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Climate and environment

10 things that Educational Psychology services could do to reduce their carbon footprint

It's the end of COP26 and it seems that the language within draft agreements has been watered down leading to disbelief and anger for many.

16 November 2021

By Daniel O'Hare

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the changes that EPs and EP services could actually make, to reduce the carbon footprint of the entire profession.

This conversation is important because EPs might be considered 'high carbon' professionals. It's a job that invariably and frequently relies on transport via private car.

Not only do EPs need to use their cars to commute, but there is also often the need to travel between schools, offices and meeting places within the same day.

I hope some of these ideas spark conversation, discussion and debate, and I would love to hear what aspiring, trainee, main-grade and Senior/Principal EPs think.

1. Measure EP service carbon emissions

The first step would be for EP services to actively engage with measuring their carbon footprints. Services could look to define and measure their direct and indirect carbon footprints e.g.

  • Commuting

  • Travel within the work day

  • Office heating and lighting

  • IT demands

  • Paper consumption

Being able to have a clear understanding of what you're dealing with in terms of a service's existing carbon footprint makes it easier to identify places to start, and targets to work towards.

2. Increase the number of EPs working 'on patch'

A greater proportion of EPs living and working in the same area would likely reduce the need to commute and travel long distances, thereby reducing the overall service carbon footprint.

Could a service set a minimum target for the percentage of employees working and living 'on patch'?

How could services and local authorities encourage people to relocate, if necessary?

3. Explicitly organise EP school patches to minimise travel

This is likely something that many EP services do already to some extent i.e. assign link schools to EPs taking in to account their home address, to minimise commute time.

Is the focus of this explicitly about climate impacts, or is it about 'productive workers'?

4. Make off-peak travel the organisational norm

This point is more about culture and explicit recognition from the wider organisation. EP services could ensure that all stakeholders they work with recognise the high-travel nature of the job and the service’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions.

Part of this puzzle might be reinforcing and establishing off-peak travel as the norm, to avoid lengthy queues and traffic, thereby making any necessary private travel as efficient as possible.

Engaging with stakeholders to develop understanding about decisions like this would be essential.

5. Offer free bicycles to all city, town and small local geography EPs who can and would want to travel this way

I'm not talking about 'cycle to work' schemes here, where employees have to consider the impact of the scheme on their take home monthly pay... I'm mean actually free, no hidden Terms and Conditions.

I know several city-based EPs who already cycle within the working day.

To what extent would this behaviour be further increased if EPs were offered free, high quality bicycles?

6. Set high targets for the proportion of journeys undertaken by public transport in city, town and small local geography services, and incentivise this.

This is likely easier in city centre locations, and increasingly difficult the more rural or large a service area becomes.

Can free public transport be offered?

How can workloads be contextualised to take in to account an increase in travel time?

7. Scale up remote working

The Covid pandemic has already demonstrated that many EP services are able to carry out a large range of activities, remotely. Beyond this, the idea of scaling up remote working might have a few strands:

  • Proper investment in proper IT
    Redundancy seems to be built into LA IT provision. In my own experience I cycled through four or five cheap, poor-quality laptops as a Local Authority employee. Sustainable investment in necessary IT equipment would mean ‘buying for the future’.

  • A culture shift.
    Services might again explicitly focus on how remote working supports them to minimise their carbon footprint. This would also require services to communicate effectively to clients the usefulness and potential benefits of remote working, and the recognition that there are still options for face to face working.

  • A strong commitment to training.
    This would mean EP services investing in IT training for all team members (administrators and psychologists) so that web-based solutions are fully understood and their potential realised.

  • Setting minimum targets
    This would be highly associated with the need for a culture shift around the potential for remote working, where EP services would establish a minimum target/expectation for work to be conducted remotely.

8. Let local authority EPs use closer council buildings, even if that LA isn't their employer

Inevitably some EPs will not live in the same local area that they work. This was the case for me for 8 years. I worked in Gloucestershire and lived in Bristol. Bristol has a number of council buildings relatively close to my home (i.e. within three miles), but at any time, if I wanted to 'use the office', I had to travel 35 miles each way to do so.

Given technological and networking advances I can think of very few reasons for this. EP services could spearhead new connections and agreements with other local services which allow for 'shared workspace agreements'. This would reduce carbon footprints and undoubtedly build links between difference services.

9. Increase the use of local community buildings, locations and resources

From my own experience I know there have been times where parents/carers have travelled to the school their young person attends, by car, despite them living closer to various community resources e.g. libraries, leisure centres, other council buildings.

There is of course great benefit to meeting parents within school settings, but this might not be necessary all the time.

Could EPs make better use of resources closer to people's homes, within the local community, with an explicit recognition that this is connected to encouraging clients to 'leave the car at home'?

10. Increase the amount of work undertaken in nature-based settings

Whether urban or rural, EP services could make more use of local natural resources. Parks, fields, woodlands, coastal areas, hills. Exposure to the natural world increases perceived value of the natural world.

Working in these areas can often change the dynamic of the work and conversation too. From my own experience during various Covid restrictions, teachers, children and parents/carers frequently remarked how being outside in the field, or the forest school really changed the tone of the conversation.

We often ended up walking and talking together, side my side (as opposed to inside at a table) and my reflections here centre on how collaborative these conversations felt. We were quite literally alongside each other.

Safeguarding and risk assessment activities would need to be taken in to account.

These ideas are ‘a starting point’ for a conversation and discussion.

I wonder which suggestions might be meaningfully and easily put into action, so that EP services can positively contribute to reducing carbon emissions.

EPs have a wide range of skills to offer more broadly regarding climate breakdown i.e. organisational, therapeutic and psychological skills, however it is essential that we also work to reduce our carbon footprint as a profession, and to recognise that the delivery of professional educational psychology is likely to need to change and adapt in the face of our climate and environmental crisis.

About the author

Dr Dan O'Hare is a chartered Educational Psychologist, working for a Local Authority and as a Teaching Fellow at the University of Bristol. Dan is currently a committee member of the Division of Educational and Child Psychology. 

His interests include promoting the psychological wellbeing of children, school exclusions, evidence-based practice and how to most effectively communicate psychology to the public.

Dan has founded is external) an online space for educational psychologists to enthuse, create and collaborate.

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