It’s not easy being Green, well Brentwood reckons it is
If you want to guarantee the world’s future, best hand that responsibility over to our youth.
And, with Glen Waverley’s Brentwood Secondary College, that future is in very safe hands.
Brentwood is a Year 7-12 co-educational, single-campus school and, since opening in 1969, it has grown to an enrolment of 1625 students.
Over the past few years, inspired by a dedicated group of students, staff and volunteers – the Brentwood Green Team - the school has focused on improving infrastructure and reducing its production of waste as well as its usage of electricity and water. It was rated a five-star ResourceSmart School (RSS) in 2021, an honour that is bestowed only on a very select group of high achievers.
“There’s a few 5-star RSS primary schools but only one metro secondary and one regional secondary school in Victoria,” Brentwood Secondary College Pathways Manager and Sustainability Co-ordinator Venkata Kalva said. "Even though we aimed for the stars, our focus has always been the Earth!"
And you don’t get to rest on your laurels. Constant auditing of the school’s performance keeps the Green Team at the very top of its game.
The Brentwood Green Team is made up of 30 students from Years 7 to 12, who meet every week to discuss sustainability issues that concern the school, develop new projects and report progress on current projects that are aligned with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a focus on protecting our environment to ensure a sustainable future.
All this is done with tremendous commitment by a team that genuinely believes it can change the world for the better.
“It’s a full-on effort from everyone,” Venkata said. “The new students that come into (the school) get inspired by the others.”
Recently, at the City of Monash 2022 Sir John Monash Awards, the Green Team received the Outstanding Leadership award to go with a win in the Sustainability Leadership category. It wasn’t the first time the dedicated sustainability campaigners have been recognised for their efforts.
At the Premier’s Sustainability Awards in 2021, Brentwood won the Climate Action Category while, at the ResourceSmart Schools Awards in 2022, it was shortlisted as a finalist in three categories and won them all: Student Action Team of the Year, Community Leadership School of the Year and ResourceSmart School of the Year.
“It was about 6 ½ years ago we started with 5 or 6 students and we didn’t know where to start,” Venkata said. “So we started with recycling bins in the classrooms. It didn’t take long to see the program working.
“The numbers are what makes the difference.”
And the Green Team has those numbers piling up like a well-filled recycling bin.
It has saved Brentwood more than $864,000 over the past 10 years by improving resource usage and sustainability practices at the school.
“We’re looking at those savings reaching the $1million mark next year,” Venkata said.
“Looking after your infrastructure and resource usage (is the key). It’s all about changing the little things we take for granted. To encourage staff to turn off appliances when not in use, we have signage reminding people to do the right thing and we keep reminding them.
“General waste bins going to landfill cost four times as much as one recycling bin. So, it was a straight-forward message to explain to people that recycling was important. We’ve been very fortunate that we have a school (administration) that’s allowed this to happen.”
But an ambitious campaign - the school’s Premier’s Sustainability Award-winning campaign, Towards Zer0 Bremissions – is destined to have the biggest impact on the school and the greatest potential to create long term change for the good.
The campaign has educated the community about the importance of immediate climate action, reducing the school’s emissions by 23% over the past five years. Brentwood now generates 40% of its electricity usage using renewable energy; promotes commingled recycling and composting; conducts onsite and community-based tree planting, and raises awareness of climate action by running webinars and videos. The team has even published a meat-free cookbook to promote meat-free alternatives.
The Green Team has also run creative initiatives like Project Brentwoods, where the Team planted 500 trees for the Mornington Peninsula Koala Centre in 2021.
The Bremissions initiative has set the school the ambitious target of reducing its current greenhouse gas emission of 540 tons to zero, by 2030, by switching to renewable energy (solar PV); tree planting at the college and in the community; reducing waste going to landfill; promoting recycling and composting; promoting meat-free Mondays; and joining the Take2 Pledge.
While hitting the target will be a challenge, Venkata said it was achievable.
“You must be the change you want to see in the world’ is the famous quote from Gandhi,” he said. “We tell the new students ‘if you want to see change, then you make that change happen and people will support you’.”
And the message is spreading.
“Our website has been visited by people from all over the world, from 15 different countries,” Venkata said.