How to review your sustainability policy

Find out how to review your school's/trust's sustainability policy. Look at suggestions for what you could find in your policy, questions to ask and examples of sustainability and environmental policies from other schools and trusts.

Last reviewed on 3 November 2023
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  1. Key facts
  2. Key points to look out for
  3. 5 key questions to challenge the policy
  4. Examples from schools/trusts

Key facts

  • This policy is non-statutory
  • You can delegate the approval of this policy to an individual or committee
  • The board determines the review cycle
  • The headteacher, senior leadership team (SLT) or sustainability lead will write and be responsible for the implementation of this policy

Key points to look out for

A clear strategy that will link to your climate action plan

By 2025, the Department for Education (DfE) aims for all schools to have a sustainability lead and a climate action plan in place. Having a sustainability policy can help your school/trust coordinate a strategy to prepare for this. 

Your school's/trust's climate action plan needs to cover four areas, so if your sustainability policy does the same, it will be a good starting place when leaders begin to create the climate action plan. These four areas are:

  • Decarbonisation – for example, taking actions to reduce carbon emissions, such as becoming more energy efficient
  • Adaptation and resilience – for example, taking actions to reduce the risk of flooding and overheating
  • Biodiversity – for example, engaging with the National Education Nature Park and Climate Action Awards
  • Climate education and green careers – for example, providing knowledge-rich, comprehensive teaching that staff feel supported to offer

You'll also want to see that the policy considers the steps that can be taken now, as well as longer-term goals that require more time, budget or thought. 

For example:

  • A short-term goal could be to make sure there are recycling bins in each classroom, or to change light bulbs to energy-efficient ones
  • A longer-term goal could be to analyse energy expenditure and offset carbon emissions

Make sure everyone knows their role

The policy should outline roles and responsibilities for everyone, as planning and executing your strategy will not just be 1 person's job. 

For example, it could include information on who:

  • Co-ordinates staff CPD
  • Reviews curriculum policies
  • Works priorities into the school budget
  • Monitors the teaching of sustainability and climate change across the curriculum
  • Identifies funding opportunities
  • Conducts energy and water usage audits
  • Approves policies
  • Monitors progress against objectives

This list is not exhaustive – there are many roles that your leaders could outline in your school/trust's policy depending on your circumstances. You may even have a section on pupils' responsibilities. 

Trusts: your leaders could define the roles of the trustees and local governing bodies (LGBs) in this policy – for example, LGBs could be responsible for monitoring progress towards the objectives, and trustees could be responsible for making sure the trust's environmental strategy is shared across all schools.

How your school/trust consider sustainability across many areas

Sustainability should be a thread that runs through all areas of the school/trust. You'll want to feel assured that your school's/trust's policy covers its strategy across all the different areas. These could include:

  • Curriculum and learning
  • Food and catering
  • Waste and recycling
  • Energy and water
  • Transport and travel
  • Buildings and grounds

5 key questions to challenge the policy

How does this policy align with the core vision and values of our school/trust?

You'll want to know that your school's strategic goals for sustainability align with your school's overall vision and values.

It's very likely that sustainability will fit into your school's/trust's values already, but making it explicit that it's a part of the overarching vision will bring it to the forefront.

Leaders should be able to explain how they've considered the vision and values when writing the sustainability policy, and how these link together. 

How will we know this policy is working?

Your headteacher/sustainability lead should be able to explain how success will be measured.

Most parts of the strategy set out in the policy will be measurable, so leaders can evaluate how things are changing.

They should also explain when they'll measure success and what success will look like.

How have pupils been involved in the creation and review of the policy?

Lots of pupils will be feeling worried about climate change and sustainability. By including pupils in the process, they'll feel reassured that their school community is putting plans in place to make a difference.

Leaders should explain how they've gathered pupils' thoughts on sustainability and considered these in the writing of the policy – for example, they could have consulted with the eco-council to hear what pupils' biggest concerns are. 

How will the school/trust make sure that this policy remains relevant and updated in light of emerging sustainability research and challenges?

Leaders should explain how they'll make sure the policy remains up to date with the latest guidance and research in the sector. As sustainability continues to be a priority across the world, the policy may need to be reviewed outside of the usual cycle, and leaders should explain how they'll keep on top of this.

For example, the sustainability lead in the school/trust could be responsible for reviewing the latest research and making sure that the policy remains in line with current guidance. 

How does this policy make sure that sustainability is not just practiced but also taught and ingrained in our pupils' learning experience?

You should feel assured that the school's/trust's approach to sustainability is very clearly laid out in the policy, and that this is used to embed sustainability in both operational and curricular activities.

Leaders should explain what's in place to make sure that everyone has a deep understanding and commitment to the sustainability strategy.

Examples from schools/trusts

St John’s CofE Primary School in Croydon organises its sustainability policy into 3 areas:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Caring for each other
  • Caring for the environment 

Garlinge Primary and Nursery School in Kent includes information about the ‘5 Rs’ in its environmental policy: reduce, reuse, recycle, restore and respect. 

Inclusive Multi Academy Trust has an environmental sustainability policy. Its policy covers:

  • The curriculum
  • Reducing carbon emissions 
  • Healthy living

Endeavour Multi Academy Trust has an environmental sustainability policy that includes:

  • A sustainability statement
  • How the trust will meet goals in areas such as travel and waste and recycling
  • Staff training and involvement


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