Bruce Robertson OBE: Eco Schools drive the right environment for children to act on climate change

Have you ever wondered why there is a Green Flag flying outside your local school? At a time when we seem to be hearing constant criticism of Scottish education, did you know that there is an international programme where Scotland is a world leader with many nations looking to us for advice?

Have you ever wondered why there is a Green Flag flying outside your local school? At a time when we seem to be hearing constant criticism of Scottish education, did you know that there is an international programme where Scotland is a world leader with many nations looking to us for advice?

That programme – Eco-Schools Scotland – is run by Keep Scotland Beautiful, and 2019 marks an ­exciting year – its 25th anniversary. It ­provides all Scottish pupils with the skills, knowledge and confidence to help young people, their schools, and their communities to improve their local environment as well as act on the greatest challenge the world faces – climate change.

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Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to sign up to the programme, and it has grown to a current annual involvement of more than 840,000 young people and 64,500 teachers. Currently, more than 2,100 schools have been awarded their first coveted Green Flag in recognition of their work, with the majority renewing this on multiple occasions.

Eco-Schools Scotland was also the first in the world to fully integrate the UN Sustainable Development Goals into its programme, introducing the idea to pupils from a young age that they have a global responsibility for the environment.

Since 2013, all Scottish pupils have had an entitlement to Learning for Sustainability, and Eco-Schools Scotland provides an ideal lens through which teachers can bring this into focus.

It also supports Curriculum for Excellence and encourages a pupil-led approach which develops ­teachers’ confidence to explore environmental issues from a ­different angle. The beauty of the programme’s adaptable framework is that it can be used in any school – nursery, ­primary, secondary, or additional support needs.

The commitment of the Scottish Government to support and provide funding for Eco-Schools Scotland is to be applauded. Its importance is referred to in the Government’s ­Climate Change Plan and, in 2017, the Deputy First Minister personally ­presented the 2000th Green Flag.

Eco-Schools Scotland is also well-regarded internationally. In 2016, the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) which oversees the programme globally, celebrated both Keep Scotland Beautiful and the Scottish Government for their ­outstanding contribution to sustainable development education ­worldwide through Eco-Schools Scotland.

Every year we have pupils lining up to take part in the initiatives linked to the programme – from reporting on an environmental issue through Young Reporters Scotland, to exploring and enjoying sustainable food by hosting a One Planet Picnic.

In fact, Eco-Schools Scotland has never been more important – for Scotland and indeed the world. Just take a look at the impact of Blue ­Planet II. Public interest in environmental issues and a green economy is at record high levels and it’s our young people who are the real agents of change working for their future, their environment and their world.

Twenty-five years later, the first ­children reached by Eco-Schools Scotland are today’s consumers. They are today’s teachers, today’s parents, today’s politicians. They will be leading lives which are full of ­decisions – from the mundane to the life-changing. They could easily be leading the sustainability agenda in the boardroom, as well as in their ­everyday lives.

As a charity trustee at Keep Scotland Beautiful, I am proud to be part of a charity that has provided an ­education programme that has built the capacity for these pupils to make informed and intelligent decisions to protect our environment.

Whether it’s by switching to a reusable coffee cup, taking fewer trips by car, or planting wildlife-friendly plants in the garden – all of these small steps are a pivotal part of the step change we need.

We are now looking forward to the next 25 years of Eco-Schools Scotland. The theory is simple. After another 25 years of Eco-Schools in Scotland, we hope that every ­member of Scotland’s ­population will have been empowered to take action to protect our planet based on the ­environmental values that have been nurtured in them as young people.

We need to build a population of responsible consumers who would never throw litter onto the street, hillside or roadside, and to whom it is second nature to consider the impacts of the products they buy.

We all have a responsibility to take steps to tackle climate change. With limited time left to address the issue, Eco-Schools Scotland is playing a vital part. By aligning the environment and education, we can help to ensure that instead of changing behaviours of generations to come we will, in time, be following their example.

To learn more about Eco-Schools Scotland, visit www.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/ecoschools

Bruce Robertson OBE is a charity trustee of Keep Scotland Beautiful and former director of education.