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St Faith’s School / Keeping the faith and committing to cutting carbon

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The school has buildings built over a 200 year period. It can be difficult to control energy use not only with old buildings but with children too.

St Faith’s has combatted this with energy management, behaviour change and innovation. They have a budget for investing in energy efficiency, solar panels, their newest building built to Passivhaus standard and their students have made reflectors for radiators, increasing their efficiency. This has enabled them to cut gas use by 15% and electricity by 13%.

Gas use cut by 15%.

Spending £11,000 less on electricity than in 2008.

70 tonnes of CO2 saved per year.

"We were particularly impressed by St Faith’s exemplary strategy for monitoring energy use combined with excellent energy management, as well as its focus on making sure all pupils and staff are engaged in the school’s carbon-cutting mission. Independent schools across the country should take note."

Ashden judging panel.


This Cambridge-based independent prep school has embedded a commitment to cutting energy use from the very top, with a ring-fenced budget for investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Solar panels on the school roofs and a recently built Passivhaus standard building needing hardly any heating are the most obvious sign of its green credentials.

But low-cost measures are even more important. These include getting pupils to make simple heat reflectors for radiators out of cardboard and kitchen foil, and improving the insulation of buildings. All this is backed up by a rigorous regime for monitoring energy use and incentives for all staff to change their energy habits.

The eco garden.


Energy and cost savings

St Faith’s has achieved considerable reductions in both gas and electricity use on site year on year. In 2012-13 the school used 147,892 kWh less gas than in 2011-12, a reduction of 15.6% and 68,106 kWh less electricity, a reduction of 13%. Annual spending on electricity in 2013 was £11,000 less than it was in 2008, this is despite considerable increases in energy prices during this period.

The school has an annual budget of £12,000 for sustainable energy measures so the focus is very much on no-cost and low-cost measures. The school invested in solar PV and now receives the Feed in Tariff (FiT) income generated.

Environmental benefits

The reduction in gas use over 2011 – 13 equates to an annual CO2 saving of nearly 30 tonnes and the reduction in electricity use by 13% over the same period equates to an annual CO2 saving of 40 tonnes. So total CO2 saving at the school is an impressive 70 tonnes per year.

There are additional environmental benefits from the sustainability initiatives at the school, such as the installation of rainwater harvesting results in reduced water use, and the waste management initiatives have reduced the waste generated on site. Biodiversity is encouraged in the garden areas at the school, especially within Tom’s Garden and other outdoor learning areas.

Sustainability is part of the culture of the school. I am confident that if you speak to any member of staff he or she will be demonstrate a commitment to what we are trying to achieve.

Nigel Helliwell, Headmaster, St Faith’s

Community engagement

Parents are kept informed of the sustainable energy activities at the school and those with sustainability expertise have been a useful source of advice, especially with the solar PV installation. Families are encouraged to save energy at home.

The Independent Association of Prep Schools would like to use St Faith’s as a role model, and the school is also hoping to share its expertise through networks such as Sustainability and Environmental Education (SEED) and Eco-Schools.

The future

The school aims for a 20% reduction in energy consumption by 2020, and three quarters of this target has already been attained. There is still much to be achieved given the age and condition of some of the buildings. Therefore, further refurbishment and new buildings will be completed following sustainability and energy saving principles. Although there is an exemplary strategy for monitoring energy use, they plan to improve this further by installing sub-metering and a water monitoring system.


Managing energy use in school buildings

The most significant sustainable energy investments have been the Siemens 50 kW solar PV array installed in June 2013 and the new sports hall has a solar thermal hot water system. Additionally, the school’s latest building was constructed to Passivhaus standards. Passivhaus makes use of construction technology to achieve a low energy footprint for the building.

Low-cost measures include LED lighting in new and old buildings, insulation of valves and pumps in the school’s seven plant rooms, draft exclusion, improved boiler controls, and the installation of motion and daylight sensors for lights in communal areas. Power consumption by computers in the school is controlled by a network management system, supplemented by power save plugs for all school computers, printers and scanners.

At the very low end of the technology scale, but in many ways equally valuable, pupils have made radiator baffles for their classrooms, to reflect the heat from the radiators back into the room. Students have used thermal imaging cameras to compare before and after shots enabling them to test the effectiveness of their own technology.

Solar PV on the roof.

Curtains made from transparent plastic strips have also been installed in the early years areas to ensure the classroom heat is not lost due to the requirement to have ‘free flow’ access to the outdoor learning area.

A new building was required to expand the teaching area in the Early Years unit, and the school selected a Passivhaus design, not only due to its excellent insulation but also because it could be erected over a seven-week period in the summer holidays. The building comprises a timber framed building with compressed newspaper for the insulation, a green roof with plant growth to help insulate the building, and a scheme for collecting rainwater from the roof for a nearby pond. This resulted in a significantly reduced carbon footprint when compared with a more traditional construction. To date the building is exceeding expectations with lower energy use than predicted. Additionally, a monitor is provided in each classroom to check CO2 and ventilation levels.

Promoting sustainable energy behaviour

The school holds regular assemblies on energy topics and progress on energy saving is fed back to staff and pupils. In the summer term the school hosts an Eco Week, which includes sustainability activities such as learning about natural resource use in the past and making artwork out of waste materials. A small group of pupils, the Eco Reporters, have worked with the Bursar to make short documentaries to promote energy efficiency. These videos are then used to promote sustainability within the school and on the school’s website.

Eco lessons.

Through training and assemblies, teachers are constantly reminded of the need to switch off lighting and equipment when it is not needed. Non-teaching staff also have energy awareness training and the need to act sustainably is one of their Key Performance Indicators. Classes have students in the role of Energy Monitors to check for energy wastage, such as lights being left on. At St Faith’s school plugs have coloured tags to show which can be switched off and which must be left on. They even have them in the Headmaster’s office!

The ‘Switch-Off Fortnight’ enables the school to focus on new and existing initiatives over a two-week period and monitor the impact through their energy monitoring system. Reductions are recorded and actions are encouraged to be sustained throughout the year.

Although the most impressive aspect of St Faith’s is the highly effective energy management, the level of carbon reductions could not have been achieved without staff and pupils being actively engaged in reducing energy use.

Integrating sustainable energy into the curriculum

All members of staff, teaching and non-teaching, are involved in the sustainability activities. Energy activities permeate throughout the curriculum so all teaching staff have some input into the sustainable energy curriculum. Even the very youngest children are engaged in energy activities, for example making model wind turbines in Early Years classes. A significant amount of work goes into analysing energy data. Pupils monitor electricity produced by the solar panels, analyse gas and electricity consumption in the various school buildings, calculate energy costs, make monthly and yearly comparisons and measure the consumption of electrical appliances and their cost. Pupils also collect weather data and assess its impact on energy use. The data collected is used as part of the Science and Maths curriculum at the school.

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