One World: Amplifying Young Voices to Build a More Sustainable Future

earth day gdst“One world. One future. One chance.” This is the sustainability mantra GDST unveiled to celebrate our first year as a CarbonNeutral® organisation on Earth Day 2022. It conveys the urgency and importance of the climate challenge and called on everyone to take action to protect our shared responsibility for the future of our planet.

A year on, the Department for Education has published its climate change strategy for schools which includes plans for a new natural history GCSE and Extinction Rebellion staged a demonstration in central London to mark Earth Day. As we enjoyed the nation’s first ‘low-carbon’ ceremony celebrating the Coronation of King Charles III, I wanted to reflect on how our “One World” sustainability strategy is helping us to meet our ambitious but critically important sustainability targets.

As experts in girls’ education, we value and respect student voice and the agency it plays in understanding, navigating and solving issues that directly affect our students’ lives. Sustainability is no exception. As a society, we should be actively seeking and listening to young people’s views on how to tackle the climate challenge, because they are the changemakers of the future. In addition, UN Women’s finding that women and girls experience the greatest impact of climate change suggests their voices are needed more than ever. For our Girls’ Futures Report, we learned that girls’ top three issues are environmental issues, sustainability and women’s rights, all areas they can influence. Essentially, girls have a strong desire to make the world a better place, not just for girls and women everywhere, but for everyone. This insight means our focus will remain firmly on educating girls about the science behind climate change, whilst giving them the skills to help find solutions to the world’s most pressing issues.

We are also seeing a healthy interest in environmental issues from our youngest students, and their curiosity drives teachers and sustainability leads to develop engaging ways to deliver age-appropriate climate change education. Our penpal programme in partnership with Earth Warriors for instance, has been a resounding success amongst our junior pupils, encouraging them to build a lifelong bond with nature and make a difference in their local communities.

In partnership with ThoughtBox Education we have launched ‘We are One’ in February 2023, to bring all of our Year 6 green activists together for the biggest sustainability celebration we have ever organised. This programme will culminate in a day of outdoor exploration on Wimbledon Common, workshops and a keynote delivered by acclaimed environmentalist and author, Cindy Forde.

However, while youth activism is laudable, young people cannot feel burdened by the climate emergency or that they are solely responsible for solving this huge and complex problem. Alongside student-focused events and initiatives with sustainability at the heart, we are building an organisational culture that is embedded in sustainable thinking. Our work to deliver our commitment to Net Zero by 2050 – which has started with a major focus on reducing the carbon footprint across our estate, procuring renewable electricity and reducing our energy use by replacing inefficient lights with LEDs are a few examples of the tangible and measurable work we are undertaking to make the GDST a more sustainable place to learn and work.

We don’t have all the answers. At present, we are exploring different techniques to effect sustainable behavioural change across the whole of the GDST and we know this will be a gradual process. So, we will continue to build on our sustainability strategy as new research, best practice and insights from our trust wide Green Steering Group emerge. Frankly, I believe that a willingness to learn and adapt is one of the keys to making a positive impact on the climate.

I must admit, the moments when students’ voices and our “One world. One future. One chance” mantra come together are priceless, especially when our students are a step ahead. Our plan to switch to a renewable electricity contract was expedited by our remarkable Kensington Prep students who carried out research on the subject and wrote to urge us to make a change. Having delivered on this change, it gives me a great sense of pride to reflect on the power of young voices, and how their collective problem-solving mindset will no doubt continue to guide us towards a more sustainable world