Taking sustainable action
By Paul Schofield and Ewen McLeish
At the 2020 International School Awards ceremony hosted by ISC Research this January, St Andrews International School Bangkok won the coveted International School of the Year Award for supporting the far-reaching, community-engaging, environmentally-focused initiatives. Head of School, Paul Schofield and teacher Ewen McLeish explain how the grassroots initiative has gained momentum, engaging many schools through a common focus:
There are two elements to the Ecobeasts initiative:
An impactful extra-curricular programme ran by St Andrews which has raised awareness and has provided student-led change to support the environment across the Primary school.
An independent city-wide networking initiative aiming to bring together international schools and sustainability groups in Bangkok in order to become models of sustainability, developing students who, as future leaders, make responsible, environmentally-conscious choices to help drive the transition to a sustainable society.
Ecobeasts grew out of a few discrete extra-curricular projects led by Helen Mullan, a staff member passionate about promoting education for sustainability. It all began with the creation and nurturing of a rooftop school garden which involved participation from teachers, parents and students. This inspired other environmental-focused activities including upcycling old clothing and bedding into shopping bags-for-life, and making ecobricks from discarded plastic bottles stuffed with single-use plastic which can then be used for building furniture, outdoor equipment and even houses!
As these individual projects were both popular and successful in the school, Helen wanted to share them with Bangkok’s wider community and learn about other opportunities for change. Therefore, she decided to host a Community Action Day for students and teachers from other international schools in the city. She then joined forces with Katy Waring, a teacher from another international school in the city and the duo worked closely with St Andrews to develop the event.
In preparing for the Community Action Day, several common needs for schools were identified:
The apparent need for guidance on developing greener community and lifestyle practices
A need to connect educators with green, sustainable, community organisations
A need for teaching resources, matched to the local context, which could enable sustainable change in schools
A need for student-initiated and student-led activities
The emergence of a city-wide initiative
Delegations of five children plus their teachers from other international schools in Bangkok were invited to come to St Andrews for the Community Action Day to learn more about sustainable initiatives going on in the city and to explore how schools might work together towards a common goal.
Seventeen schools represented by 120 children, along with their teachers, attended the first Community Action Day. In the morning, everyone listened to keynote speakers and attended workshops run by local organisations and green businesses. Then small groups rotated around a series of workshops linked to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and run by NGOs and other organisations specialising in sustainability. This provided the learning and impetus for the school delegations to, during the afternoon, develop their own actions plans and extra-curricular projects to implement within their schools.
As a result of the Community Action Day, the Ecobeasts Club at St Andrews initiated the following activities which have since become school-wide projects:
Meat Free Mondays: Traditionally, a lot of meat would be consumed at school mealtimes. The Community Action Day raised awareness of how environmentally impactful animal agriculture is. This inspired the children to plan a project in which they met with our catering company to plan and trial a meat-free school lunch day each week. The Ecobeasts Club explained their reasoning behind this change to the rest of our students, teachers and parents during assemblies and events. All children had the opportunity to feedback opinions on the new menu. St Andrews became the first school in Thailand to launch the global Meat Free Mondays movement.
The Precious Plastic campaign: This is an ongoing project that supports a local NGO campaign to collect plastic bottle tops for recycling. To engage and maximise participation, a competition using the St Andrews house system was introduced, and promotion and collection sites were located around the school. The project organisers even brought their recycling machine into school for a unique set of lessons.
Sustainable packaging for school lunches: The lunches that are prepared for school trips, and the sticky rice served at lunches, were traditionally over-packaged in single-use plastic. The Ecobeasts Club met with our catering company, and it was agreed they would make changes; to use biodegradable material for serving the sticky rice, and paper bags for packaging lunches for school trips. These may sound small changes, but everyone recognises them as Ecobeast-inspired developments towards supporting our environment, one step at a time.
We have appointed two Environmental Sustainability Coordinators who are ensuring the sustainability of the initiative within school. This has included opening Thailand’s first school-based zero waste shop. This involved the children submitting designs for the layout of the shop, helping to choose the shop’s name (‘Little Steps to Zero Waste’), and creating an instructional video for parents showing how to purchase items in this unique shop. Members of our community can now buy snacks, toiletries and household cleaning products in refillable and reusable containers, eliminating the need for single-use plastic.
The independent Ecobeasts initiative is wholeheartedly about sharing best practice and supporting other schools and community groups in Bangkok to bring about sustainable change. Collaboration has continued between the schools, and additional schools have engaged. St Andrews hosted the second Community Action Day, last October (2019), involving 150 students and 30 teachers from 20 of Bangkok’s international schools. We are proud to have been an integral part of its journey and to have the first fully functional EcoBeasts Club.
Paul Schofield is Head of St Andrews International School Bangkok. You can connect with him directly at email@example.com. For more information about the Ecobeasts initiative visit www.ecobeastsbkk.com
Ewen McLeish is a teacher and writer with an MSc in Education for Sustainability. He helps run the extra-curricular Ecobeasts Club at St Andrews, as well as being one of their Environmental Sustainability Coordinators.