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Governing boards asked to pledge action on environmental sustainability


Governing boards in schools and academy trusts in England are being asked to pledge to act on environmental sustainability in their school or trust in 2021/22 as part of a new campaign from the National Governance Association (NGA).

Launched today (4 November) to coincide with the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) currently taking place in Glasgow, the Greener Governance campaign aims to ensure all schools and trusts have a strategy in place for their contribution to environmental sustainability and to equip governing boards to play their role in overseeing this work effectively.

The Greener Governance pledge:  

  • to reduce carbon at your school or trust;
  • put your school’s or trust's contribution to environmental sustainability on the agenda; and
  • ensure a plan is developed to make this happen in 2022.

NGA’s annual governance survey in 2020 found that 44% of respondents said their board had acted on climate change or environmental sustainability (31% had not, and 25% were unsure). NGA hopes to see a substantial increase in this figure in 2022. 

To support boards in their role NGA has updated its guidance on developing a whole school approach to environmental sustainability, produced in collaboration with the National Association for Environmental Education (NAEE) and covering action on the 4Cs: curriculum, campus, community and culture. 


Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association said:

“The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference happening right now, makes it absolutely clear that there absolutely cannot be any more denial, dither or delay. NGA would like to see every governing board ensuring their school or trust is making the best possible contribution to environmental sustainability. We know many have begun that conversation, but there is much more that needs to be done to safeguard the future.

Schools and universities represent 39% of UK public sector emissions, so by governing boards pledging to reduce carbon, their school or trust can make a significant contribution to reaching Net Zero. However education plays an even more fundamental role in tackling the environmental emergency by equipping children for the future. We cannot leave it all for them to solve. We all need to strive to have a positive impact on the planet: and governing boards as local leaders are well placed to help achieve the change young people are rightly calling for.”

Read about engaging with environmental emergency in the NGA's latest Governing Matters.

Find out more Visit the campaign page.

Several organisations in the education sector have already expressed their support for the campaign:

Helen Flynn, chair of the board at Northern Star Academies Trust, a finalist in NGA’s Outstanding Governance Awards 2021:

“As trusts and local authority maintained schools, we own large estates and are educating a generation of people who will have to live with the effects of climate change if we do not act now. If we as governors and trustees are to act responsibly and discharge the level of trust that our young people have put in us to act in their interests, climate change must be a high priority for all our strategic plans at every school and trust. So, our trust has developed a strategy to be a Green Trust: to bring in green initiatives in estates and in the curriculum. It’s very rewarding to be able to respond to children’s concerns; they have put their trust in us as educators and we cannot let them down.”


Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez, Head of School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Science and Professor of Meteorology, University of Reading and chair of governors, Radstock Primary School:

“As both a climate scientist and the chair of governors of a primary school I’m delighted to back this initiative and the leadership NGA is taking on ensuring our schools do their part in reducing carbon and becoming part of the environmentally sustainable society we are all striving for. The last year has felt like a turning point across the education sector, with schools, colleges and universities all beginning to make changes in their sustainability planning and in developing the climate-education that young people so desperately need. Our primary school is signed up to the brilliant Let’s Go Zero campaign and is looking forward to being the centre of a broader discussion on sustainability within our own community. This is a big problem that touches everyone and there is no time to waste, but I’m really personally energised by the momentum for change and collaboration across the sector.”


Prof William Scott, chair of trustees, National Association for Environmental Education:

“Schools and teachers are now very aware that their students are concerned about climate change and environmental issues and want schools to do more to help them learn what they can do about them. We welcome this campaign as governing boards are in a unique position to help schools embed sustainability as a core value over the whole operation of the school, and then to monitor decisions and actions in terms of the school’s strategy and improvement plan."


Alex Green, Programme Manager, Ashden Climate Change Charity:

“Our schools are the heart of our communities and will play a key role in decarbonising the UK. Our children don’t just learn in our school buildings, they learn from them. By showing leadership, governing boards, have the opportunity to create widespread behaviour change across our school estates, in our teaching and beyond into society. When schools sign up to the Let’s Go Zero campaign, they are showing their ambition to be zero carbon by 2030, and become part of this exciting movement for change.”


Geoff Barton, General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders:

“We are sure that schools, trusts and governing boards will enthusiastically support this initiative. They put a huge focus on tackling climate change through practical measures to reduce carbon emissions, as well as through activities and education which reflect the depth of feeling among their pupils on this crucial topic. Children and young people rightly want to see far more concerted action to address the climate emergency. They are fed up with platitudes. We all have a responsibility to make a material difference ourselves.”


Rachael Gacs, Chair of the #TrustLeaders Environmental Sustainability Strategy Group​, Forum Strategy:

“Academy trusts and their leaders have a responsibility to model a commitment to environmental sustainability, not least as pupils expect to see leadership and progress on this embodied by the organisations they attend every day. As well as being the right thing to do, investing in more sustainable estates and working practices also enables trusts to cut their energy costs and save money in the long-term. At Forum Strategy we have seen exciting work around sustainability emerging in some trusts across the country, and this work is frequently driven at a trust board level. It’s now time for that commitment to widen and deepen and we welcome NGA’s work in this area.”


Paul Whiteman, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers:

“Schools and school leaders are fully committed to playing their part in tackling climate change. We know that there is a huge amount of good work already taking place in schools to reduce their carbon footprint, and we also know this generation of pupils are enormously passionate about bringing about meaningful change. School leaders, governing boards, pupils and the wider school community will want to work together to design a strategy that enables them to bring about that meaningful and lasting change. We also need to see a coherent and ambitious national strategy from government if we are to see real impact.”


Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary, NASUWT:

“Every school has an important role to play in helping tackle the climate crisis. From ensuring that climate education is part of pupils’ curricular entitlement to taking steps to reduce the environmental impact of their operations, governing boards have a vital role to play in supporting the workforce to make sustainability and climate justice a central part of their work. But schools also need support and resources from the government to decarbonise and we look forward to working with the NGA and its members to secure real progress in this area too.”


Stephen Morales, Chief Executive of the Institute of School Business Leadership, reflecting on the opening remarks by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa and David Attenborough’s address at COP26, poses the question:

“What will future generations say about our contribution to climate change and did we do enough? Climate change and sustainability are at the forefront of most young people’s minds. As education leaders, surely it is our moral imperative to secure the futures of the children we serve. ISBL absolutely supports the Greener Governance campaign.”


Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the NEU:

“Addressing the climate crisis requires the whole of the school community - employers, governors, staff and their unions - to work together. There is of course a key role for Government in ensuring that age-appropriate climate change education is embedded across all areas of the curriculum and providing the funding and direction to ensure that the entire school estate is decarbonised by 2030. The NEU welcomes the NGA commitment to environmental sustainability. Encouraging governors to play a key role in ensuring that their schools develop a plan to cut carbon during 2022 is a very positive step.”

Visit the Greener Governance campaign page