The Cashmere High School Sustainability Projects

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Education + Conservation | Christchurch based | Student led | Low level of support for a high return of impact. 

Why does the Cashmere High School Sustainability Council Exist? 

Cashmere High School in Christchurch has gained recognition in recent years for their work on promoting environmental protection from within. The sustainability council exists to help the school move towards becoming a more energy efficient environment; helping out with fundraising, education, campaigning, and making submissions to the local Christchurch councils. 

How did you become interested in environmental protection? 

My own interest in the environment started when I was a lot younger. I was really fascinated by animals, and I’d read about them and draw them all the time. As I grew up, I realised what was important wasn’t only the animals themselves, but the environment they lived in. As I started to be aware of environmental issues, I realised the environment is just as relevant to us as humans as it is to animals. The climate movement is really about our wellbeing too.

Tell us about the Sustainability Council & your work at high school?

When I first heard about the Sustainability council, I knew I wanted to join. This year, our school's focus is on rolling out our energy projects, because of the success we had in 2016 with accessing the Zayed foundation grants. We won the grant because of our sustainability council's work with electricity in our community. In a funny way, the energy work we're doing now started out as one of the smallest projects we were running. At first our focus was on monitoring electricity use around the school to see if we could reduce it, and the rest of our focus was going into tree planting and stream restoration in our area.

To make this happen, we've been using smart meters to track usage in each department and using behavioural campaigns (with posters and stickers) to get students to help in turning off lights. That work alone has saved us around 10% of our entire energy usage from before the changes, and then switching to LED lights around the school reduced our usage by a further 10% - 20% overall.

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Have there been barriers in making changes?

We're lucky in the from the very beginning we've had our school's support. Our lead teacher, Leith Cooper, has been a huge part of that for us. The major challenges around energy reduction have actually come more often from ingrained attitudes than any politics. People often question whether or not it's actually realistic to achieve the sort of energy reduction we ask them for. Our big advantage has been having the data to back us. We can say - 'we’ve done this ourselves, this is what is actually possible'.

I tend to find it’s students that primarily question why you’d bother to change it, and the older population that ask if the change is realistic. The difficulty with talking about climate change is the way the effects creep up on us, so they’re not always immediately apparent and seen as shocking. But you only have to look at phenomenons such as the reefs dying out, or species even, to see climate change is happening now. For a lot of people you still have to convince them that yes, you're going to experience the effects of climate change too, and yes, we can do something about it. 

The biggest surprise the two groups get after we have the conversation is how easy it can be to make simple, impactful changes, regardless of whether you take climate protection seriously or not. You don’t have to put all this effort in to generate a fair amount of change, and that's encouraging for people too.


Help power Cashmere High School

If your team is keen to help Cashmere High School access more funds for energy projects, or you can help with in-kind donations, they'd really appreciate it. At the moment, the aim is to fund a solar table for the school. If you think your business can help with that - let us know! Email the matching team via rosie@stepchangers.org to request more information. 

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