Camphill School Aberdeen urges Scottish businesses to step up on sustainability

Supporting sustainability. Camphill School Aberdeen has been committed to circular economy ideals for 80 years

AS leaders of the world prepare to descend on the city of Glasgow for COP26, calls for action on climate change have never been louder.

Among those demanding greater commitment from the Scottish Government to protect the planet, are thousands of school children, who recently marched together in locations across the country as part of a global climate protest.

And today one Aberdeen school which has been at the forefront of sustainable practices for more than 80 years, is urging other organisations to follow in its green footsteps and help Scotland reach its environmental goals.

Set in the west of the city, Camphill School Aberdeen has always been ahead of its time. Opening in 1940, it was the first school in the UK to offer education to youngsters with learning disabilities and additional support needs so it’s hardly surprising that the charity, founded by Dr Karl Konig and a group of Austrian refugees, has stayed one step ahead when it comes to its approach to sustainability.

Placing ecology and care for the environment at the heart of the community from the very beginning, Camphill School Aberdeen has become one of the greenest organisations in this corner of Scotland – and while it has taken great strides in operating in a more sustainable way, its eco-journey continues to evolve every year.

Nico Nino Ramirez, Sustainability Lead says, “Our journey to sustainability has been going on now for eight decades and we still have work to do here. But organisations can start on their own green path at any time, it’s never too late to make positive changes. And what better time to begin than in the spotlight of the UN climate change conference.

“We are calling on organisations in the north-east of Scotland to join together now to help each other achieve their sustainable goals. We are always on the lookout for partners who we can work alongside on new initiatives to improve our eco credentials – and encourage everyone to reach out within their community or network.” 

Camphill School Aberdeen currently delivers residential and day services to more than 90 children and young people with complex additional support needs in a safe and inclusive environment that acknowledges the value of circular and sustainable economies. In recognition of its efforts, it was awarded eco school once again this year, for the tenth year in a row and became an Ambassador for the Circular Economy in the north-east, a scheme led by the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce to encourage organisations to deliver projects that tackle global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste and pollution.

With the support of the whole community, it runs a sustainable farm on its 50-hectare estate which uses organic and biodynamic practices. Not only does the farm produce a range of foods for residents, it gives its excess to local food larders. The extensive grounds also produce seasonal fruit and vegetables in abundance while helping develop the skills and confidence of the young people who work on it.

Nico continues, “We have a few hundred mouths to feed every day on our Aberdeen campuses and if we were buying all our food from a supermarket, we’d have a vast amount of packaging left over. By growing our own produce, we’ve not only significantly reduced our packaging but also cut our food mileage. We’ve been so successful producing our own foods on the organic farm that we now sell surplus in our own campus refillery and zero waste shop FRUVER.

“When we first started FRUVER we worked with wholesalers and made-up orders to be delivered but it was difficult to manage the orders without waste so we teamed up with other organisations in greater need and donated surplus food and produce from our garden to them.”

Food deliveries are carried out by the young residents working in the store with the help of e-cargo bikes and electric sack trolleys – significantly reducing the annual carbon emissions on campus. The school recently purchased an electric car which has reduced emissions by 70% compared to the previous petrol version and reduced running costs by 70%. There are also plans to invest in an electric van to further reduce its carbon footprint.

When it comes to waste management, Camphill School Aberdeen has hosted a collection point for Terracycle, allowing the local community to access product specific recycling schemes. Over the past two years this has amounted to approximately two tonnes of crisp packets, biscuit wrappers and oral hygiene products.

“Our whole community plays a meaningful role in helping care for the environment,” adds Nico. “Our walled garden where we have a hot composting initiative offers a project to many of our residents, helping them understand how we can be smarter with the waste we create. And as part of our Learning for Life Day Services, we deliver a range of craft workshops which upcycle, repurpose, or create new items out of recycled materials.

“For the last few years, we’ve been running an onsite bike repair workshop where residents repair old bikes which are then sent to Peterhead charity Stella’s Voice and shipped off to orphans they work with in Moldova. Joining forces with a local charity on an initiative like this is fantastic – not only are we doing our bit for the environment, we’re also giving a life-changing gift to less fortunate young people.” 

Camphill School Aberdeen has tackled sustainability with careful planning and taken time to introduce new measures to their close-knit community – but their eco journey is far from over.

Nico continues: “We are always looking ahead to the next green project and have lots of exciting initiatives on the horizon. One of the emerging initiatives at our Sustainability Action Group is delivering a circular scheme of electrical appliances and furnishings fixed and sold by Stella’s Voice. We will pass onto them broken items from our residential units for them to repair and keep them in circular motion at our premises, maximising the time they will be in use as much as possible. We’ll also be continuing to develop a partnership with Cults Academy, whose young people are helping us to further develop our social Enterprise Model through our pilot store at FRUVER.”

Elsewhere, the school is even making the most of the animals on the estate, having largely replaced their noisy diesel lawnmowers with sheep and horses wherever possible, using Alpaca wool in the craft workshops for felting and using Alpaca poo as fertiliser!

“There are so many ways that organisations can become more sustainable but the best advice I can give others is to start their journey slowly. You need to be in this for the long haul so begin by getting to know what local partnerships you can develop which will support you in reaching your green goals. If we all helped each other, we could achieve so much more – and being part of a community like Camphill has meant we’ve become pretty good at collaborating to get the job done. Each of us has a meaningful part to play to protect our planet and create a more resilient future for us all. So, let’s get started,” says Nico.

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