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May 2012

Earth Week Review


Earth Week 2012 came to an end on Sunday and I am pleased to say we had better levels of involvement compared to previous years. It looks like some of the underlying messages hidden in the survey that was sent out during that week are getting through. 

Many more students were taking part in the shirt exchange which is a big mindset shift for a generation that seems to constantly crave the newest tech gadget. Support from the canteen vendors meant a lot of people tried something new on our Meatless Monday and displays from G9 students gave 'food for thought'. There was also a greater participation in Earth Hour than has previously been seen with a lot of ES classes taking the opportunity to have a lesson outside. The week finished with a tree planting trip to Shah Alam and we had families from across the three divisions participating. Our Earth Club students were also able to meet colleagues from KTJ and I hope they will join together in other future projects.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect was the large number of smaller, in-class Earth Week celebrations taking place. Some of these were showcased at the ES assembly that week with a great deal of support being given to our EcoSchools goals.

There is still a long way to go but signs are encouraging. A survey that was sent out during Earth Week had 234 responses. Those who responded indicated that they had a good working knowledge of many sustainability terms. It was also pleasing to note that over half the people had visited the Green Pages at some stage (56%) and a similar number new that ISKL had joined the Eco Schools program (62%).

A large number of students come to school as the only passenger in a vehicle indicating limited car pooling but the majority of the sample of responses believed that climate change was a real phenomenon, caused by the actions of humans. However, a quarter of people felt the issue is still unresolved.

The percentage of people feeling ISKL gave students enough of a chance to experience Nature was low at 48% and a question on individual practices gave interesting feedback, including the point that few of us consider the environmental impact of travelling overseas.

April 2012

Selfish Ends


I was recently thinking about some of the ‘environmental’ choices I have made and can’t get over the fact that these have turned out to be largely self-serving.

The decision to give up meat and fish (the latter of which to be honest I didn’t really like anyway) has undoubtedly been good for my health. Countless reports are being published at the moment about the link between red meat and a shortening of one’s life. Combined with the sporadic new viruses that keep appearing and the question marks over hormone and antibiotics in animals, and lead and mercury in fish; it can only make sense to cut these toxins out of my diet.

I am slowly learning the benefits of reducing the amount of flying I undertake and trying to holiday closer to KL. The 1 hour schlep to the airport, 2 hours at a bleak terminal followed by several hours on a plane have started to be replaced on some breaks with more family friendly modes of transport. There is much more flexibility in loading up a car and heading out. I am looking forward to using the train in Scotland to have more relaxed, quality time playing games and chatting with my kids. Simple, outdoor holidays are definitely the best for my 2 and 4 year old and there is plenty of countryside to explore. Noone comes back complaining of piling on the pounds on these types of holidays.

Many people would describe my lifestyle as ‘cheap’. The kinder might say ‘frugal’ or ‘thrifty’ but as a Scot it feels second nature to economize when possible. Re-using items for as long as possible and not bowing to marketing pressures have saved a lot over the years and enabled my family to live comfortably on one ISKL salary. I am always astonished when colleagues with two incomes complain about struggling through to the next payday. 

Being in the habit of turning down the freebie, be it a Walkathon t-shirt or a goody bag of plastics, has helped me limit the clutter in my house. My wardrobe contains items I actually wear, the house has more open space in it and my kids don’t look like hungry chicks in the nest whenever something is up for grabs. Storing documents and teaching notes electronically also frees up a lot of space and will reduce our shipment volume when we leave in June.

Keeping an eye on the electric and water bills has naturally saved money. A typical month in the a/c-free Carmichael household costs just 50 RM in terms of electricity. Bills of 1000RM+ are not uncommon among friends.

I am also not constantly emptying rubbish bins as whilst I spend a little time sorting recycling, I don’t need to lug it much beyond the front door. A cleaning lady is delighted to take away the items and raise a few ringgit selling it on.

Finally, the ‘eco-friendly’ cleaning products we have made ourselves are much cheaper than the shop brands and are undoubtedly better for my two young kids. As a chemist, reading the list of ingredients on some bottles has been nothing short of chilling.

There it is then, I love being a ‘greeny’ if you want to call me that. You should know though, I don’t necessarily do these things for the environment, I do them for myself.


It’s Earth Week at the end of this month by the way. Check out the details of events here.

March 2012

Stuck in our Ways?

With 3 months left of my contract I am becoming more and more reflective. I have been involved in several matters lately where members of our community have put forward great, environmentally sound ideas, only to be stymied by curmudgeons who struggle to envision alternative ways of doing things.

The naysayers come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and ethnicities but they share a common ground in that they are putting the kybosh on change. I am reluctant to give specific examples as I would prefer not to point the finger at individuals, but, at least half a dozen examples quickly come to mind in just the past few weeks.

In the discussions I have listened to, people have highlighted the need for reduced consumption and improved efficiency. More and more members of our community understand that we need to re-think our lifestyles and, most importantly, they are now comfortable airing that view. As the weight of these voiced opinions build new solutions will be explored.

It is therefore absolutely vital that you speak up. Whatever part of our community you represent, if there is something that you question, flag it up to the appropriate principal.

For our students, this confidence to speak out is stemming from what they are doing in the classrooms. In turn, a lot of this is coming from our efforts to infuse ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) in our teaching. A distance-learning workshop facilitated by ISKL last month helped promote this teaching tool and provided a forum for teachers to share ideas.

Recent examples of ESD in our Middle School include; photography students working with a professional photographer to produce images of waste on our campus, media literacy students listening to a female Burmese refugee’s story and maths students analyzing environmental data they collected.

As we continue to help our students make informed decisions, the possibility of positive change seems more likely. A future based on sustainable development might be achievable after all – we just have to ask for it.

February 2012

Finding a Balance

The students have worked hard to build this year’s Walk for Children event happening at the end of this month and I am pleased that in the discussions I sat in on, they were conscious of the environmental impact of their decisions.

Last year Matthias Gelber gave an excellent speech that I think in places surprised some of his audience. He was advocating a low impact lifestyle and highlighted some of the poor choices we frequently make and our wayward consumption patterns. The ‘goody’ bag and ‘free’ t-shirt, seeming staples of any public event, stand out as two aspects he picked up on.

Being cognizant of the production, distribution and ultimately disposal of items allows one to make an informed decision on the amount, and type of stuff, we consume. A simple, ‘no thank you’ to a freebie

 or flyer will likely have positive impacts of an environmental and societal nature on many levels. I would recommend viewing the Story of Stuff (below this article) if you would like to get more of an insight into product lifecycles.

Finding the balance between keeping up with the latest fashion and having the newest gadget whilst trying to make environmentally savvy decisions can be a challenge. At ISKL we aim to educate our students about these issues. The recent Buy Nothing Day, supported by adverts from Grade 8 Media Literary students illustrates these efforts.

Why am I writing about this? Well, in January, ISKL became the first international school to join the 

Malaysian Eco Schools program, sponsored by WWF, and this semester the Green Council is focusing on ‘waste’ with a goal of reducing the amount we send to landfill. Students found that in a typical day, the Melawati campus sent 117kg to landfill and Ampang produced over 200kg of solid waste. (this excludes recyclables, garden waste and large items such as furniture).

Rubbish weighing

Every individual in our school community is contributing to those masses and so we all need to look closely at our consumption habits; smarter choices in terms of what goes in a lunchbox, avoiding pre-packed foods at the cafeteria, thinking carefully about food, gifts and decorations at class parties and making sure we recycle cans etc whenever possible will alleviate some of the problems associated with landfill sites.

