Sudoe) with a budget of €1.3m, the project targets children and young people through to university level, helping students gain the skills they need to take ownership of energy use in their schools.

Bringing climate change to the classroom

The first step taken by ClimACT following its launch in 2016 was to conduct audits of energy use in all the participating schools. The project team then created a benchmarking platform which allows the schools to compare their energy use with that of others. Experts worked with schools to evaluate those findings and make recommendation on changes they could make. ClimACT then set up a resource-matching platform, giving schools access to innovative business models and strategies that could help them pay for structural changes—for example, connecting them with companies willing to pay for insulation and letting the schools reimburse the money through energy savings made over time.

An educational platform, containing e-learning courses for teachers, and games and activities that teachers can use in class was also created. It covers a wide range of topics including climate change, water consumption, waste management, green procurement and mobility. The content is tailored to the needs of students and designed to be easily integrated with school curricula. This approach was developed to meet teachers’ needs, with the aim of maximising take-up. “When we asked teachers to collaborate with this project, sometimes they said: ‘We have so much work.’ The objective is not to give more work—it is to give this information within the curriculum,” Almeida said.

Forums for debating energy use

The project is going beyond the classroom, however, to reach out to schools as communities. This is being done by encouraging staff and students to share ideas and set up networks. Known as Low-Carbon Committees, these networks – made up of students, teachers, parents, staff and local representatives – formulate goals, make plans and identify ways in which schools can improve their energy performance. Another group made up of students and teachers, called the Low-Carbon Brigade, is then responsible for implementing decisions.

The goal of the Low-Carbon Committees and the Brigade is to help students understand their energy bills, energy and water consumption, and introduce all the ways of how people can travel to school. This understanding, the project team hopes, will be one of its main legacies. “A very important achievement is to give skills and knowledge to students and teachers in order to continue after the end of the project,” said Marta Almeida, a researcher at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon and ClimACT coordinator.

The project’s work is also reaching local communities, thanks to students acting as ambassadors to relay to their parents and other adults the measures taken by the school and what the latter can do to save energy. This type of awareness-raising is one of the project’s key aims.  

Sharing knowledge and shaping the future  

Through its actions, the project aims to contribute to the transition towards more sustainable energy use. It also hopes to inspire young people, showing them that they have a say in the future of the planet and that their actions make a difference. “If we [can] change the way they see the world,” Almeida said, “if they feel that this is important for them, for their children, for the future—this is the most important thing in this project.”