Institutions as eco-systems

Five school campuses explore ways to reduce their environmental footprint.

Institutional infrastructure consumes vast amounts of resources and in turn produce considerable amounts of waste. In isolation, an individual school, hospital or aged-care facility is often limited in their capacity to reduce their environmental footprint. But by grouping institutions, it can be possible to look for ways to pool resource management and reduce the environmental impact of institutional sites. Five schools campuses in Brussels decided to look for a way to reduce their environmental impact, while also nurturing a grass-roots movement to share resources and knowledge between students and staff.

Brussels’ French language community, the COCOF, is responsible for nine schools, spread out across five campuses and hosting some 7000 elementary, high school and technical training students. The education curricula is extremely diverse, ranging from primary school to professional education such as baking and agriculture.

 

We were commissioned to research and design a visionary masterplan to outline a more sustainable direction for the COCOF’s campuses that involved teachers, students and ground staff. The concept of ‘ecological transition’ was recently integrated into the COCOF with a small transition team set up to facilitate workshops and events. This masterplan would help the team to take a wholistic view of a transition and allow them to prioritise actions.

Case study

Project: Mission Janus

Client: Commission communautaire française (COCOF)

Year: 2019

Partners: Centre d’Ecologie Urbain de Bruxelles

Location: Brussels

 

Team: Adrian HillHanne Van Reusel

Sector: Production, vision, public space and community

Services: Systemic & service designgovernance modelsfacilitation of events and meetingsuser research & engagement, strategic communication

Learning the ropes

The project was driven by senior staff within the education campuses, including the general director, which helped to put the project high on the agenda. The first step involved extensive research to understand how the campuses operated according to three variables: teaching, maintenance and student culture.

 

What we found was that each campus site operated as an island, it had a very different education curriculum, approach to maintenance and student body. For example, one campus had no problems with having vending machines on site and didn’t separate waste, while another banned the sale of junk food and had a range of separated waste bins. We found a reluctance from the maintenance staff to go beyond their standard scope of work. We also found tensions existed between the teaching and maintenance staff, which we found came down to poor communication and a lack of shared vision. We also found that many of the teach staff were interested in including environment into their curriculum but didn’t quite know where to start.

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Schools as an eco-system

The five campuses were very different in form and function. All shared some key features, such as having a school canteen and having specific waste flows, such as organic waste. Some schools were located in the city centre and had very limited space while other campus sites had abundant space and were located on the periphery of the city. This allowed us to look at ways the schools could share both resources and adapt the education programme. For example, one campus contained a vast food production garden while another had a cooking school. These links were obvious but the bigger questions was about coordinating when there was a supply or demand of one resource or another and what facilities could be integrated into teaching.

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From ideas to action

Within a process of nine months, we set up concrete actions, leveraged existing initiatives and proposed a scenario for the ecological and social transition on the middle and long term. There was great ambition, which could have been considered overwhelming. The project resulted in setting concrete goals to help the staff focus and prioritise.

 

As a closing reflection, the masterplan would have been easily overlooked if it were not for two key variables. The school benefited from having an aligned senior management team, which was overseen by the general director and helped to drive the overall strategic vision. Furthermore, the transition team meant that operational work could be carried out once the masterplan process was completed.

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