Please support ISKL’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact by reducing the amount of stuff that ends up in a hole in the ground. You have in important role to play in shifting mindsets regarding the unsustainable actions that unfortunately society regards as the norm.

January 2011

It’s Here!!! 

After two years of fruitless searching and failed attempts by myself to rope in NGOs the Eco Schools program has magically appeared in Malaysia. ISKL is the first international school in the country to register.

The Malaysian WWF are sponsoring this international program that allows schools to work towards achieving the coveted Green Flag award that recognizes environmentally friendly schools.  Much of what the award is about is already practiced at ISKL notably the formation of the student led Green Council and I hope that it won’t be too much of a stretch for the school to meet the remaining criteria.

It means that the Green Council now has a focus and structure to work with. The council will meet 3 times a semester to tackle one of the nine suggested areas;

Energy, Water, Biodiversity, School Grounds, Healthy Living, Transport, Litter, Waste, Global Citizenship.

This semester the group will continue its efforts to minimize wastage. Details of the structure of the meetings can be found in a post on the EcoSchools webpage. There are also links there to global sites with more information on the program.

This is a great opportunity for ISKL to celebrate what is it doing well from an environmental perspective as well as identifying areas in need of development. I hope the whole community will embrace this new challenge.

The Green Council needs members so please get in touch with Nathaniel Zacharias if you are interested in being  more involved.

December 2011

Getting it Right

This semester, much to my wife’s annoyance, I have spent a great deal of time travelling to courses and conferences to learn about what other schools are doing and share what we are trying to achieve at ISKL.

The schools I have compared notes with were very impressed by the way in which we are trying to build sustainable development into the curriculum through our system of standards. For many, the biggest challenge was ensuring the longevity of new ideas and they had struggled to embed new approaches into day-to-day teaching. The associated skills that our teachers are offered training in will also add a great deal of value to projects being undertaken by students and ultimately led to the inclusion of a service learning component to my role next year.

Teachers that I have worked with on ESD related activities have found success in terms of more engaged students and a richer learning experience. Hopefully word will spread and more teachers will make use of these concepts.

Our Green Council, led by Nathaniel Zacharias, has a more structured approach lined up for next year to hopefully best utilize the time available to the project it chooses to undertake. Most excitingly though, the Eco Schools program is now available in Malaysia thanks to sponsorship from WWF and ISKL has signed up to have its efforts evaluated under their criteria.

Whilst we perhaps don’t have hoards of student activists lining up to change policy at our school, there are small groups that are becoming more and more active. The recent Kebun project and tasks undertaken by the MS Eco Warriors indicate a desire to make a difference. I have also felt a genuine ‘awakening of consciousness’ among faculty, staff and students. This was exemplified by an article in the recent TAKE magazine by Pepe Eriksson; there seems to be a greater effort to make the smart choice. A challenge for Laurence Myers, my successor next year, will be to increase student engagement further.

So we finish 2011 on an upbeat note but know that there is still a lot of work to do in 2012.

November 2011

November 26th is Buy Nothing Day


The idea is that we take a good look at our consumption levels and reflect on the differences between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Grade 8 Media Literary students have been designing posters to promote this event and made use of what they have learnt about advertising strategies. The teachers involved have done some exemplary work – they tweaked what they were already teaching to include aspects of ESD, and through giving students the chance to publicise Buy Nothing Day, they facilitated service learning.  These are exactly the types of shifts that will help us meet our mission of developing socially responsible, global citizens.

Four of the adverts that will be put up around the school are shown below.


If you haven’t already seen the movie or read the book entitled The Story of Stuff, it is well worth watching the clip lower down this page. It offers a comprehensive insight into the hidden, external costs of our purchases and talks about problems associated with each stage of an item’s lifecycle from raw material extraction through to disposal. Some of the ideas, notably the linearity of the process, were shared with Grade 1 students last week and so I hope that the message is clear and understandable by all.

Last month the front-page article talked about the challenges of being part of a ‘tech savvy generation’ and I have left the movie clip in case you didn’t see it. 

The iPollute message from one of the posters shows an astute understanding of the problems associated with our quest to have the latest gadgetry, and its relatively fast obsolescence. The teenagers have recognized the media message that ‘stuff = happiness’ and I am pleased they see through it.

I hope that those of us with even more purchasing power can see that our number of possessions does not directly link to how happy we are. There is more to life than shopping.

October 2011

Tangled up in Tech

I am grateful to my friend Laurence for sharing an article with me recently on the problems associated with growing up in a tech-centred environment. I was particularly amused by the opening paragraph where an individual that trains ships’ pilots described the two types of students he encountered;

“One kind grew up mainly indoors, spending hours playing video games and working with computers. These students are quick to learn the ship’s electronics, a useful talent. The other kind of student grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, often in nature. They too have a talent; they actually know where the ship is.” 

There is no doubt that students and faculty at ISKL are fortunate to have access to the latest gadgets and technologies and these tools create a stimulating, cutting edge learning environment. However, does this come at a price? What are the students giving up in favour of scouring Facebook on their iPhone 4? 

It is pretty common for people of my age (and even older!) to reminisce about when kids played outside, not being allowed back in the house until dinner, using their imagination to create games. More and more we remark that children spend too long glued to a screen. It is interesting therefore to read articles like the one mentioned above that point to research indicating that time outdoors can beneficially shape a developing child’s skill set. With technology emerging and becoming so prevalent in the last decade or two, we are perhaps only now starting to see the impact of its overuse on children that have grown up with it. 

It is noticeable that several teachers at ISKL recognise the dangers and have been asking for ways to help their kids experience nature – the EC Green space that was the brainchild of Carolyn Curtis being a fine example of this. A handful of our High School students have been enjoying opportunities to spend time outdoors in the form of IAS expeditions, with others constructing an ecosystem near the new water-harvesting scheme. Still though, the majority of our students would choose their X-box over a toolbox. 

So where does it leave us? Beyond the concerns over child development there is undoubtedly a large hidden cost to staying cutting edge. If you haven’t seen it already it is worth watching Annie Leonard in her Story of Stuff (You Tube at the end of this page). Keeping up with the latest trend is costly in many different ways; social, environmental and economic. I must confess to feeling quite smug (again!) about the fact I have almost completely given up in keeping pace with the latest gadgetry. When I was a student I was one of the last to buy a mobile phone and my friends used to tease me because when we went out I had to leave my brick on the table in front of them. As time went on I eventually upgraded to a smaller model and was surprised to find I am now the only one whose phone fits in his pocket - the table was cluttered with Blackberries and iPhones.

Removing the virtual from reality can be difficult in a city but there are several places families can visit quite easily. These are listed on the Green Pages. Encouraging people to get together and communicate face-to-face is a big step in eliminating the culture of disconnect that is growing. The evidence suggests that we need to put more emphasis on getting young people outdoors as an integral part of their education – our kids need parents and teachers to step up and facilitate this.

September 2011

A fight to the finish?

It is becoming clearer and clearer that the decision as to what steps we take to limit climate change will ultimately be decided by the outcome of the on going battle between two groups – an increasing number of environmentalists and big corporations that are developing cleverer techniques to lobby governments intoinaction. 

A lot of money is being spent in convincing the public that nothing untoward is happening in our atmosphere. Pseudo scientists are given air time on news networks in the interests of even-handedness and unfortunately they grab the opportunity with both hands to encourage people to take the course of least resistance. Astute journalists will tease out of their guest what exactly their background is and their level of expertise. This is usually quite eye opening.

