Environmental & sustainability education

Energy Efficiency in Schools

Greg Hossack, then Principal of North Keppel Island Environmental Education Centre (NKIEEC) commenced this program in 1998 in Queensland.

Greenhouse effect & energy efficiency in schools program

by Ken Purnell, 2001


The Energy Efficiency in Schools Program is a Central Queensland initiative conducted by Boyne Island Environmental Education Centre (BIEEC), Camp Fairbairn Outdoor Education Centre (CFOEC) and North Keppel Environmental Education Centre (NKIEEC). The program is conducted over 7 days and hosted by the three Centres and sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ergon Energy, Education Queensland, BIEEC, CFOEC and NKIEEC. The EEIS Program focuses on the participating students developing an action plan to reduce electricity consumption in their school by promoting energy efficient practices. Over 90% of electricity produced in Queensland comes from coal sources and Australia has 10% of the world's coal deposits. Twenty-four students (Year 6 and Year 8) and twenty community members (mainly P&C representatives) participated in the 2001 program conducted over 7 days hosted by the three Centres participated in the 2001 program conducted over 7 days hosted by the three Centres. It was sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ergon Energy, Education Queensland, BIEEC, CFOEC and NKIEEC. A variety of relevant nearby sites were visited such as a coal mine, a power station, a cement producer, the world's largest producer of Alumina, and a waste management station. Students learn about cooperation, initiative, leadership, team building, coal mining, greenhouse issues, the commitment of some heavy industries to the "greenhouse challenge", how to conduct energy audits, and alternative energy. A major outcome is the development and implementation of an action plan to create further energy efficiencies in each school represented which will see a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and be a bonus for planet Earth. Thinking globally and acting locally!

Greenhouse gases make up about 1% of the gases in our atmosphere and are critical to life on Earth. Greenhouse gasses provide a natural blanket to trap heat and make our planet warmer. Earth would be around 33ºC cooler or like the Moon (average surface temperature today is 15ºC and would be -18ºC without greenhouse gases). Australia produces about 1% of the world's greenhouse gasses. Coal is the world's main energy source to produce electricity.

The two sources of heat on planet Earth

  • The sun (solar)
  • The greenhouse effect

Our atmosphere consists of

78% Nitrogen

21% Oxygen

Less than 1% greenhouse gasses (after AGO, 1999):

  • Water vapour is the most important, but human activities influence the amount in the atmosphere very little
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) is contributes about 70% to the enhanced greenhouse effect and its atmospheric concentration is up 30% compared to 200 years ago
  • Methane (CH4) contributes about 20% to total global warming and sources include waste decomposition in landfills, venting of natural gas, digestive processes of cattle and rice cultivation. Methane's atmospheric concentration is up 145% compared to 200 years ago
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O) contributes about 15% to total global warming and is emitted from burning vegetation, industrial emissions and effects of agriculture on soil processes
  • CFCs (from older refrigerators, etc.), HCs (from some fire extinguishers) and PFCs (emitted during aluminium production)
While the Greenhouse Effect is normal and essential for our planet's existence, the ENHANCED GREENHOUSE EFFECT is not. We enhance the greenhouse effect by the greenhouse gases that our lifestyles add to the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on global climate" (AGO, 1999). Mean surface temperature has risen 0.2 to 0.6ºC since the late Nineteenth Century (AGO, 1999). The activities of people are adding substantially to naturally occurring greenhouse gases, particularly with substantial economic growth over the past 100 years. Lifestyles in technologically advanced communities such as Australia use great amounts of energy to sustain. By burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to produce energy (eg. electricity) we create extraordinary amounts of CO2. The two main sinks for CO2 are trees and oceans (plankton in particular).


  • Global warming. Most atmospheric modeling systems indicate that by 2100 there will be a rise in global temperatures of up to 6ºC with the median being 2.5ºC (Ross Greenhalgh, QAL 28 May 2001)
  • Energy wastage - particularly using greenhouse gas emitting non-renewable resources of coal, oil and natural gas
  • Deforestation (clearing forests). Australia recently has the highest rate in the world after only Brazil.

