Do schools understand their environmental risks and liabilities?
Although academy’s and school’s primary role is to teach, they nevertheless have an impact on the environment through the energy they use, materials consumed and waste produced. Generally we would not expect a school to employ an environmental manager so how do they keep abreast of best practice and the latest environmental regulations to ensure they are not breaking the law and damaging the environment? The need to minimise these risks has been highlighted by the level of recent fines for environmental damage – reaching £600,000 for a water company. These fines are based on the ability to pay but with the growth in size of academies such fines could have a real impact on finances as well as the reputation of the school.
What are the risks?
All organisations have a duty of care for waste and must ensure that it is disposed by registered waste carriers and in an appropriate manner with correct documentary evidence. This will include any waste generated by contractors working on site. Schools also use hazardous materials and these must be disposed of as hazardous waste. They must not be poured down drains. The school has responsibility for raising awareness amongst staff and students about how to handle, store and dispose of these materials. Of course accidents will happen and the school needs to be aware of what actions to take when there has been an accidental release.
Some schools may still have oil fired boilers as a main or back up heating supply. The bulk storage of fuel or indeed any liquids other than water can be a hazard to the environment if released. Best practice is to adhere to the oil storage regulations. The use of energy has an impact on the environment through amongst other impacts the emission of carbon dioxide. A plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions meets the requirements of the Climate Change Act and also creates opportunities for reducing costs. Very large academies may be required to participate in the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency scheme by virtue of the amount of electricity they consume (6,000 MW through settled half hourly meters).
With pupil numbers growing, academies may wish to expand to accommodate more pupils. This may require the acquisition of new property or the development of existing land. Schools should be aware of the potential environmental liabilities associated with the acquisition or development of property. With property purchases there is the potential to inherit contaminated land liabilities associated with sites that have seen former industrial use including former landfill sites. This is also a potential health concern to staff and pupils. Similarly the development of contaminated land to expand the school is a potential risk to the environment, through mobilisation of contaminants, and the health and safety of contractors.
Managing environmental risks
The first step in managing environmental risks is to understand what those risks are and then developing a policy and procedures for managing the risks. Best practice is to develop a formal environmental management system which best meets the needs of the Academy Trust. In many cases where the potential environmental impact is low, a simple management system can be developed. For the larger Academy Trusts that cover several schools, a framework environmental management system can be developed for the Trust and implemented at each school site within the Trust, to meet their individual requirements.
Key questions for consideration
- Do you have a competent person with responsibility for environmental management at the Academy Trust?
- Are you confident that you comply fully with the environmental regulations?
- Do you understand your key environmental risks and opportunities?
- Do you have confidence that your environmental risks are being managed effectively?
- Do you have any environmental liabilities associated with? For example, contaminated land and asbestos.
- What governance arrangements are in place for reporting environmental performance to Trustees?
Download the full report where we explore how to manage your academy's environmental risks.
To find out how you can help your academy better meet its environmental responsibilities please contact Graham Dalrymple.