Large amounts of money are being invested in lobbying governments to maintain lax legislation. The recent shelving of tighter smog rules in the US illustrates the point well. Data from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) suggested that whilst in the short term there would be a cost of around $90bn, the savings in health costs would likely exceed this ($100bn). 

The phenomenon of astroturfing is a very interesting one where companies work with PR firms to set up fake grassroots groups to reach their goals. The National Smokers Alliance and Coalition for the Advancement of Sound Science were set up to represent the ‘civil rights’ of smokers and question the link between cancer and smoking respectively. Similar work is taking place to undermine environmental efforts.

Numerous conversations have highlighted to me how poor our general understanding of climate change is across both students and faculty. To make informed decisions it is vital we are fluent in the facts and arguments. Two online resources are very helpful here. The UK government scientist has published a paper outlining what we currently knowand the Skeptical Science website rebuffs common climate change denier claims. It covers one of the most common arguments of cyclical change that I hear from colleagues.

A good friend of mine that works for an oil company had an interesting perspective that I will leave you with. He said that on the geological time scale (i.e. 10,000’s of years) these changes were insignificant and ultimately the world would go on. He added that we might as well then enjoy our time now without worrying too much about the future.

He is quite right of course but unfortunately the changes occurring, if left unchecked, will likely include the extinction of several species, including our own. 

Perhaps it is time to decide which side we are on and take more of a stand by making smarter choices and choosing to be less manipulated by businessmen.

August 2011

A Mini Revolution?

The indicators shared at the start of the year showed that ISKL is edging steadily in the right direction. There is still a lot to do though and I strongly believe that teaching the kids (fortunately our job!) lies at the core of a successful long term change. This means utilising more ESD and introducing the concept of Service Learning into lesson plans. Evidence of the power of this will hopefully come from the G5 team this year where, rather than sporadic, tagged on projects and activities initiated by me, the classes will undertake service programs as part of their curricular units. This will hopefully help them to make smarter choices on matters relating to the issues the classes choose to tackle.

These smarter choices are what I hope members of the community will start to make as they open their eyes to challenges. The recurring complaint of, 'One person won't make a difference' still baffles me. Teachers in particular are held as role models by students and by exhibiting sound practices, others will too. I enjoy hearing stories of families that have changed what they do at home as a result of something they learnt at school and believe schools hold a very privileged and powerful position within society. 

The family that makes its own cleaning products, goes to the park instead of the mall, chooses to take 

public transport where possible, holidays closer to Malaysia, shares rides with friends, avoids notorious companies and supports local vendors makes a very clear statement about how they envision the future. They are also starting to put pressure on others

(corporations, politicians, planners etc) to change; if there

 is less demand for harmful substance X, less of it will be produced, if more people visit green spaces, fewer will be built on and so on.

These decisions however are based onknowledge and it is this knowledge we need to help our students develop at ISKL if we are to nurture 'socially responsible global citizens' and create a meaningful long term change. Without it our students will be lost, up to their necks in Green Wash and falling for Astroturfed opinions.

July 2011

Keeping it Going

It is now a year since ISKL started its ‘grand experiment’ and much has been accomplished over the last 12 months. The challenge now is keeping the momentum going. 

Teachers that have employed ESD in their lessons have seen the benefit with increased levels of engagement from their students. On the operational front, we are running more efficiently and saving money as a result. Challenges still remain however such as the massive amount of waste we produce each day and perhaps our biggest ‘elephant in the room’, international flights. 

Most of our community will have travelled this summer and I managed to release 3.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide flying to and from the UK (that’s around a third of the average Brit’s emissions for the entire year). Many of the day-to-day systems in place in the UK were very impressive – strict rules on waste sorting, higher airport taxes, good incentives to switch to energy from renewable sources and low carbon transport to name a few. Perhaps though I was too comfortable in this ‘Green’ country and let my guard down. I found myself buying a lot more stuff and getting through a heap of packaging for products shipped from around the world. 

Problems of overconsumption seem to have been compounded by a combination of advertising and convenience and have produced a nation of increasingly overweight people. Certainly I have put on a few kilos during my month long visit and I am looking forward to getting back to a healthier (both physically and environmentally) lifestyle next month. I know that if I had not emigrated I would very likely have followed a path of least resistance myself. 

My hope for the ISKL community is that sufficient education has been done to ensure we don’t revert to our old ways (see Getting an Education article) and we keep striving to live with as low an impact as possible. It will be interesting to see what August brings and what our attitudes are.

June 2011

Getting An Education


Last month I wrote about two people that were leading the way in sound environmental thinking and setting a strong example for their peers. How did they reach this enlightened position? 

They educated themselves. 

Whilst we slowly infuse ESD concepts into the curriculum the student I referred to has taken her learning into her own hands and gotten up to speed on current opinion and evidence. She is able to make informed decisions based on balancing arguments and makes choices that reflect her own values and principals. 

I believe that combining this knowledge with the ability to envision, can only lead to a feeling of immense satisfaction that you are proactively taking small steps to move your community towards a better place. This satisfaction that comes from a decisions is central to the longevity of a 'greener' lifestyle. Telling people to stop using plastic bags won't have a long lasting impact, explaining to someone how they are indirectly helping turtle conservation might. 

A good example is the Meatless Monday's program. On the face of it a student might be unhappy with the notion of giving up meat for a day and resents such a sacrifice. However, arm that student with the necessary information on antibiotics, factory farming practices, water and corn consumption, attitudes of the meat corporations etc and the individual will have food for thought as it were. By not taking meat for the day the student makes a small contribution to reaching a more sustainable and fair future and, I would hope, feels good about that. Add to this the likelihood that others will likely learn from and mirror his or her behaviour and something powerful happens.

So, during this long break, I urge you to do some reading/watch a film/peruse some articles/look at the RSS feeds above and come back one of the enlightened. The information will undoubtedly encourage you to make changes to your lifestyle that will ultimately enhance your wellbeing and happiness.

Books and Films

May 2011

Getting One's Own House in Order


Last month I wrote about a student I used to work with in Tanzania. I thought I might mention two other people that have inspired me in the last fortnight in this article and highlight why it is people like these that prevent me from leaving work each day wondering about the direction our species seems to be intent on heading. 

It is firstly about a gentleman called Jurgen who was the ‘(Ger)man on the ground’ for the Malaysia Week trip to Langkawi that I was lucky enough to attend. Jurgen has been on the island for many years and worked with 4 or 5 trips from our school.  Listening to him speak as we visited a Burmese village, a fish market, an organic farm and a littered beach it was apparent his appreciation of the systems in place was excellent. The issues he shared with the kids were spot-on and followed ESD thinking very closely. Whilst he clearly had a very strong understanding of the problems, he was also living the lifestyle he believed would have the lowest environmental demands. It was also a lifestyle that had improved his well being; fighting cancer and enabling him to complete full Iron Man events. 

The other person that I found to be a source of encouragement this week is a HS student. She, like Al Karim, has been putting her hand up to help with projects and is not in anyway motivated by CAS hours. Indeed she isn’t even eligible for them. Her actions are always considered, her outlook positive and her understanding of environmental issues first rate. She mentioned to me recently that her peers questioned the difference she, or anyone, could make as an individual. She knows though that we have to start somewhere and is happy to ‘be the change she hopes to see’. Few students for example will have selected their GAP trip based on flight distance and amount of opportunity for service. As an unassuming role model for others she is an incredible asset to the school. 

