Studies show links between Ontario EcoSchools certification and waste + energy performance in schools

Published by Ontario EcoSchools on 2017-02-10

At Ontario EcoSchools, we consistently ask ourselves “What is the impact of the EcoSchools program? Are we actually achieving our goals of nurturing environmental leadership, reducing the ecological impact of schools, and building sustainable school communities?”

With funding support from the Ministry of Energy, we’ve been able to more rigorously investigate the impact of certification in schools. In 2016, Ontario EcoSchools hired third-party research firms to find out whether certified EcoSchools perform better on waste minimization and energy conservation – two sections of our certification program.

Waste Not: What’s working well

To evaluate waste performance, Immacutec Systems Technologies Inc. conducted 49 waste audits in Platinum EcoSchools and in Non-EcoSchools across the province (by Non-EcoSchools, we are referring to schools that have never certified in the Ontario EcoSchools program). A total of 40 elementary and 9 secondary schools from 11 school boards participated.

In this research, one main finding is that, on average, students at Platinum elementary EcoSchools produce 57% less combined landfill waste (garbage and organics) than Non-EcoSchool students. The graph below illustrates the stark contrast in waste produced between Platinum EcoSchools (blue bars) and Non-EcoSchools (pink bars): the higher the bars, the more waste produced. This is a substantial indicator of program effectiveness! Key factors that influenced success at these schools included teacher involvement, administrative support, and board-level engagement.

Read the full report here.

Waste study graph

Energy Study: Lighting the path

To evaluate energy performance, the third-party firm Enerlife Consulting used the publicly-available Broader Public Sector energy use dataset, which includes energy consumption data for all school buildings in Ontario.

Based on 2013-14 data, they found that certified EcoSchools tended to be somewhat more energy efficient than non-EcoSchools. The graph below depicts the difference in energy savings potential between certified EcoSchools (blue bars) and Non-EcoSchools (yellow bars): the lower the bar, the better the energy efficiency of the school.

It is important to note, however that the differences between certified EcoSchools and non-EcoSchools were not substantial enough to be conclusive as to the impacts of school-wide energy conservation efforts through participation in the Ontario EcoSchools program. This finding highlights the potential to amplify student-led energy conservation initiatives (e.g. lights off campaigns) and the need for principals, administrators, and facilities staff to be engaged in these efforts to produce measurable results.

Read the full report here.

Energy graph

Great efforts! Now what’s next?

Both of these studies illuminate the value of Ontario EcoSchools certification by revealing some of the tangible impacts of participation – from a lower environmental footprint to operational cost savings for schools. We are thrilled to see such encouraging results and so proud of our community of certified EcoSchools. A big congratulations to all the EcoTeams raising awareness and taking action on a daily basis!

Moving forward, we will be looking at the impact of the Ontario EcoSchools program on less tangible – but equally important – measures of environmental leadership. How does participation in the EcoSchools program increase student engagement and environmental citizenship? How does certification support teachers as agents of change, embedding environmental learning in the classroom? How does the program help school administrators create positive, engaged, and environmentally responsible school cultures? Over the next year, we will be diving into these research questions and more – stay tuned!