Lambeth Council: future fit schools

To get their estate to net zero by 2030 and prepare the borough for the impact of the climate crisis, Lambeth Council have created a ‘future fit’ package for schools. This package consists of several projects, which reduce the schools’ carbon footprints, prepare them to be climate resilient, and protect school children from air pollution.

The challenge

In 2019, Lambeth was the first London borough to declare a climate emergency. Lambeth have pledged a climate response that covers mitigation of climate change, with an ambitious target to reach net zero in the council’s estate by 2030, and adaptation to make the borough more climate resilient.

In 2018/19, energy use from council buildings accounted for 98.9 per cent of council emissions. To reach its net zero target and to act as a role model for other organisations in the borough, the council therefore needs to retrofit its buildings to reduce their carbon emissions. Because emissions from schools count toward the council’s carbon footprint, retrofitting schools is a priority for Lambeth.

Additionally, to reduce borough-wide carbon emissions, the council needs to encourage a shift away from private car use and toward active travel. The shift toward active travel will also benefit air quality in Lambeth which, like many other parts of London, reaches illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in some parts of the borough.

In 2017 the Mayor of London released an updated report assessing the air quality in and around London’s schools. This list is based on data from the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (LAEI). As part of this report, it was highlighted that children at 38 Lambeth state schools are exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) that exceed the EU limit of 40ug/m3.  Air pollution can impact the neurodevelopment of children, and can cause asthma, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, improving air quality is a strategic priority for Lambeth.

Further, as well as reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality, the council must prepare the borough to cope with climate change to ensure the rise in extreme weather events causes minimal disruption.

The solution

To get their estate to net zero by 2030 and prepare the borough for the impact of the climate crisis, the council have created a ‘future fit’ package for schools. This package spans several projects, which cover both reducing emissions, and preparing schools to be more climate resilient.

The first project focuses on decarbonising schools. In 2018, the council worked with two schools to install LED lighting, solar panels, and heat optimising technology such as boiler optimisers and endotherm. Since 2021, the council have been working with 23 more schools as part of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme to partially replace their gas boilers with air source heat pumps and install solar panels and LED lighting.

The second project seeks to reduce air pollution surrounding schools through installing green screens along the fences of schools that are situated on main roads and exposed to illegal levels of NO2. Green screens consist of Hedera Ivy in planters, and act as a pollution sink and a barrier to pollution, thereby protecting the lungs of school children. The addition of greenery to the playground also increases amenity and is beneficial for mental health. The council have delivered green screens in 9 schools already, and are delivering 16 more by the end of 2021. 

The implementation of school streets also aims to protect children both from air pollution and from road traffic, as well as encouraging active travel. School streets restrict vehicle access to the street where a school is situated through putting up a barrier between 7:45 and 9:15am, and 2:15 and 3:45pm. Lambeth now has 22 school streets, 19 of which were implemented as part of the Covid emergency transport response. These schools were all selected because of their exposure to high levels of NO2; rat-running on the street; history of collisions; average traffic speed and volume; and the modal split between car use and active travel. 6 more school streets will be implemented in January 2022.

The final project focuses on making Lambeth schools more climate resilient by reducing their risk of flooding. The project, which is funded by the Department for Education and Thameswater, will implement sustainable drainage systems (SuDs) in 7 schools by 2023. SuDs include measures such as rain gardens, planters, and tree pits, all of which collect and store surface water in addition to improving biodiversity and amenity in the school grounds. All measures will be co-designed with schools to ensure they are educationally beneficial as well as managing surface water.

The impact

In Richard Atkins Primary school, the decarbonisation works undertaken in 2018 have led to an estimated 36 per cent reduction in electricity use, and 17 per cent reduction in gas use. This amounts to a 24 per cent reduction in the school’s annual carbon emissions. The decarbonisation works also have the co-benefit of reducing the school’s spend on gas and electricity by approximately £16,000 per year, meaning this money can be reinvested in education. 

In the 23 schools that Lambeth is currently working with, the decarbonisation measures will reduce their total carbon emissions by an estimated 42 per cent per annum. The measures will reduce electricity use by 10 per cent and gas use by 57 per cent, and the solar panels will now generate an estimated 13 per cent of each school’s electricity. This reduction in use of gas and electricity will save a total of £313,700 of all school’s fuel bills, working out to an average of £13,600 annual savings for each school.

Green screens are estimated to reduce NO2 levels by up to 20 per cent. Likewise, air quality monitoring at 5 school streets locations found that school streets reduced NO2 levels by 23 per cent, thereby protecting children’s lungs against the dangers of air pollution. Evidence collected by TFL STAR surveys, where teachers ask how children travelled to school and take a hand count of each mode of travel, suggest school streets have also increased active travel by up to 9 per cent in some areas.

The school SuDs project forms part of Lambeth’s broader Surface Water Management Plan and model. This program will collectively reduce the future risk of flooding in the borough through storing surface water in a sustainable way, rather than allowing it to gather on concrete paving and overwhelm sewers. SuDs also improve biodiversity by replacing grey paving with green infrastructure, thereby encouraging environmental restoration. Therefore, implementing SuDs in schools contributes to making Lambeth more climate resilient, in addition to offering educational and biodiversity and amenity benefits to the individual schools.


Rachel Parry at [email protected]