New Zealand is proud of its clean and green reputation and its outdoor lifestyle. But to keep our environment clean we need to ensure we are building sustainability into our everyday lives and doing our best to live in an environmentally friendly way.
As part of the ECE sector, we are all responsible for shaping the minds of our youngest generations, thus promoting sustainability and teaching children early on how to respect and care for their environment is essential.
Working towards a greener more sustainable ECE centre can also help the children who attend, particularly those who have health issues such as allergies.
You can build sustainability both into your centre design and into the practices you use day-to-day and long-term.
Sustainability in centre design
Planning for sustainability can start right when you plan your centre layout and in the materials that you use.
- Layout - Look for ways to maximise space and make the most of natural light and air flow. You could also build sustainable practices into your building such as rain-water harvesting tanks.
- Building materials - Choose eco-friendly materials and building techniques. Use recycled items where you can or look for materials such as wood from sustainable sources and made using ethical practices. Choose low energy lighting and if you have equipment such as dishwashers ensure they are water efficient. If you want to go all the way in light efficiency, you may want to read more about LEEDS certification.
- Equipment - Again look for equipment made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials and include natural learning resources in your equipment list. Choose paints and art supplies that are non-toxic.
- Outdoor space - Make the most of the natural elements around your centre that are already there such as trees and sheltered areas. You can use recycled items or sustainably sourced materials to create outdoor play equipment too.
Photo from Camperdown Childcare taken by Ross Honeysett
Sustainability in practice at your centre
Once your centre is set up there are many small ways in which your staff and children can make a difference. Ideas include:
- Growing your own food - Getting kids involved in growing food is not only environmentally friendly, it is also a great way to get them into healthy eating and lots of fun. Choose easy to grow fruit and veggies that children love like peas and strawberries.
- Composting and recycling - If you are able to then set up a worm farm at your centre and use food scraps to feed it. You can also encourage children to recycle any packaging they have from their lunches - or even try to go packaging free in lunch boxes.
- Using reusable equipment - Instead of using disposable equipment, use plates, cups and water bottles that can be washed and reused. Look for BPA free plastic for a healthier option. You could also investigate using towels instead of paper towels in toilet and washing areas.
- Taking trips outside the centre to explore - As often as you can, take children out of the centre and explore the local natural environment. Visit a river and look at the wildlife, or go on a litter-picking trip around your centre’s area and see what you find.
Being sustainable in one way can also make your centre more sustainable in another way
By focusing on being environmentally sustainable, you may also make your centre more financially sustainable for the future.
Things such as lower energy lighting and reduced maintenance can reduce your expenditure, while having a centre that focuses on keeping children healthy and introducing a wide range of experiences and natural ideas is likely to be popular with parents, leading to on-going enrolments.