Whilst I admire any steps people are taking to address environmental problems I sometimes have difficulty with a handful of quite vocal Green people I meet at various events. Often the people are part of a corporate Green Washing program. They have some knowledge of the problems out there and are deeply concerned about the state of the planet, advocating the need for a large scale solution......somewhere else. They fail to effect the easiest changes, those that involve themselves.

For example, is it hypocritical for me to tell others we must do something about the declining reefs whilst still jetting off on several long haul trips each year (which produce CO2, acidifying the oceans and destroying coral)? Can I honestly say I am worried about famine in parts of the world when much of the available agricultural land is being turned over to corn production to fatten the cattle whose steaks I 
enjoy so much? Am I embracing renewable energy if I lobby the government not to put a wind farm in my neighbourhood?  

I certainly cannot take the moral high ground here, my own house is far from being in order. In terms of a final carbon footprint the long flight each year to Britain is in need of being addressed. However, as I read more and learn more I am steadily trying to move in the directions taken by Jurgen and the student. These two people represent true environmentalists in my mind; open to new ideas and allowing their opinions and lifestyle to evolve as a result of what they see as the best course of action. The lead they have taken in simply 'getting on with it' and making the necessary adjustments to what they have control over is admirable.

The social responsibility demonstrated by these people embodies what I see to be the real meaning of the term ‘global citizen’. 

Neither of these individuals has forced their beliefs on others and they continue quietly as excellent models. They have inspired me and I am sure will have the same effect on others. The whine of ‘what difference can I make, I am just one person’ is a nonsense. Others will observe, understand, learn and may or may not choose to follow the excellent example being set. Their modest, personal actions will have more of an impact than they realize and represent the start of the broader mindset shift we hope to see happen.

April 2011

Searchers and Planners

The recent Spring Break gave me a chance to finish off a book called ‘The White Man’s Burden’. The author, William Easterly, examines how so much aid money has seemingly done so little good in the developing world. Essentially, he proposes that the utopian, fix all ideas of the Planners can never be realized. Instead he commends piece meal solutions led by Searchers who constantly evaluate and respond to feedback and encourage benefactors to have vested interests in local projects that are set up.

The book made me think of a former student I knew in Tanzania called Al Karim. This student returned from a THIMUN conference and decided he wanted to tackle poverty. He had a very clear vision of what he planned to do and his actions mirrored exactly the characteristics of the Searchers praised by Easterly. He had recognized that one of the biggest issues contributing to poverty in Tanzania was Malaria and he wanted to target this, specifically in the North of the country.

He set about organizing a charity walk with a group of peers and got businesses to sponsor the event with prizes. He was able to raise several thousand dollars that he used to buy mosquito nets. He travelled up with a friend on the bus to Arusha and oversaw the distribution of the nets across a dozen or so villages to people that had been identified by local doctors as being in need of one e.g. pregnant mothers, young children.

He did all of this independently and his only motivation was altruism – CAS hours were never mentioned. His actions are a source of inspiration to me as I work with students that perhaps don’t share his drive or enthusiasm.

Why am I reminiscing about this? Well, I am hoping that people will start to look at where their generous donations go when they are asked to contribute to some fund or other. I hope that they will be able to target where they would like to send the money so they can recognize and support what they deem to be the most effective projects - what did Al Karim manage to do with a donation of $50 compared to some of the NGOs I watched whizzing around Dar Es Salaam in LandCruisers?

Just as we try to talk to explain to students the power they have as purchasers of goods, the same is true for whom they choose to donate money to.

Grade 5 students work with the KIVA group and I would also recommend Global Giving as another institution that targets local issues to make a difference.

Even better, you can use your donation to fund your own project like Al Karim did

March 2011

Are We There Yet?


Seven months into the new job and it is time to reflect, briefly;

Have we passed the tipping point that so many administrators have talked to me about? 

The answer is probably, ‘not yet’. Though we are making progress.

    How do I know this?

        Well, here are seven things that happened in the last fortnight…..


1) our electricity consumption went down again. After a seemingly endless fight to curtail our use the tide is slowly turning. The a/c’s in the gym were left on over night (twice!) leading to me being cc’d in on a string of aggressive emails and recriminatory messages by people I didn’t know cared so much.

2) an IAS trip was a huge success. 12 students from across 4 grades pulled together in some challenging circumstances. They enjoyed putting their resilience to the test in Nature and they, along with others, will be back for more.

3) the PTA conceded on their desire to sell plastic bottled water at International Fest. After a lengthy discussion and a series of reassurances and back up plans, the PTA agreed to support our efforts to have people carry reusable water bottles.

4) the Hornbill print run will be about 90 copies lighter this quarter. The board allowed faculty to decline the hard copy and just receive an e-version. Within the first hour of sending the message, 60 people had signed off. This paves the way for enhanced electronic publications and will encourage other magazines to look at their distribution.

5) the campus supervisor described water harvesting as a 'long standing dream' of his. Alex Wong is keen to tap some of the water running under our campus for use in irrigation.

6) changes at the canteen went unnoticed. The switch to reusable cups and proper tubs (that require a 2 RM deposit), promoted by students at Ampang, has met little or no resistance.

7) interest for ESD in Malaysia week. 17 MS teachers gave up their lunch hours to learn about reducing the impact of their Malaysia Week trips and examples of how they could bring in some ESD.


So I am surprised to hear myself say it but I am cautiously optimistic that the mindsets we want to shift might slowly be moving in the right direction. 

Let’s see what the remainder of the semester has in store.

February 2011

When Knowledge really is Power


Members of the ISKL community that are keen to reduce their environmental impact but are unsure of the best choices often come to me for advice e.g. Are packets (non-recyclable) of liquid washing powder that are emptied into a reusable container better than buying a fresh bottle (recyclable) each time?


This is quite fine detail and really just for our higher achievers. If we hunt around our homes and work place though there are often un-noticed energy losses and inefficiencies to address first.


Of course there is the unmentionable ‘f-word’ that for anyone wanting to reduce his or her impact should look at first and foremost; no amount of recycling can accommodate that ski trip to Whistler unfortunately.  I won’t get my soap box out again for this point now though.

Instead, what I wanted to give people in this posting was an insight into the relative energy consumptions of items we use and often leave on. My hunting for figures threw up one or two things that I was unaware of and will help me to prioritise what I absolutely must remember to switch off and what I needn’t rush home from the ballet for. It also indicates which appliances should be used for as little time as possible and perhaps will help you choose between two versions of a piece of equipment with the same function.


Much of the approximated data is taken from a table at A page from LBL detailing ‘standby’ data is also worth a look. The original Word version of the chart can be found in the archives section on the menu to the left.


From my perspective, I am often one of the last to leave the HS office but I never turn off the communal printers or water heater (which will continue warming the water in its tank). Over the course of the night an estimate could be 300W of power that I have been ‘using’ – the same as leaving 15 compact bulbs on at home, and I would have been careful not to do that…..

January 2011

Saving Money (and the environment)


It has been a year since my first front page article on the Green Pages and, for (both) the avid readers of this website, you may perhaps remember it was a call to make saving energy one of your New Years Resolutions.

I would be intrigued to know how many people did this and if in December they were still living the same mindset. I am going to propose the same resolution for this year but invite you to look at it through one of the other ESD lenses we work with at ISKL – Economics.

