Green-Schools, known internationally as Eco-Schools, is an international environmental education programme, environmental management system and award scheme that promotes and acknowledges long-term, whole school action for the environment.
Unlike a once-off project, it is a long-term programme that introduces participants (students, teachers, parents and the wider community) to the concept of an environmental management system.
However, Green-Schools is far more than just an environmental management system. It fosters a strong sense of citizenship and leadership among participants that spreads far outside the school into the wider community. It also promotes a strong sense of teamwork among teachers, students and the wider community to reach a common high level goal. It flattens and democratises school management structures. It brings children into the decision-making process and makes them responsible for their decision and actions. In fact it could be best described as being ‘more than the sum of its parts’.
The aim of Green-Schools is to increase students’ and participant awareness of environmental issues through classroom studies and to transfer this knowledge into positive environmental action in the school and also in the wider community. Schools that have successfully completed all the elements of the programme are awarded the ‘Green-Flag’. This award has now become a well-recognised Eco-Label.
Green-Schools in Ireland is operated and co-ordinated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce, in partnership with Local Authorities throughout the country. Over 3,800 primary, secondary and special schools in Ireland (>93% of all Irish schools) are currently participating part in the programme and 3139 schools have been awarded the Green Flag. The Irish Green-Schools programme is one of the most successful within the international network.
One of the key success factors of the Green-Schools programme is that it is a themed programme. That is, schools undertaking the programme work through the seven steps one theme at a time. The themes in sequence are:
6. Global Citizenship – Litter & Waste
7. Global Citizenship – Energy
Therefore, for a school to be working on the energy theme they must have completed the seven steps for Litter & Waste and achieved their Green Flag. For a school to be working on Water they would have to have gone through the seven steps with Energy and renewed their Green Flag and so on.
The use of themes helps prevent schools from trying to deal with every aspect of their environment at once which could be overwhelming. Furthermore, it allows schools to build on their experience, expertise and best practice as they work from theme to theme. However, as schools work from theme to theme they will realise that there is quite a bit of overlap between the themes (e.g. recycling waste is great way of using less energy and water to produce new products).