In 2015 I was engaged in an email conversation with some friends – all of us have children and the Paris conference was approaching. There were some suggestions that it was too little, too late, that climate change is too big to tackle – that little people like us held no sway over huge global events. 

Replying to my friends, I realised that I needed to answer the question I can imagine any child alive today asking their parents at some point in the next twenty years: 

What did you do when you found out the climate was collapsing? 

I needed to be able to show my son the things I did to fight for his future. I needed to take action, even if I am only a small cog in the global behemoth that is our civilisation, because I needed an answer for him.

The first thing I did was start a student action group, Towards2050. Our first target was solar. The School went large, installing 888kw of panels – enough to produce 48% of our net energy usage (and from January next year, all our power – 100% – will be sourced from renewable generation). The conversion of lights to LED also started way back then and is now over 95% complete. 

Despite making huge steps, the School did not stop there. They shared my outrage at the amount of landfill we were creating, and the boys helped me design a new layout for bins around the School that included co-mingled recycling bins next to every landfill bin. We started to stream rubbish, and now have co-mingled, paper and cardboard, green, organic and landfill collections. While there is still much to be done, particularly in streaming schoolyard waste, our landfill footprint has been halved. 

We set about removing single-use plastics from the School, starting with the tuck shop and events catering. The School helped me organise stainless steel water bottles so we wouldn’t have water in plastic bottles sold on campus, and then made plastic a big thing when the new catering contract was up for negotiation. It is worth noting that Chartwells, who took on the new contract, has been amazing and there is now rarely single-use plastic at Camberwell events. If you do see any single-use plastics, the chances are that it is from Biopak. Their cardboard is free of wood, and their plastics free of any petrochemicals – instead they make magic with plant-based materials that will break down in significantly less time than the estimated 500 odd years it takes for traditional plastics to completely degrade, releasing far fewer demonic chemicals in the process. It is also worth noting that while the Covid pandemic has led to an increase in our plastic consumption, we are very keen and constantly searching for ways to safely reign this in.

When faced with the spectre of climate change, I think many feel – as my friends did back in 2015 – it’s too much, we are too small. I am sure people want to do the right thing, but don’t always know, for example, what they should do with their electrical waste (especially after it was made illegal to pop it in the landfill bin!). 

A core directive started to develop: the School is a hub that sits at the centre of a large community. So, we tried to create convenient solutions. We established clothing and e-waste collection bins in the Highton Carpark. We brought a Mobile Muster phone recycling box to the Weickhardt Library and are working on a number of other proposals to further expand our offerings. 

And along the way, the dream started to spread. Ms Katrina Massey (Middle School Science and Geography Coordinator) caught the Green Fever and commandeered the top deck of the Middle School Atrium where she and a loyal band of Year 7 and 8 students started to create their own ecosystem of seedlings, plants and vegetables. Like the original gardening students (now in the Senior School, but still avid green thumbs), the program has outgrown its first greenhouse and is settling into new digs outside Kingussie (where the School beehive, that Katrina also set up, thrives off its many flowers while pollinating our plants). Keep an eye out for the honey – it is Olympian ambrosia. 

It has been an incredible journey so far, teaching me much more than a simple answer to my son’s inevitable question, and it has been by no means a journey that I have taken on my own. I do not work in a place where I have to fight for every step we have taken – it is quite the opposite. In the School’s management I have found consistent and amazing support. Beyond providing funding for these projects, the Headmaster and Business Manager have supported creating Sustainability as a pillar in the School’s strategic plan, and also created the position of Sustainability Coordinator. As I have mentioned, I also work with staff who are keen and proud to be a part of these programs – we can move mountains when we work together, but I struggle to get out the front door on my own. 

I work in a school that has accepted a responsibility to lead the way towards sustainable operations in education. This experience has created in me hope for the future, for I am now convinced that the decades and centuries to come can be as prosperous as our past. We will have to fight for it and there are many who will join our ranks, but Camberwell Grammar was the first place to show me what it looks like when people come together and say yes, we can and yes, we will change this.