Step Changer: Anzac & Cashmere High School

Purpose

Proving clean energy is possible every New Zealand school. 

Person

Cashmere High School in Christchurch has gained recognition in recent years for their work on promoting environmental protection from within. Anzac Gallate, a Year 12 student who helps to run the Sustainability Council at Cashmere High School, has seen first-hand the changes the school has made to become more sustainable. Here he talks on the progress the council has made, how they got started, and why it's important for other schools around the country to take note.  

How did you become interested in environmental protection? 

“I guess I’m really passionate about sustainability, and so because of that, I really enjoy working with other people to make changes, rather than just doing work by myself.  

My 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."

Story

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. After joining I stuck my hand up for just about everything on offer, and brought as many ideas as I could to the projects we were working on.

Right now, 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."

Why do you think this work has had such an impact? 

"The focus on reducing our electricity usage seems to have worked for us, mostly because it's a financially sensible process for the school to go through anyway, so there is a obvious incentive to improve. It was after we'd achieved the electricity reduction in our own school that we applied for the Zayed Foundation grant in 2015. We were actually finalists in 2015, but the judges came back to us and said we needed to focus on our community impact to win the award. That became our focus from 2015 onwards - sharing what we had learned with schools around us so they could make their own improvements too." 

What did this change look like?

"After a year of presenting to other schools, as well as making two council submissions asking for smart tech to be put into schools affected by the Christchurch rebuild, we applied again for the grant. This time we won it, on the basis of spreading the knowledge around energy efficiency with our community.

Since winning, we've been able to install a wind turbine on our grounds, as well as PC electric tiles (which work to generate electricity as you walk on them), and a solar gird. Each work to make us more energy efficient as a school - and now we can go to other schools and help them become more efficient too."

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."

Tell us about the UAE trip...

"So we were invited over to the UAE as a school three times for the awards ceremony, or more the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, twice as finalists and then a third time as previous winners. I only went on the last one as there were more senior council members around for the first two trips.

It was incredible going over there and actually witnessing, firsthand, an entire sector of an energy-based economy converting and investing in renewables. We also got to hear from various presidents from all sorts of places, who were working to expand the renewable sector in their own countries so that was a pretty unique experience.

We also met other students from all across the world, all of them working on sustainable goals too. We got to spend about 10 days with them, exploring the UAE, visiting the grand mosque, the desert, masdar city, the petroleum institute, went on a day tour of Dubai. It was amazing. Really cool to make these lifelong friends from everywhere, Brazil and Kenya to Bali and Korea.

The gala at the Royal Emirates palace was mind blowing. As high school students, we all just kind of freaked out at the fanciness of it all. There was royalty there walking around, the presidents that we'd seen speak the day before, CEO's of companies like Exxon there. It was all pretty crazy for us all. I think overall though, the takeaway was the contacts we made and the whole realisation that rather than a 'fossil fuels vs. renewables' world, it's more like a progression and unlike in the past, the largest investors of renewables today are in fact the people who invested the most in fossil fuels yesterday. Realising also the economical and governmental motivations and how to work them for a sustainable future was a pretty valuable learning point for us."

Do you think there is anything different about the impact you're having because of your age? 

"I guess in our minds, we see us as part of the tomorrow. We’re the future; the ones who are going to have to solve the problems around climate change. But when you’re dealing with big global issues, it’s really important to bring it home and to think about what you can do right now.

There’s certainly a big difference in a way, between my generation and some of the older ones in how we perceive the environment - and I would like to say our generation is going to be different, and that we're going to do this and this. But at the same time, a lot of the behaviour I see in people who are my age, you see in older people too. There’s a long way to go for all of us. 

We do get a lot of feedback on how cool it is that we're doing this work at a young age. At first I didn’t think people as young as us would be able to make big changes either. It's made me realise that there must be a lot of people who are hiding out and waiting to do the things that they really want to do too until they're big enough. But actually what I've learned is that what's most important is what you can do right now. What stops immediate change is the urgency to get on and do it."

What motivates you to keep going? 

We do get questioned on the purpose behind it all - on why you would actually bother. You know, why turn off some lights when it's not really going to make that much of a difference? 

The answer is two fold. Electricity reduction makes sense because it costs us less, but not only that, it's important for us to do, because it's proving that there's a method for creating change. The same method we use to get people to switch off lights will be the same method we have to apply to the big problems we're facing, like climate change - and that's what makes this work important.

You can follow Cashmere High School Sustainability council on Facebook. 

Steps

1. Work in a team where you can. 

2. Don't hide out until you're 'big enough' to start, get going now. 

3. Find a method that works on a small level to create change and use that on the big problems

4. Don't stress the labels you carry - it doesn't matter if you're young. 

5. Make changes that make economical sense too. Turning off the lights is something small, but it also helps to reduce energy use, and save key dollars. Work with the tide.