As a Scot I am naturally drawn to making savings wherever I can. My thrifty nature may indeed have helped with my application for my current role at ISKL as nearly all of the work I am involved with has a financial saving attached to it or at the very least an improvement in the efficiency of a working practice.

In some instances there is an initial capital outlay e.g. the purchase of a new wall fan to reduce reliance on an air conditioning unit. Over time though use of the fan pays for itself in terms of a reduced electricity bill and lower maintenance costs. Such a study has already been carried out in an ISKL Maths classroom. Other initiatives are simple changes to the way things have ‘always been done’ such as starting to compost garden waste or making more of our record keeping digital.

The ideas below have been very slightly modified from the World Watch website.

I would recommend one more though to help you identify future saving opportunities – read about the issues. This will help you put orders of importance to changes you can make, question what you hear as well as giving you the intellectual edge on the climate change mongers. Members of this last group can be identified as as belonging to one of four categories depending on what they believe;

1) all hope is lost so why bother

2) there isn’t a problem with the environment in the first place

3) that they as an individual won’t make a difference, making statements such as ‘that plane was going anyway’ 

4) they are already doing their bit and you should have a word with such and such instead e.g. they regard the fact they sometimes photocopy double sided as an innovative planet-saving sacrifice.

To help you see through the Green Wash spewed out by businesses and avoid being a victim of a Tea Party’s Astroturfing you might like to subscribe to the Monbiot Blog.

Save energy to save money

  • Move your a/c thermostat a few degrees up. Even better replace them with ceiling fans that will also give you the chance of more fresh air.
  • Install compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) when your older incandescent bulbs burn out.
  • Unplug appliances when you're not using them. Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible. As much as 85 percent of the energy used to machine-wash clothes goes to heating the water.
  • Use a drying rack or clothesline to save the energy otherwise used during machine drying.

Save water to save money.

  • Take shorter showers to reduce water use. This will lower your water and heating bills too.
  • Install a low-flow showerhead. They don't cost much, and the water and energy savings can quickly pay back your investment.
  • Make sure you have a faucet aerator on each faucet. These inexpensive appliances conserve heat and water, while keeping water      pressure high.
  • Plant drought-tolerant native plants. Many plants need minimal watering. Find out which occur naturally in your area.

Less gas = more money (and better health!).

  • Walk or bike to work. This saves on gas and parking costs while improving your cardiovascular health and reducing your risk of obesity.
  • Consider telecommuting if you live far from your work. Or move closer. Even if this means paying more rent, it could save you money in the long term.
  • Lobby your local government to increase spending on sidewalks and bike lanes. With little cost, these improvements can pay huge dividends in bettering your health and reducing traffic. 

Eat smart.

Skip the bottled water.

Think before you buy.

  • Go online to find new or gently used second-hand products. Whether you've just moved or are looking to redecorate, consider using Want Ads to track down furniture, appliances, and other items cheaply or for free.
  • Check out garage sales, thrift stores, and consignment shops for clothing and other everyday items.
  • Watch the Story of Stuff. 

Borrow instead of buying.

  • Borrow from libraries instead of buying personal books and movies. This saves money, not to mention the ink and paper that goes into printing new books.
  • Share power tools and other appliances. Get to know your neighbours while cutting down on the number of things cluttering your closet or garage.

Buy smart.

  • Buy in bulk. Purchasing food from bulk bins can save money and packaging.
  • Wear clothes that don't need to be dry-cleaned. This saves money and cuts down on toxic chemical use.
  • Invest in high-quality, long-lasting products. You might pay more now, but you'll be happy when you don't have to replace items as frequently (and this means less waste!).

Keep electronics out of the trash.

  • Keep your cell phones, computers, and other electronics as long as possible.
  • Donate or recycle them responsibly when the time comes. E-waste contains mercury and other toxics and is a growing environmental problem.
  • Recycle your cell phone. This may mean taking it back to your home country.
  • Bring old batteries to school for safe disposal and use rechargeable ones if you really need them at all.

Make your own cleaning supplies.

December 2010

Sound bytes, Snippets and Spin


I was recently invited to speak to some of our G11 and 12 Economics students as part of their studies into Sustainable Development in poorer countries. We talked about the three ‘pillars’ of Economics, Environment and Society and about how they are strongly interlinked. We also looked at some case studies for Tanzania and tried to identify what made some projects more successful than others.

The teacher was keen that I take some questions at the end as he was concerned with some of the opinions he had been hearing in the run up to the lesson. Taking the questions, most of which centred on climate change, left me rather dispirited by the end of the class. Answering the questions was not the problem; I was simply astonished by the lines of thinking on display.  At the very least because we had just described the Precautionary (‘better safe than sorry’) Principle just 30 minutes beforehand.

I believe some of the sentiments originated from an exaggerated scientific claim the students were shown as part of another course. Rather than isolating this piece of research many had decided to throw out completely the possibility that humans were having an impact on the Earth’s climate.

The evidence that we are playing a role in climate change is frankly overwhelming with a very good overview of what we accurately know for sure being found at this UK government site. Whilst it is important to see both sides to an argument and always question sources we have reached the point on this topic where we must stop asking, ‘Is it happening?’ and start thinking, ‘How can we fix it?’.

Doubting climate change is unfortunately becoming more fashionable in the media with several individuals actually starting to profit from writing questionable articles (David Rose) or setting up consultancies to help environmentally destructive companies (Patrick Moore). The latter represents the ultimate in Green Wash with statements such as, ‘cyanide is present in the environment and naturally available in many plant species’ being used to allay fears of the deadly sodium cyanide spills that accompany gold mining and ‘making clearings where new trees can grow in the sun’ used to describe clear-cut logging.

Are the students that think climate change is a natural phenomenon unrelated to their lifestyles also unable to see through the nonsense written in the preceding paragraph? Or is it the case that they are turning a blind eye to these problems so they can carry on with business as usual – the path of least resistance?

Either way, we are well off the mark with our Mission Statement if this is the case.

Being ‘Green’ should appeal to our Economists, as it is becoming an increasingly effective marketing tool. I took heart from a recent presentation by Fuji Xerox where they were essentially promoting a reduction in printing volume and have designed more energy efficient machines. Whilst the more cynical observer would suggest they were undoubtedly motivated by profit (moving more to their units at the expense of competitors) their research and results showed the systems and software to produce genuine, effective and tangible environmental benefits.

Our Economics students shouldn’t be burying their heads in the sand and hoping things can carry on as they have been for the past few decades, or indeed trying to fight the bank of evidence provided by scientists. They should be recognising new innovations, changing attitudes and growing markets and thinking how they can take advantage of them.

Embrace the growing desire to live more sustainably. If your business proposal is genuine and not just superficial Green Wash, both you and the Earth will profit from it.

November 2010

Purchasing Power

The 27th of November is international Buy Nothing Day. It is a chance for us to reflect on the levels of consumption we participate in and question some of the choices we make. The process of making, selling and then disposing of ‘stuff’ has an enormous environmental impact with the costs going well beyond the actual ringgits we give to a vendor. 

We need to ask ourselves;

From where are the raw materials sourced? Is this sustainable?

What has been the societal impact in the production of this item? Were people given a fair wage and provided with good working conditions?

How long will the item last? What will happen to it and the substances it contains when I no longer want it?

Students learn about the benefits of recycling and reusing at school but head and shoulders the best environmental practice is reduction. Do we really need a particular item or service?

