Discover how one Sussex school is making a big green impact

To celebrate upcoming World Earth Day, we caught up with Jane Backeberg, co-lead of the Eco Ambassadors initiative at Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove to discover why she and three of the schools’ first Eco Ambassadors (Alex, Faustino and Rafi) are passionate about the eco work they do…

This sounds like such a positive initiative Jane. Why was the school so keen to set it up?

We know how passionate many young people are about caring for the planet and finding more sustainable ways to live. But we also know that the issue of climate change can feel overwhelming. We wanted to give young people in our school the chance to take positive, decisive action. We also wanted them to be able to lead by example and to see the powerful multiplier effect this can have.

So, Alex, Faustino and Rafi, what inspired you to become three of the school’s first 14 Eco Ambassadors?

Alex: I’ve loved David Attenborough since I was young. He has inspired me to want to protect our planet and to eventually become an ecologist. While I’m still at school, this feels like a great way to make a positive difference.

Faustino: I want to make a real impact, but I know we can’t act alone. I enjoy working as a team at Eco Ambassadors and seeing the big changes we can make happen when we act together.

Rafi: I’m worried that by 2050 we’ll be living in a wasteland. More than anything I want to see society become plastic free because there is no planet B if we ruin this one.

What have you been most impressed with during this first year of the Eco Ambassadors initiative Jane?

What has blown me away is our Ambassadors’ commitment to the cause. In the early days a few of them put up with derogatory comments when they were litter picking during lunchtime breaks, but they’ve kept their heads up because they believe so deeply in what they’re doing and that has helped change opinions across the school.

It’s very noticeable how much more aware and committed the whole student body is – most of our students now make a concerted effort to use recycling bins and I believe that’s in large part due to them seeing the commitment and belief of our Eco Ambassadors.

What is your next big event?

On Saturday 25th March we'll be running an event with Freegle Brighton at the school. We're asking students, teachers and their families to bring in things they no longer want or need and creating a giant swap shop. The idea is that people donate what they no longer use and they can in turn search amongst donated items for things they might actually need. We’re hoping to help people realise that none of us have to buy and consume as much as we do. We can share and swap items instead and save precious resources. There's a real buzz around the event already, so we'd love it to become a regular in the calendar. 

What initiatives have the Eco Ambassadors got planned for the future?

Rafi: We have big plans for a new Eco Refill Shop. Students and their families will be able to bring in their own soap dispensers and top them up with cruelty free, sustainable shampoos and shower gels. It’s going to really help people cut back on plastic use and we’re selling products at cost price, so everyone will be able to make a positive difference and save money!

Alex: We’re also collaborating with BHASVIC and with Friends of the Field, to make our shared playing fields more environmentally friendly. The Eco Ambassadors are helping plant more hedging around the field and creating a rewilded border and wildflower meadow to encourage biodiversity. In 30 years time when I visit the school I'm hoping the hedges and meadow will still be there and home to plenty of wildlife. That’s when I’ll properly realise the difference we’ve made.

What has been your proudest moment since becoming an Eco Ambassador?

Faustino: The Eco Ambassadors recommended that our schools’ drink dispenser should be replaced with a machine that dispenses drinks straight into people’s reusable bottles instead of dispensing plastic bottles. We had to meet with the school’s Business Manager to put forward our case which was nerve-racking but it’s looking like it will go ahead. It makes me so proud to think of all the plastic waste we’ll save because of that meeting.

Jane, when you look at the work the Eco Ambassdors are doing what makes you most proud?

I love the fact that together, they are creating a little model for how the entire country could be run. They’re leading by example and showing that small changes can have a big impact and that it really does matter enough to give your energy, thought and time to. 

If you’d like to get in touch with our team to discover how we can support you with any innovative progression initiatives you’re running in your school, contact our Schools’ Liaison Programme Manager Fay Lofty. We’d love to hear from you.