It doesn’t work to frighten people; choose what you’re passionate about to tackle sustainability, says Cheryl Hadland…
Everyone’s sustainability journey is different. For me, it’s personal – I’m a scuba diver as well as a mum and grandparent. During a scuba dive one day, I saw so much rubbish under water. I realised that if we carry on the way we’re going, my children, grandchildren and nursery children won’t get to see the things I’ve already seen.
If your drive for sustainability comes from passion, you’ve got a better chance of getting not only yourself engaged, but also your friends, colleagues, families – everybody.
It doesn’t work to frighten people, but it does help to tap into what’s important to others. It might be that a member of staff is asthmatic, in which case you could look together at air pollution – what would help to clean your air inside the nursery? How can you stop parents idling their cars outside?
Another angle to look at is reducing energy consumption to bring down your utility bills, particularly at the moment when costs are escalating. If we don’t do what we can to control these, our whole finances are affected.
With my financial director, we do metre readings on electricity, gas and water. You can cut 20 to 30% off those bills by finding out where the high spots are – where and why are you clocking up so much money?
It might be that someone turns the thermostat timer off when they’re cold. We found out that one nursery had the air conditioning on, windows open and the heating on, all in the same day. It was just because one member of staff was hot and another was cold.
As well as providing guidance to staff, you can use window sensors that turn off air conditioning if a window is left open.
Insulating is crucial. We have butcher curtains on the doors so that children can go to and from the garden whenever they like, but we’re not heating the whole of Hampshire at the same time.
Different settings will be on a different part of their sustainability journey, and some will have a longer journey than others.
One of our nurseries is in an old Victorian building, but I was able to insulate it, put solar panels on the roof and put a car charger on it so we could charge our vehicles.
We deliver our washable laundry by vehicle and have a central laundry with economic washing machines and drying cabinets. We then transport the clean laundry to our nurseries using electric cars.
It’s the same with our catering: we have a central kitchen with a really good chef who prepares freshly cooked food, and we drive meals out to the local five or six nurseries every day. You don’t have to do that if you have a large nursery, but when you have a few little ones, it’s efficient and works really well.
We’re passionate about reducing our environmental impact across all of our nurseries and have been working on our sustainability journey for 12 years now.
The advantage of having a fairly big team is that we have a range of interests and can attack sustainability from the many different directions there are. But one thing I know is that you can’t attack all of it at once.
If we all do little things, we can make a big difference. Try to think, ‘If I carry on doing this particular activity for the next 20 years, will it negatively impact on the planet?’ And if it will, do something different.
Don’t use plastic pom-poms or balloons when you can use hole-punched leaves or petals. Build relationships with local businesses – will your local florist let you have flowers that they can’t sell anymore?
Walk to your local shop if you’ve got one and ask what they do with their waste products. Can you help in any way? Those local relationships can be really important.
Some members of staff might be great at planting and growing. Even if you’re not green-fingered, just about anybody can grow cress with the children or grow spider plants – they only need watering once or twice a week and can really help clean the room from toxins.
Can you take part in litter picks? When you’ve picked up rubbish, have a look at who made the product. Write to those people and say, ‘We’re finding your rubbish on the streets, what are you going to do about it? If one person does that, big deal, but if lots of nurseries and schools all around the country did that, perhaps people would listen.
We can’t do it all. Choose what you’re passionate about and role model it. And hopefully someone else in the team will have ideas about an area of sustainability that they care about, too.
When it comes to sustainable resources, the trick is to talk to suppliers and keep asking. Sometimes they can’t make changes straight away; it might even be over a couple of years. For example, our toilet paper was being delivered in plastic, inside a cardboard box.
I said to the consortium, ‘Ideally, we don’t want the plastic bag, but we certainly don’t need a plastic bag and a cardboard box.’ They couldn’t get rid of it straight away, but in the end, they did drop the plastic. We didn’t stop all relationships just because they couldn’t do that immediately.
Meetings with suppliers are a wonderful opportunity to ask those questions: ‘What’s your CSER (Corporate Social Environmental Responsibility) policy?’, ‘What are you doing about one-use plastic?’, or ‘Can you please mark the carbon footprint of your products in your catalogue?’.
Gompels and a few other suppliers are beginning to state the carbon footprint of their products. Cosy makes a lot of its resources from recycled materials and uses local suppliers. Bambino Mio makes reusable nappies. So, people are on the sustainable journey.
Consider some sustainable activities that you can do with the children, too. They’ll love filling up the compost bin or sorting food waste for the wormery.
Do the recycling with the children, rinse out the milk bottles with them, plant fruit and veg, create a bug hotel, put up a bird box. It’s all part of providing sustainable education.
Parents are definitely choosing us because our nurseries are sustainable and they want their child to be healthy and happy in 50 years’ time. Staff are proud to be working for an organisation that cares – we care about the environment, we care about people, and that makes us a nicer place to work.
Lots of nurseries are very short-staffed and people are going to higher-paid jobs in retail. But in childcare, we can really make a difference for the children – not just in our lifetime, but for the children’s futures.
Cheryl Hadland is the founder and MD of Tops Day Nurseries. She is also the author of Creating an Eco-Friendly Early Years Setting: A Practical Guide (Routledge).
Tops Day Nurseries were recently awarded a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development, for providing inspiration and driving change in the early years sector. Follow them on Twitter @topsdaynursery