The eco team have their own uniform.

UK Schools and Colleges spend £400 million per year on energy, but as budgets tighten, they need to reduce this and generate income for educational benefits.

In addition to switching to low-energy lighting and installing efficient boilers, Principal Ramella has inspired students to embrace his vision of a carbon-neutral college. Ideas to get the message across include an open-air ‘eco gym’ where students use their own energy to charge their mobiles while income from the college’s solar panels finances ten scholarships.

It’s really impressive that Sir George Monoux has been able to build so much enthusiasm for sustainability and achieve so much with its students. It is clearly enriching school life as sustainability is integrated across the curriculum, with its eco-credentials proudly on show in the shape of its solar panels and eco-gym. It’s a model for other sixth form colleges to follow.

Ashden judging panel


Sir George Monoux Sixth Form College in Walthamstow, North East London, is a fantastic example of how teenagers can be inspired in a short space of time to help save the planet. As well as making changes like switching to low-energy lighting and installing efficient boilers, visionary Principal Paolo Ramella has inspired students of all beliefs and backgrounds to embrace his vision of a carbon-neutral college.

Creative ideas to get the message across include an open-air ‘eco gym’ where students can use their own energy to charge their mobiles. And annual income from electricity generated from the college’s solar panels finances scholarships for ten of its students – put simply, this College is turning sunlight into education.

Eco team members, Zahra and Fahmida with the solar inverter.


Energy and cost savings

Annual daytime electricity consumption has seen a decrease from 710,293 kWh to 642,553 kWh over the past three years, whilst over a similar period gas consumption has fallen from 26,175 kWh to 25,785 kWh. The fall in electricity use is mainly accounted for by the extensive use of LED lighting and associated sensors. This is a significant achievement in light of the fact that the college is employing greater energy using equipment to deliver modern teaching.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to the students has been the Helios Project. The £137,000 solar PV array was funded jointly by local authority sponsorship including parents, businesses and student groups. The Feed in Tariff (FIT) income from the 50 kW installation provides the school with an income of approximately £17,000 per year and is used to provide bursaries throughout the college and 10 scholarships for students deemed to be eligible based on commitment, reliability and family circumstances. Each of these scholarships is worth £600 annually. This project demonstrates the novel use of a renewable energy source not only to reduce CO2 emissions but also to benefit the community as the energy generated is instantly used in the building that houses the PV system.

Solar PV on the roof.

The scholarship and bursary scheme is very beneficial at the collage as in the past 75% of the students at the college would have been eligible for an Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) with 90% receiving the maximum amount. 

Environmental benefits

The college has managed to reduce its electricity use by 9.5% over a three-year period, this equates to a reduction of CO2 of 40.2 tonnes this year compared to its emissions three years ago.

The renewable energy from the solar PV array, has saved 65,000 kg of CO2 since its installation and generated in excess of 40,000 kWh during 2012-13. 

The future

The college plans to complete its project of lighting replacement. It also plans to make further inroads into student involvement. The physical improvements have acted as a catalyst for change, but it is now time as the Buildings Manager, Nigel Harris, has said “to change hearts and minds”. This will require an investment of planning and staff time to be successful. The Director of Enterprise, Jose Vincent, is keen to engage students with local business. There are further energy savings to be achieved and potential for more student, parental and community engagement.

Changing a culture in a Sixth Form College is difficult to achieve and very few have managed to make meaningful progress in reducing energy use. Sir George Monoux has started this process and achieved a lot already, setting a clear example of how with vision, planning, enthusiasm, commitment and student involvement, much can be achieved even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Eco gym in the school grounds.

There are many aspects of the work at the college which could be replicated elsewhere. The most important of these is to accept that energy management is an important factor in the running of the college and future of its students.


Promoting sustainable behaviour

The Principal, Paola Ramella, decided that he wanted to make the college into a sustainable school when he visited a zero carbon village in his Italian homeland. When he returned he set about starting a programme to make the college more sustainable and carbon negative as opposed to carbon neutral. Sustainability is not just a passion of the Principal, the students who form the Eco Committee are also committed to action. The desire to inspire change in the college is clear from the energy and enthusiasm seen in the student activities.

The construction of the Eco Gym, which enables students to charge mobile phones whilst exercising, is a highly visual and practical demonstration of both the value of exercise and that electrical energy is not an easy commodity to generate. The college made a business decision in installing the facility as well as an environmental one, demonstrating that the two are not mutually exclusive at Sir George Monoux. 

The Eco Gym is our prized possession. We love it!

Eco team member

Managing energy use in school buildings

In its Strategic Plan, the college set an ambitious target to become carbon neutral (with the overall aspiration to become carbon negative), but with an interim target of a 34% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020, in line with the government’s climate change legislation. Between 2010 and 2012 a reduction of 7% was achieved and this is anticipated to increase substantially this year as the benefits of numerous sustainability initiatives are realised.

In addition to the 50 kW solar PV array, the college has installed condensing boilers, improved insulation and fitted LED lighting across 70% of the college. They have also introduced a sophisticated building management system which has allowed for micro management of each area of the college campus including classrooms. An agreed temperature of 20°C had been set for the majority of the classrooms with tolerances for computer technology rooms, laboratories, interactive learning centre and various other studios. 

Building Manager, Nigel Harris shows off the school’s new efficient boilers.

Integrating sustainable energy into the curriculum

Carbon Workshops for students are run regularly and every student has an opportunity to attend. This brings an awareness of the issues surrounding carbon emissions and renewable energy generation to the students. Similar courses are run by the Buildings Manager for all staff.

Currently sustainable energy is incorporated in the curriculums relating to Maths, Geography and Science, and there is a specific BTEC Environmental Studies course, which incorporates a module on renewable energy. Data from the solar PV array is used for statistical analysis in teaching Maths. In addition to Maths and Geography, sustainability is making traction in other curriculum areas such as Art and Textile Technology.

The college is also engaging with local partner schools providing workshops and information on the sustainability agenda which is being driven by the Schools Liaison Team, led by Hayder Khan, Director for Partnerships and Development.

The Eco Committee members are able to include their involvement in the project within their own CVs. This helps support them in their university applications and future careers.