Shopping in Malaysia is something of a hobby with enormous malls and strong advertising encouraging us to part with our money. It is interesting to reflect on some items you have purchased recently and think about why you bought them, how the anticipation of its purchase compares with how it makes you feel now.


November 27th is a chance for you to have a day off – do something else that doesn’t need a cash transaction such as take a walk or go to the park. You might even like to pledge your participation in this event by visiting the Carrot Mob website that the Grade 6 Green Guardians are promoting. You can register using your email or Facebook account and join the WP Kuala Lumpur Mob. The Buy Nothing Campaign is there and by following and then attending you will be pledging your support.

The Carrot Mobbers will be exploring the idea of purchasing power in more detail later this semester. The idea behind the program is that consumers (us) support businesses that are environmentally sound. It is the opposite of a boycott where effectively everyone loses out. A lot of families already practice this when buying environmentally friendly cleaning products, taking a bus rather than a plane to Singapore or eating at a local restaurant ahead of McDonalds.

The students will be encouraging more people to give thought to what they buy as well as giving vendors a chance to make changes and attract a visit from the Mob.

You make many statements every day and cast several votes without realizing.

Use this power wisely.

October 2010

Trying to keep it Positive

As a Scot it is in my nature to be rather dour and serious (particularly when matters of money are concerned) but I recently took notice of a talk by the founder of the Happy Planet Index (Nic Marks) who stressed the need to envision a bright future. Incidentally the country with the best ‘environmental efficiency supporting well being’ (which is what the index measures) is Costa Rica. The UK trudged in at 74th
 and the US a shameful 114th; Malaysia beat them both by some margin.

The speaker explained that he felt that the apocalyptic images promoted by some scientists and Hollywood were a real turn off to people trying to make incremental changes to the way in which they do things. A better ‘carrot’ would be a vision of how things could be. This envisioning process is a key aspect of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development) and vital in recognising what can be achieved when people make considered decisions and think about how their actions impact on others, locally and globally.

It is hard not to focus on the negatives though with so many bad choices being made. Last month I highlighted the damaging effects of our relaxed attitude to flying and questioned if one day the cheap flight to another country would be seen as a socially irresponsible, selfish act.

Just today I read an article about a macaque monkey killing a 4 day-old baby in Negeri Sembelan. [Sadly, further reading indicated that the parents were themselves not entirely blameless, keeping a pet monkey.] Living close to KDE and frequently having monkeys around and inside my apartment I am astonished by the stupidity of the people that come to feed them and this incident is unfortunately a symptom of their naivety. The macaque population comes to rely on this food source and feels less intimidated by humans. I understand too that petting wild boars is now common practice around the golf course.


Many of the unsponsored recycling bins around the campus have the phrase; ‘Respect, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ with font size decreasing with each R. If we are to achieve some of the Utopian images suggested by Mr Marks, getting the first ‘R’ down is vital. A working understanding of the natural world around us, and our position as a small part of that system, must be a nurtured through what is going on in the classroom.

Hopefully the ideas associated with ESD will support and add value to our teaching when the S&Bs are finally approved later this month.

September 2010

A Fear of Flying

My job brings me into discussion with a lot of different people with very diverse opinions, outlooks and understandings. In last month's article I described the energy intensive paper making process in light of comments about powering a LCD screen. I recently heard a concern aired as to whether a student tree planting trip could be warranted given the fuel the bus would use on a 1 hour journey to reach the site, and comments such as 'the plane was going there anyway so having 20 students on board makes no difference' make me wince.

Mike Bollam passed on an interesting article he found in the Economist recently about the estimates people put on their energy consumption. The misconceptions associated with potential savings were of most interest. At school we have a constant battle to reduce our electricity bill which has been steadily rising for the last few years. A recent sweep during a HS assembly found 25 a/c units left running with noone in the room. In several cases the lights had been switched off but the energy guzzling 
a/c unit was still on. Understanding the relative value of potential energy savings will help us to make significant changes, and in the case of the electricity bill, considerable financial gains.

One very apparent grey area is that of flying. Everyone knows that it isn't good for the environment but how bad is it? Given the 'international' expat lifestyle many of us lead should we be worried about the impact of nipping across to Langkawi for Hari Raya or flying to London for the long break. 
You may have read that some of the latest planes have a similar fuel efficiency per passenger to a full car and decided that there isn't a problem.
Unfortunately there is. Flying remains one of the most environmentally harmful choices we make.

I would urge you to have a read of the powerpoint that I put together for a few of our students. 
You can find the powerpoint file to download here.

August 2010

Making a Statement

In an effort to promote a reduction in paper consumption and support the use of Panther Apps, no more submissions involving environmental news will be made to the Friday Flash…….

This year ISKL made a big statement by creating a full time position for an Environmental Coordinator and the new semester has started off brightly. Teachers have been introduced to the concept of ESD (Education for Sustainable Development), a review of some of our operations is underway and several new projects are being worked on with classes and student groups. There is a clear desire among members of our community to carry out our business in a more sustainable manner and the support and encouragement I have received has left me feeling very positive about what can be achieved.

Another big change this year has been the full launch of Panther Apps. The Tech Team has done a magnificent job in creating a one-stop site for information that parents might need. The easy to remember URL (, clear calendar and accessible links make this an essential information hub. The Tech Team have been offering numerous training sessions in its use and the ability to sift information quickly out of the calendars makes keeping up to date easy. The streamlined system will hopefully help us avoid producing an overwhelming maze of information as I feel we had with the BBS.

The HS Athletics Dept has been leading the way this year in terms of reducing its environmental impact. Their offices use fans rather than a/c whenever possible, the boys’ soccer team will play some very strong local teams instead of flying to another IASAS school for an Exchange and all of their communications are being done electronically. It is this last aspect that this article is really about. Using shared documents stored in an Athletics folder and an up to date calendar, all the relevant information is available for the people that need it. As part of this Greener approach, Mr Richardson has decided not to submit information for use in the hard copy of the Friday Flash.

The consumption of paper at the school has long been an issue with a typical month of ISKL being in session seeing around 400,000 sheets of paper printed across the campuses. The new Green Council is planning to look into ways to reduce this astonishing number with the printer in the Ampang library being a major contributor (figures available on the Green Pages – linked to the Parents’ Page). HS and MS students also aired concerns over the distribution of the hard copy Friday Flash last semester.

I am writing to let you know that information on Environmental activities will no longer be submitted to the Friday Flash. Reminders of recycling dates and other events can be shared with parents through the Parent Page. Dates are published on the school calendar and Green Team Calendar and a lot of further information is available on these pages.

The move towards ‘paperless’ undoubtedly saves a great deal of natural resources. Exact figures for our school are difficult to calculate but it is worth considering this:

A tree will typically produce just 20 reams of paper (5 boxes), each A4 sheet will have used up to 10 litres of water to produce (depending on the plant design), there is then the energy used in cutting down the tree, moving it to the plant, debarking it, chipping it, pulping it, rolling it, cutting it, packaging it and shipping it. Add to this the chemicals needed to bleach the paper, produce the ink and finally the power to print out the page and we see a process heavy on resource consumption. The journey does not finish there however as there is still the external cost of the printed pages eventual disposal (recycled or land-filled) to be met.

Compare this with running the LCD screen on your computer for 5 minutes longer in the course of a week while you read the document.

Something to think about next time you reach for a hard copy of a document or hit ‘Ctrl P’.

July 2010

Falling out of Fashion?


