Fresh, practical and simple ideas for sustainable school grounds

Are teachers, students and parents at your school working together to ensure your school grounds reflect your commitment to caring for people and the planet? We share our top tips for outdoor spaces that score A+ for student wellbeing and sustainability.

Schools across New Zealand are taking a ‘whole-school approach’ to teach students about sustainability that extends beyond the classroom and curriculum to a school’s grounds and facilities.

Supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Education, the Education for Sustainability initiative embraces UNESCO guidelines and champions the philosophy that “sustainability is not just something to learn, it’s something to live”.

The Education for Sustainability initiative in a nutshell

At its core, Education for Sustainability aims to get the whole school community learning together and thinking and acting in ways that make a positive difference, for this generation and the next, based on the belief that:

  • Education is the best tool for climate change awareness.
  • Learning about sustainable development and global citizenship helps children understand the world they live in.
  • School buildings should be safe and sustainable, conserving water and energy and reducing waste.

Six sustainable school ground essentials

The Urban Effects team has been working hand-in-hand with educators across New Zealand to make some smart changes to their outdoor spaces and learning environments and help them achieve their sustainable school goals. Here are six easy-to-implement ideas for improving your school’s sustainability scorecard.

1. Outdoor classrooms

When you’re teaching students about their environment and how to care for it, where better to do it than in the outdoors? What’s more, taking learning outside has been proven to improve student engagement and academic outcomes.

Our outdoor classrooms, delivered in partnership with Playground Centre, are suited to both structured and unstructured learning activities across the curriculum – from science and environmental studies to maths and arts. Each concept puts an emphasis on creating a connection with the natural environment through landscaping, while low profile seating and/or tables allow students to learn together as a group or participate in individual or small group activities. Discover more in our Outdoor Classroom Guide.

Another clever way to optimise the use of your outdoor spaces is to transform them into multi-purpose spaces. Like the lunch area-come-outdoor classroom we created for  One School Global’s Taranaki Campus featuring our  Metro Outdoor Learning Tables; or courtyards and break-out areas that double as outdoor classrooms with the simple addition of seating solutions like our Liffiton benches or Eden Tiered Seat.

2. School gardens

A tried-and-true way to grow environmental awareness is the establishment of school herb and vegetable gardens. Not only do they offer children the opportunity to learn about how to grow their own food, but they also support teachers to educate children about healthy eating habits and nutrition.

Urban Effect’s Timber Planters and our rectangular or square Toi Toi Planters are the perfect height and size for sustainable school gardens. We can even supply our Timber Planter as a flat-pack, ready for students to assemble and install as a construction project!

3. Ride to school facilities

With young eco-warriors passionate about reducing their carbon footprint, more kids are choosing to ride their bikes, scooters and skateboards to and from school.

Keep pace with the number of wheels entering your school grounds and show your support for an emission-free commute by providing adequate parking and secure storage. Our signature Kiwi range includes compact bike racks, scooter racks and skateboard racks with individual padlock holes for security.

4. Sun smart shelters

Climate resilience is a major consideration as we experience increasing changes in our weather patterns. And while children are taught from a young age about sun protection, the Cancer Society of New Zealand’s Sun Smart School program is encouraging educators to increase the amount of quality shade available on school campuses.

Permanent built shade structures such as shelters offer maximum UV radiation protection during peak UV periods, making them a sensible solution for eating areas and alongside playgrounds and sporting fields. They also make great bike sheds! Urban Effects offers a wide range of all purpose shelters, in a variety of styles and sizes for schools.

5. Water wise drinking fountains

While bans on sugary drinks in canteens and in some schools, water only policies make drinking fountains a school ground essential, they can also help you further your sustainable education goals.

Teach students about water conservation and make your school a plastic water bottle-free zone, reducing the amount of plastic that enters landfill and waterways, with drinking fountains like our Hydrate Z Fountains. Featuring in-built water saving mechanisms which manage water use and stop drips, the drinking fountains also include bottle fillers and are available in kid-friendly heights and wheelchair accessible options.

6. Recycle bins

Encourage a clean, litter free environment and educate students about responsible waste management with high volume bins clearly marked with waste separation instructions.

Locally made outdoor furniture with solid eco-credentials

Fundamental to a commitment to making your school a sustainable school is ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to reducing your environmental impact by choosing sustainably made furniture and equipment. Each of the six sustainable school ground essentials and the practical outdoor furniture and equipment solutions we’ve suggested are made in New Zealand from sustainably sourced, recycled and recyclable materials.

Buying locally made and sustainably produced furniture doesn’t just demonstrate your commitment to environmental sustainability, it contributes to the economic sustainability of your region too – through supporting local jobs and businesses. It’s something worth promoting to your students, staff and your school community. You can even turn it into a classroom exercise, where students learn about the environmental impacts of transportation and the other benefits of buying New Zealand made products!

Check out our Education page for more on our outdoor furniture for schools and our most recent sustainable school projects. Or, why not get in touch with one of our outdoor space design and furniture specialists to talk about your school’s needs.

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