Sustaining an Energy Future through Education

A sustainable school or university is about the role of education itself. But at a time when the temptation is to cut expenditure right back we still need to make sure that it supports the decisions that we still seem to be delegating to the next generation.

The Earth at night shows the  intensity of energy use

The Earth at night shows the intensity of energy use

A former colleague of mine, Yamina Saheb, Head of the Sustainable Building Centre at the International Energy Agency  (IEA) has a dream. It is that one day energy savings will be a marketable commodity – so profitable that everyone will be clamouring to buy and sell them making it totally unnecessary to impose legislation on energy requirements of products and buildings. She hopes that generation ‘Y’ will make her dream a reality. But the ability of this generation to respond depends on the role of education that we put in place. Today we are educating the policy makers for tomorrow and we need to help them make better choices.

Students pick up most of their knowledge about environmental issues at schools, as this OECD PISA study “Green at Fifteen?” shows, so there is hope.

Global energy consumption has nearly doubled over the last 40 years. Buildings are one of the biggest consumers representing about 40% of primary energy consumption (that is the raw energy source such as oil, gas etc). This figure is across  International Energy Agency (IEA) member countries which represents 28 of the largest economies.

At the IEA Sustainable Building Centre almost two years ago we began to look at the capacity of governments around the world to truly influence energy consumption of buildings. The result was depressing. We brought this information together and developed the Buildings Energy Efficiency Policies database that my colleagues at the IEA continue to work on.

We found that few governments have any workable enforcement regime for ensuring that energy efficiency measures are carried out in buildings, even if the policies themselves are strong enough to have any real effect which itself is rare. By and large governments do not set tough energy requirements on buildings, yet as we know buildings are where much of the energy is consumed. Generally solutions seem to be piecemeal and not holistic – parts of buildings are considered, not the whole thing. While governments provide incentives, their effectiveness is not measured. In older countries such as in Europe building replacement rates are so small (1% a year) that constructing highly energy efficient new buildings will have virtually no effect for a long time – we need to rely on. In countries where new buildings represent a high proportion of the building stock, then new construction will have more impact.

The hope is that in those countries where substantial new construction will take place, they will incorporate sufficiently stringent policies to make a real difference.

Even so there need for other incentives. What better than to give the amount of energy saved an actual marketable value and using that to stimulate the market for better technologies? Education has a role to play.

Creating sustainable schools and universities is more than just about creating sustainable buildings. It is about creating education environments that enable students and the community to learn about the choices they face, the kinds of solution they can adopt and above all sharing of knowledge.

Today we can set the pace to help generation Y meet the dream.

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