7 simple steps for sustainable energy in childcare centres

Alina Dini of Verdia explains how childcare centres can make big energy improvements, without spending big bucks.

In an article first published in Early Edition, Alina Dini explains the benefits of childcare centre sustainability and cut costs. Early Edition is the magazine of peak body, the Australian Childcare Alliance.  

We live in exciting times. The world is mobilising to tackle the great environmental problems of our age – including global warming, coral reef bleaching, and the loss of plant and animal diversity. In Queensland, the State Government has just announced pathways to enable 50 per cent of our energy to come from renewable sources by 2030.

Early childhood educators have an important role to play – both in safeguarding the future of the planet for future generations; and in educating children about living in a sustainable way.

In the words of early childhood commentator and educator, Anne Stonehouse, “One of the most significant responsibilities that [early childhood] professionals have is to support children to retain the sense of awe and wonder that they are born with, to add to that a desire to nurture and protect what is beautiful, and to encourage them to appreciate that there are many possibilities for honouring life and wonders that the world holds.”

Sustainability is a big part of the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standard (NQS). To meet Standard 3.3, childcare centres need to operate in a sustainable way, as well as increasing children’s’ understanding of their responsibility to care for the environment. But improving environmental outcomes can seem like a huge task to childcare centre operators. A typical childcare setting will use many consumables including paper towels, nappies, tissues and wet wipes; and will have air-conditioning running all day during the warmer months.

Despite the difficulties, many centres are rising to the challenge. For example, Luke Touhill’s series of videos on embedding sustainable practice show Mount Gravatt Kindergarten in Brisbane, where there are rainwater tanks for irrigating the garden, and disused materials being ‘upcycled’  – such as an old conveyor belt for a slide.

Another centre profiled by Touhill, C&K Redlands Community Kindergarten, has cut energy usage in half by installing solar panels. According to Centre Director, Margaret Sear, the typical household in Redlands uses 21kWh of electricity each day, while the centre (much larger than the average household) is running at 14kWh. Behavioural changes such as turning off lights have also contributed to this result.

Of course, there’s also a financial benefit to reducing energy usage. When operating costs are significantly reduced (for example, by cutting energy bills in half), the funds that are saved can be reallocated to programs and projects that enhance educational outcomes.

If your centre has implemented behavioural changes such as turning lights off; but not considered energy efficiency technology such as lighting or solar panels – you could be missing a trick. And it is much easier and more cost-effective than you’d imagine implementing these technologies.

To help you consider how your centre could approach energy sustainability, we’ve put together seven simple steps.

  1. Have a good look at your energy bill – what tariff are you on? With increased competition amongst retailers, it pays to negotiate a better rate. Call your energy retailer and see what they can do for you.
  2. Lighting typically comprises 40 per cent of your energy costs. You can reduce this by switching to more energy efficient lighting such as LED or CFL bulbs. While there’s a cost to upgrading, LEDs can pay for themselves in less than five years.
  3. Another way to save on your electricity bills is to generate your own energy on site. Daycare centres can benefit from solar because they typically use the most energy during the day, which is when solar systems are generating energy from the sun.
  4. If you are considering installing solar panels, make sure you get a solar system that is the right size for your energy usage needs. Many solar providers will help you estimate what size system you will need at no cost to you.
  5. Struggling to pay upfront? Thanks to the government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation, many banks are able to provide finance for energy systems at lower rates than ever; and with no upfront cash required. Typically the savings you make on your energy bills cover the finance repayments and still allow for a saving on your monthly bill. So your operating costs go down straight away.
  6. Unfortunately the quality of solar and energy efficient solutions can vary dramatically between suppliers, and it’s difficult to know which solution is right for you. Don’t go with the first equipment provider that approaches you – consult a trusted advisor to get a recommendation.
  7. As well as saving money and the environment, installing a solar and energy efficient solution at your centre can provide a real-world learning opportunity. Think about how you can engage children and the community to learn about the renewable energy system that powers your centre.

To learn more about what you can do to take control of your energy costs, visit energymadeeasy.gov.au or verdia.com.au.

Alina Dini

About the author

Alina Dini is Associate Director of Project Advisory at independent energy expert firm, Verdia. Alina works with clients to improve their sustainability and their bottom line. Alina’s international energy sector experience includes driving growth at Tesla; while on the academic side, she co-authored Australia’s first electric vehicle policy and researched market barriers for clean technology for her PhD.

View the published article in Early Edition.