As well as giving myself an almost insurmountable amount of carbon to offset by flying back to the UK in June I was disappointed to read some articles about the latest attitudes to climate change. Several surveys suggested that people were more skeptical of the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in and were making less of an effort to improve their habits.  This is despite extreme weather conditions throughout the year culminating in the present drought. Surely a precautionary approach should be followed at the very least?


I believe part of this change in mood may be attributed to overwhelming ‘Green Wash’ which can be a turn off after while. Companies (and schools sometimes!) highlight a handful of eco-friendly practices whilst for the rest of the organization it is business as usual. Advertising campaigns will divert attention from the hidden costs of some of their products. For example, how can a new mobile phone only cost $25? Or a pair of trousers $10? The logistics of sourcing the materials, manufacturing the item and shipping it to the consumer must be worth more. The difference comes in the form of an external cost. Someone or something, somewhere along the line, bares the brunt of the ‘bargain’ purchase. This may be in the form of sweatshop labour or natural resources that aren’t replenished. Even the eventual disposal of the article has a cost that will not be included in the price tag. Unfortunately recent scientific reports that showed bias in their delivery have done little to help the cause.


Consumption then continues at pace and the unseen external costs continue to build up. However, it appears that the environment is getting a helping hand, all be it inadvertently, from a very unlikely source. Last May’s UK elections saw the Tories form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. The traditionally right wing Tories are not noted for their environmental agenda but the recent emergency budget they have produced will have a significant impact on how people lead their lives. An air of austerity has descended that will limit spending and reduce our high turnover of natural resources. It will also mean people holiday within Britain, reducing air travel and there will likely be less car ownership due to steadily rising fuel prices. The shift in economics will also hopefully drive innovations in efficiency and the development of alternative cheaper, cleaner fuels.

Despite a bleak outlook for UK residents I am optimistic that it isn’t necessarily all bad news. Making do with what we already have is one of the Greenest steps you can take and it involves no effort. To support this, you may notice on the school calendars Spend Nothing Day on the 27th of November.

How about skipping the mall that Saturday and going out to the park instead?

June 2010

Going Green by Eating Green

This month's article was inspired by a video clip sent to me by Nathan Desouza. The 
clip is only a few minutes long and is part of the Ted Talks series.

The talk is about the environmental benefits of eating vegetarian for most of the week (weekdays in the speaker's case). The energy savings associated with farming crops rather than cattle are also supported by calculations carried out by David MacKay in his book, Renewable Energy Without the Hot Air. In the book the author converts our day to day practices into the common unit of the kWh and works out how much a typical citizen consumes in terms of energy (Malaysia 75 kWh/day, UK 130 kWh/day, US 250 kWh/day).  He estimates that by eating vegetarian 6 days a week the average person could save 10 kWh each day. A powerpoint with more of his calculations can be found in the educational resources section of this site.

Living in KL there are plenty of options for vegetarian food and I feel it is a relatively easy switch to make. At ISKL, Connie and Sams Snacks both normally have excellent options. 
Having eaten mostly vegetarian for a while I made the full switch last Christmas and haven't looked back. As well as the energy saving I am pleased not to be eating the plethora of antibiotics and hormones that are often given to animals and feel that I am no longer subject to some of the health scares that arise from the consumption of intensively farmed meet. A final positive point, though not one involved in my decision process, is the animal welfare issue. I just have to be careful to eat enough of the right types of foods.

If you can't do without an occasional burger or roast chicken sandwich then try the speakers suggestion of only having meat at weekends. You will be helping the environment and may even feel healthier. 

May 2010


At the end of the 'Awakening the Dreamer' symposium in Earth Week, Kuni Terada (the PTA rep on the Green Team) intriguingly told me she had something to share with me. The next day she mentioned the Japanese word Mottainai and a few days later offered an explanation for this word which has no direct equivalent in English.

Mottainai describes perfectly the emotions one may feel when reflecting on environmental woes. It describes a sense of regret when something has been wasted or lost and not had its full potential realised. Its relevance to this website is associated with the thoughtless and rapid consumption of the Earth's resources. As we stop and think about what we are losing in terms of biodiversity, natural beauty and the wealth of treasures therein, it is impossible not to feel sadness about what is slipping away from us.  

Mottainai's respectful thought to all things natural has led to it also being used as a way of summing up the value of the three R's; reduce, reuse, recycle. Recycling is the topic of the rest of this article.

Recycling Bins

Following another busy Earth Week it is worth us all thinking about what we can do to have a more prolonged impact on our local environment.  One of the most achievable goals is to limit the amount of materials we consume. As was highlighted at the ‘Awakening the Dreamer’ symposium, the choices we make about the items we buy have an impact well beyond the walls of a shopping mall. You might like to watch the ‘story of stuff’. The distribution and consumption sections are particularly interesting.

As well as reducing our consumption and reusing what we are already lucky enough to have, the final of the three R’s is recycling. The HS Earth Club runs a very successful monthly recycling program for the community where families can bring plastics, cans, paper, tetrapaks and even batteries. It is the on-campus recycling though that I am asking for your help with.

Across the campuses we have recycle bins that are now 5 years old and are falling into disrepair. These shabby bins have almost become invisible to students and are in need of replacement (with the old bins being used elsewhere). I am writing to ask that you consider helping the students develop the habit of recycling by buying a bin for the school. 

Each bin costs 390 RM and can have the sponsors name placed at its base. This is an excellent way to make a donation directly to the campus and help promote socially responsible practices. The new bins are bright and sturdy and will show the school’s crest and Live Ethically icons. Melawati bins will be a little shorter and include the words ‘Take care of this place’.  

If you would like to buy a bin please send a cheque (made out for 390 RM payable to the International School of Kuala Lumpur) to Angus Carmichael at the Ampang campus before the end of May. Remember to include a note stating what name, if any, you would like to appear on the side. Faculty members are able to pay by deduction from their salary using one of the forms available from me. The donation will be registered as your contribution to the Annual Fund.


I hope you will consider taking this opportunity to leave a positive mark on our campuses.


April 2010

Earth Week 2010 

17th-24th April is Earth Week at ISKL. During these seven days the school celebrates the Environment as well as raising awareness of the need to look after it.  Special events are taking place at all levels of the school with some of the more significant ones listed in the table below.





Community recycling

Saturday 17th


Ampang campus

Waterfall Hike

Sunday 18th


Melawati campus

'Awakening the dreamer' symposium

Monday 19th


Ampang Theatre

Earth Hour

Thursday 22nd


Ampang campus
Melawati campus

Eco Expo

Friday 23rd


Ampang campus

Rockin' for the Environment

Saturday 24th


Ampang campus 

Tree Planting

Saturday 24th 


Raja Musa Peatlands 

Further details on these events can be found in the Earth Week section of the Green Pages (linked from the school’s homepage).

In addition to this, four special initiatives (approved by the Admin Council) will take place during the course of the week. It should be highlighted that participation in these events is not compulsory. We hope as many students, staff, faculty and administrators as possible will join together in being involved in these schemes.

‘Earth Hour’ – on Earth Day (Ampang 8-9am, Melawati 8.50-9.50am, Thursday 22nd April) we are inviting everyone on campus to join us in turning off their lights and a/c units. (Please note this is not a compulsory shut down.)

‘23 is fine for me’ – We are asking members of the community to try not setting their a/c below 23oC for the week.

‘Paperless Friday’ – Our hope is that there will be minimal paper usage on Friday 23rd April. Teachers can take the opportunity to explore electronic alternatives and there will be no hard copy of the Friday Flash.

