“Green starts at school.” With this motto in mind, Lebanese NGOs and an eco-consultancy firm embarked on a mission to encourage Lebanese private and public schools to turn green.
“We believe in education to promote awareness about the environment and ecology,” said lawyer Hadla Traboulsi, founder of the Lebanese Organisation for Green Schools (LOGS). “School is the natural and ideal place to learn, raise environmental awareness, build habits and citizenship values because the ultimate objective is to change people’s practices and behaviour.”
LOGS has been approaching schools since 2015 with activities and ideas to help them become eco-friendly. These include training teachers on green practices and introducing environmental issues in the subjects they teach, reorganising the schools’ utilities and premises to make them less harmful to the environment and assisting the schools in establishing environmental clubs.
“Students are in charge of running their school’s environmental club,” Traboulsi said. “By giving them such responsibilities we are actually engaging them. They decide on the activities they want to make and they are being very creative.”
Clubs’ activities include planting trees, clean-up campaigns, building vertical gardens in the school court and showing environment-related movies and documentaries.
The NGO has created a glossary of “environmental vocabulary” that teachers can introduce in language, mathematics and science classes, said LOGS educational adviser and board member Spiro Habash.
“‘Virtual water’ is one example of this vocab,” Habash said. “For instance, it takes 140 litres of virtual water to make a cup of coffee because you need to plant the coffee, irrigate the shrub, process the seeds, transport it, etc. This raises awareness about how precious a commodity water is. Messages are passed through lessons.”
Helping schools turn green is not an easy task due to financial and resource limitations, Traboulsi noted.
“Most schools are set in old buildings and it is not always simple to refurbish them. Financial means and capacities determine how fast the school can turn green. Some schools may have the will but not the means. Others have both and can in one year become eco-friendly by installing photovoltaic systems and solar panels to save on energy, etc.”
Green schools in Lebanon are audited by e-EcoSolutions. The environmental consultancy firm oversees implementation of the Green Schools Certification Programme, under which schools are progressively rewarded for their achievements and commitment to protecting the environment.
“e-EcoSolutions is the appointed leader of the Lebanon Chapter of the Global Coalition for Green Schools. We have given Green School certificates to 38 schools across Lebanon so far,” said the firm’s CEO Gilbert Tegho.
He said each school will score Green Points (GPs) based on a checklist of sustainability solutions in the categories of recycling, green spaces, energy efficiency, water efficiency, health and safety and sustainability education.
“There is a minimum of 20 GPs that schools should score to qualify for certification. Depending on the points scored, the schools may get bronze, silver, gold or platinum certifications,” Tegho said.
Green Schools Certifications are valid for two years, after which a second audit is required to maintain or upscale the certification level.
“We do the audits and the scoring because we have the benchmarks based on an international programme tailored to the country. We provide schools with a clear guideline of what they can do to become green. We actually give them free consultancy on the things that they can potentially achieve to score points,” Tegho said.
He noted that most schools in Lebanon, both private and public, are engaged in sorting and recycling paper. Many have replaced bulbs and lighting systems with light-emitting diode (LED) and energy-saving lights, others installed double-glazed windows to improve insulation and reduce energy consumption. Some are collecting rainwater or revamping water pipes and taps to make them more economical and prevent water leakage.
e-EcoSolutions has been working with partners and NGOs willing to help schools develop, including a bank offering interest-free loans.
“The outcome that we want to achieve is to change the behaviour of students to become eco-citizens… They should know that there is a problem with climate change but that there are also solutions and that they can act towards it,” Tegho said.
Traboulsi lamented that people in Lebanon fail to react to environmental issues unless they reach a grave stage. “The garbage collection crisis that plagued Lebanon two years ago might have had one advantage in that it acted as a wake-up call and made people realise that it is a very serious problem affecting their life and their health,” she said.
“That is why engaging children and encouraging them to be part of the solution of environmental problems is crucial.”
Samar Kadi is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.