Main sources of greenhouse gases in Australia



Land use change












After: Ross Greenhalgh, QAL 28 May 2001

  • Regional variations will be great but we may expect both positive and negative impacts of global warming. What we are most keen to do is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and therefore reduce the rate of global warming. There are potentially many outcomes from a warmer planet (see the reference list for more examples and details).
  • Reduced energy wastage and by individuals who work to make a difference.
  • Increased plant growth and agricultural production due to shifts in climatic zones (perhaps around 200km polewards), with potentially more precipitation world wide
  • Increased building activity to stay or offset losses due to sea level rises (eg. structures ‘at risk' along low-lying coastal areas include houses, shops, high rise buildings, roads, electricity and gas lines).

 Negative outcomes may include

  • Rises in sea levels
  • Increased climatic events such as widespread and longer droughts in some areas, cyclones being more numerous and intense (with warmer ocean water to feed off) and experienced further away from the equator than at present
  • loss if flora and fauna in some regions, increased erosion with more associated natural hazards such as mudslides, more extensive flooding of low lying areas,
  • Desertification (growth of deserts), with greater warming towards the poles and in winter (where warming will probably be twice that of around the equator)
  • Loss of ice bodies with possibly receding glaciers and melting of parts of polar ice sheets,. There will be entire ecosystem responses to climatic change and significant economic, social and cultural responses by people. What is needed is local action that contributes to more sustainable use of our resources such as electricity consumption.

 Add some of your own....


Action plan for my school

Critical components:

  • Focus on outcomes eg. 20% reduction in electricity consumption over next 12 months
  • Whole school community involvement
  • Turning off lights and equipment when not in use
  • Keep up the momentum through ongoing education and curriculum experiences including information in the school newsletter (e.g. report ongoing performance in relation to targets, talks at school assembly, staff and P&C meetings)
  • School Principal supporting cleaners, staff and students in energy efficiency practices including purchasing policies
  • Leader roles for students including energy monitors

We need to actively work towards better outcomes for our environment. While this needs to be pursued vigorously globally and across large regions (for example, the Kyoto agreement of 1993 signed by many nations including Australia to limit greenhouse production and the work of non-government organisations [NGOs]), local action is also a critical part of any strategy to reduce our contributions to greenhouse gasses.

In our energy efficiency in schools program we are focusing on the reduction of electricity consumption. The framework discussed on the program had three areas:


It involved looking at three key questions:

  1. What needs to be done?
  2. How will it be done?
  3. By whom will it be done?

Minimising usage of electricity by more environmentally friendly practices of turn off, when not in use, lights [only on when people are in room and agree that artificial lighting is needed] and other equipment (eg. computers, TV's [do not have on ‘standby'], fridges [over longer holidays], fans, hot water urns [replace with a jug if you can], photocopier). Buying energy efficient equipment to replace old equipment when they come up for renewal is an important contribution to becoming a more energy efficient school. Monitoring progress (through energy audits of consumption of electricity by the school), and policing practices to ensure that energy efficiency is promoted and sustained are important components of a school wide strategy. Having a whole school approach that is agreed on, worked towards and actively promoted by, for example, students and staff is essential to create energy efficiency in schools. A continuing education program that is infused in the curriculum (eg. use the video and booklet distributed to all Queensland schools in 2000: Power for a sustainable future), and which orientates new students and staff to the school's energy efficient philosophies and practices will help your school be a leader in reducing electricity consumption and benefiting the environment with less greenhouse gas emissions. Demonstrating to the local community your school's commitment through retrofitting - consider solar panels (financial support maybe available through AGO or utilities - see relevant websites such as www.greenhouse.gov.au). Beyond energy efficiency there are many other programs that schools may be involved in to, for example, reduce waste, be involved in tree planting programs and learnscape the school to promote positive outcomes for our environment. Remember: if we all do a little bit individually, then collectively we do a lot.


AGO, (December, 1999). Greenhouse notes: Information from the Australian Greenhouse Office, No. 2. Canberra: Author.

AGO. (2001). www.greenhouse.gov.au

Department of Environment, Queensland. (1998). Airwatch. Brisbane: Author.

Department of Mines and Energy, Queensland. (2000). Power for a sustainable future. Brisbane: Author.

See also: Choice, What is the greenhouse effect? and Consequences for Australia


Thanks to Greg Hossack, Principal of NKIEEC, and Ralph Loveday who is an Energy Consultant, for comments on an earlier draft of this resource.


Page updated January 2016