Clean air campus’ – Bus idling will be limited to 5 minutes before departure to cool down the bus for the students.

Why Bother?

David Mackay in his book, 'Renewable Energy Without the Hot Air' has a recurring message that 'small changes' will only effect 'small results'. Over  the course of these 7 days this is indeed a small change and a much larger, permanent shift in our mindset is needed. I hope however that these initiatives will perhaps open eyes to longer term solutions and provide students with the stimulation they need to think about approaches they can take to minimise their impact on the environment. 

Whilst this week represents the opportunity for a 'small change' on the global stage it is worth taking note of an issue closer to home.... 

Each month we monitor the electricity consumption (hoping to see a steady fall) and try to tie in with school events. March 2010 saw an additional 23,000 RM spent on electricity compared to March 2009. Even taking into account a few days extra holiday from the Spring Break in 2009, this is a huge difference with no other major events taking place at school. Clearly 'small changes' here in our practices have been very expensive and have a significant impact on our school community. Can we then make positive, small changes to move in the other direction?

March 2010

Can't I Just Plant a Tree?
At the end of February, 5 members of HS Earth Club went tree planting at the Raja Musa peatlands. The project, run by the Global Environment Centre (GEC) is exceptionally well run with many volunteers in attendance and is situated in a very pleasant, accessible reserve just one hour North of KL. I highly recommend it as a great chance for families to get their hands dirty and take in some fresh air whilst doing some good for the environment. Planting trees is definitely one way of offsetting our carbon emissions but how effective is it?
In the one and a half hours the students worked they managed to complete a row, a satisfying 38 saplings. These trees will inevitably trap carbon while they grow and their effectiveness is additionally significant in Raja Musa as they help keep carbon locked into the peaty soil. The planting is just one small section of a process that involves; finding seedlings, potting them, clearing rows and finally introducing other species once these 38 hardy saplings have taken hold.
To put this in perspective though; flights relating to the GAP program for G9 this academic year produced 142 tonnes of carbon dioxide. (This figure was calculated using an average of 3 separate footprint calculators.) Offsetting websites indicate that this would be used in a year by 71 hectares (71 100mx100m areas) of forestry (Greenfleet) or 6261 trees (Treesforthefuture).
So, was it merely a token gesture? Perhaps, but it certainly gave our city-dwelling students a rare chance to grow something. Many of the students had never done any gardening at all before and I am guessing labour like this is a rather infrequent occurrence for them. Whilst the pay off was small in terms of carbon, it is a step in the right direction and will make a huge difference to that part of Selangor as an empty site is given a new lease of life and biodiversity eventually returns to the scorched land. 

It certainly doesn't mean that our students should be missing out on trips overseas for rich educational experiences like the GAP program. It is essential however that our students understand the need to give something back to the environment and protect it as far as possible by minimising their impact. 
What about just paying to offset then?
Whenever a fli
ght is booked online there is usually an opportunity to 'offset' the carbon produced. Usually a relatively small sum can be paid to a company that will support NGOs in their efforts to buy trees or offer energy saving bulbs to hotels in developing countries for example. However, the legitimacy and accuracy of some of the processes is quite a contentious issue and we cannot be 100% sure that our Ringgits will be used effectively. An example of this is perhaps the cost of the 38 saplings mentioned earlier that would be minimal. The real donation lay in the time needed to plant them. 

It also doesn't help us learn the most important lesson; short of cutting down swathes of the Amazon rainforest, flying is one of the most environmentally destructive practices we can undertake (visit the chooseclimate website). Stepping on a plane shouldn't be regarded with the same casual attitude as stepping on a bus and it is important our children learn that from the example we set them, both at school and at home. 

February 2010

A film to save the world?

I recently watched the film Avatar and noted that along with the incredible visual effects and moving story line there was a clear underlying environmental message. 

The plot centres (trailer) around a corporation that is trying to extract a valuable mineral from a recently discovered planet and the resultant impact of their actions. The greed and arrogance of the humans has near catastrophic effects for the indigenous tribes in the forest and the balances within the ecosystem. Eventually there is a 'backlash' from the forces of nature as the system reaches breaking point.

Clear analogies exist between the futuristic destruction of this alien ecosystem and our current eradication of tropical rain forests. With blinkered capitalism driving decision making, long term effects are ignored and we are left with a bleak future. The annual loss of rainforest has a greater impact on carbon dioxide levels than all of the world's transport systems put together. Add to this the loss of biodiversity, medicinally useful species and disappearance of ancient cultures and the news of a greater than 50% reduction in global rainforest coverage makes depressing reading.

There are many rainforest charities out there and you might like to make a donation directly to one as part of any carbon offsetting you do. The problem of rainforest destruction isn't confined to the Amazon and we need look no further than a mile or two from our school to see where the next chunk of land might disappear from. For more information on this have a look at the Save the Ampang Forest campaign.

The Hollywood-ending in the film where the villainous humans suddenly meet their end or are returned to Earth, unfortunately won't play out for us. The steady erosion the natural reserves on this planet will likely have a significant impact on the next generation (your children) and it won't only be a handful of 'baddies' that are affected; we will all feel the prolonged 'backlash'.

January 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

With January 1st nearly upon us, many people will be thinking of making resolutions for 2010; eat less junk food, exercise more, go to bed earlier, work harder in Chemistry etc. Most promises are made on a personal level and sadly the majority of these good intentions will fall by the wayside before the end of the month or indeed the first quiz of term.
This year how about making a commitment that goes beyond just the impact on yourself? With environmental issues never out of the news, governments, businesses and schools are all realizing there is an urgent need to take action. Changes can only be achieved though if individuals are willing to examine the way they do things and make changes. It will also mean perhaps sacrificing a little comfort or convenience.

The typical American citizen uses 250 kWh, a Brit 130 kWh and a Malaysian 80 kWh of energy each day. Most of this energy will be derived from fossil fuels with their accompanying greenhouse gas emissions.

This year’s resolution should be to reduce this number.

Some suggestions for action (with approximate savings) are listed below.

  • Stop Flying (35 kWh/day) – a tough one for the Expat. Try holidaying in Malaysia and think about offsetting the carbon produced by the journeys you do take. There are an abundance of websites that will help you do this and it is less money than you might envision. If you are skeptical of how the offsetting works, what about donating the equivalent amount of money to a Rainforest conservation society? [The annual amount of deforestation is a more significant source of carbon dioxide than all the cars, planes and ships in the world put together.]
  • Drive less/car pool/cycle (20 kWh/day) – a reduced volume of traffic will also alleviate some of the frustration felt by those stuck on the Ulu Klang, or any other road in KL for that matter.
  • Don’t buy clutter/avoid packaging (20 kWh/day)  - refuse plastic bags and when you accrue cardboard or plastic, bring it to Ampang for recycling.
  • Eat vegetarian 6 days out of 7 (10 kWh/day) – and ideally buy local produce.
  • Monitor your utility bills (4 kWh/day) – challenge yourself to bring down your monthly expenditure on power. Compare them competitively with a neighbour.
  • Change light bulbs to fluorescent or LED type (4 kWh/day) – slightly more expensive initially but the longer life and lower consumption pays for itself.
  • Keep using old gadgets (4 kWh/day) – reuse long before you consider recycling.
  • Use your a/c less – a typical classroom a/c uses 145 times more power than 3 wall fans would. Use a desk fan when possible and open the windows to let some fresh air in.


Figures taken from ‘Renewable Energy Without the Hot Air’ by David Mackay