Spotlight on: Sustainability

22 October 2021

This article first appeared in Queenwood News Weekly 22 October 2021.

Each October Queenwood celebrates its Foundation Day when we recognise the service of our forebears whose work laid the foundation for the thriving school we enjoy today.

Amongst those who shaped our school was former teacher, Marjorie James, who retired in 1992 after several decades at Queenwood. In 1983, she founded Queenwood’s first environment club, then known as the Gould League, through which the girls engaged in a range of activities including landscape restoration, building bird houses for native wildlife, growing vegetables, presenting educational talks and engaging in community projects, for which they won public recognition and awards. Mrs James was a wonderful role model and this club was the forerunner of Cleanwood, our current student environment club.

At first glance, it may seem surprising that students have been actively working on environmental issues for nearly 40 years but, in fact, Queenwood has a long history of engagement with important social issues – longer than most realise. (For example, few would guess that we first offered scholarships for Aboriginal students in the 1970s.)

Environmental issues loom larger than ever now and our students have many opportunities to learn about these issues, from simple ways to reduce energy use in Kindergarten to global climate or sustainable urban environments in Year 12. Just as importantly, girls have the opportunity to take action and learn how to translate ideas into action.

In the Junior School, the girls compost food scraps, tend native (stingless) bees, have a worm farm and use its products in the garden, tend the vegetable pods and learn about the ecosystem. Next year, there will also be a prefect with this portfolio. In the Senior School, the girls engage in similar activities (eg initiatives to reduce, reuse, recycle) but also grapple with complexities. For example, overenthusiastic attempts to recycle (eg paper or plastic with food stains) will backfire because the entire batch of material will then be rejected as contaminated waste. Solutions are often less simple than they appear, and good intentions have to be backed up with careful planning – an important lesson for future leaders and citizens.

Student voice is vital. For instance, the School has invested in waste-sorting bins to be installed across the campus and Year 11 girls are developing a recycling education campaign for their peers to assist with the roll out. They have worked on the design of signage and met with the CEO and State Manager of the School’s waste management contractors, with the aim of halving the proportion of our waste going to landfill. Girls have been briefed by our suppliers about how we choose sustainable paper for our publishing. This goes not just to the source of the paper but the dimensions we choose for our publications so that we can utilise off-cuts from other printing jobs that would otherwise go to waste. As part of another project, Year 11 IB girls made a booklet for Junior School students about how to recycle items for craft. The younger girls have loved this, as evidenced by their enthusiasm for a landscape mural made of bottle caps project (we can’t wait to see it exhibited!).

Next year, we expect to see an even more impressive example of student work for the environment as Mr Draper will lead an engineering project with a team of students from Years 7 – 9. They will convert a 1970s ute into an electric vehicle powered by solar panels on its roof, which will then be used by our maintenance and property team around the School.

The girls need to see, however, that the School itself is living up to its values. Like most organisations, there is much for us to do but we are proud of many initiatives which have been implemented in recent years to reduce waste and shrink our carbon footprint. These include:

  • our switch to 100% renewable energy from 1 January this year;
  • phasing out of disposable cutlery and introduction of compostable Biopak containers in the canteen;
  • a project to reduce energy consumption through the installation of LED lights over the summer, with 90% of our non-LED lights to be replaced;
  • the installation of solar panels in the Lawrance building, which can be used to power the building and heat the pool.

There is so much more to do but through these initiatives alone, we hope to achieve a reduction in CO2 emissions of 226 tonnes per annum. These and many other initiatives represent our commitment to the future – the future that belongs to the next generation.

If you would like to offer material support to these environmental initiatives, your contribution to the solar panel project would be very welcome. Philanthropic support accelerates the pace at which we can deliver projects like these, and we are very grateful to the alumnae and parents who have already contributed more than $20,000 towards the $100,000 cost of installing the panels. With your help we aim to commence work in December, so that we can start saving >110 tonnes of CO2 as soon as possible. Donations can be made online (selecting ‘Specialist Facilities’ and adding “solar panels” as the Donation Message), or contact the Development Director Paul Dennett for more details on + 61 466 068 327.

On a similar note, parents may recall that earlier in the year I wrote about the renewal of our strategic plan. Given that we are already conducting enrolment interviews for students who won’t graduate until 2038, our strategic horizon is naturally long. With this in mind, I am pleased to report that Queenwood recently accessed its long-term reserves to acquire the property adjacent to us at 19 Hunter Street, Mosman. This is a strategic acquisition and although we will not take possession for some years, it will in the long term allow us to expand our campus and enhance our offerings. The facilities our girls enjoy have been the work of many generations and it is pleasing to know that we continue to build for their future.

Finally, please continue to be vigilant in monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 and ensure that you do not send your daughters to school if there is any sign of illness. While we know that a case on campus is all but inevitable at some point, we hope to delay this as long as possible to prevent the campus being closed and further interruption to the girls’ schooling. We are, fortunately, in a strong position due to the high rates of vaccination in our community and if we are required to close for a time, we know we can manage the situation in partnership with you. 

In the meantime, the return to campus has injected a fresh wave of joy and optimism into life at school. I sincerely hope that the return to school and the release from lockdown is doing the same for you all.