Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future have done more to change our perspective on the environment than all the world’s politicians put together in what is being dubbed by the media as “the Greta Thunberg effect”.

Guest of honour at high-profile global events, the 16-year-old powerhouse had the red carpet treatment at Madrid’s 2-13 December COP25 – the UN’s 25th Conference of Parties – when she eventually turned up in the Spanish capital mid-way through the talks, having hitched a lift across the Atlantic after the venue shifted from Chile to Madrid.

Greta has become an icon on the world stage; a phenomenon whose speeches regularly move her audience to tears. At the COBIS Leadership Weekend hosted by King’s Group, she was flagged up as an example of an impassioned speaker with the charisma to trigger a sea change of opinion. Now children and teenagers everywhere are picking up the gauntlet and doing their bit for the planet while ticking off their elders whose ingrained habits are proving tortuously hard to dismantle.

The key, of course, to orchestrating a significant U-turn in society’s lifestyle is to move in before the bad habits are formed – no easy feat given the fact that our entire Western economy runs on excessive consumption with advertising constantly urging us to consume more.

As the new President of the EU Commission, German politician Ursula von der Leyen, told the COP25 summit on the day of its inauguration, the European Green Deal for climate neutrality involves a transition “that needs a generational change.”

Eco-awareness has to start young – preferably both at home and in the classroom. To this end, there are a myriad of initiatives around the world being launched by educators to help us to moderate our consumer habits. Christmas may be around the corner, but nowadays every day is Christmas and while that might sound like cause for celebration, it clearly is not.

Consequently, all King’s College schools have been taking action this month, providing students, parents and staff with helpful online tips for how to be sustainable during the Christmas season in a bid to establish new habits that will continue for the rest of the academic year and beyond.

Geography teacher Natalie Sawyers

Geography teacher Natalie Sawyers

King’s Infant School Elche have been making their Christmas decorations out of recyclable materials while King’s College Alicante have been asking students not to buy new Christmas jumpers, but instead add new designs to the jumpers they already have. Though small, these kinds of changes can set the ball rolling for a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

Educate Global is one such initiative, teaming with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to develop and deliver an innovative Climate Change Education programme for primary and secondary schools. The goal is to have one UN credited Climate Change teacher in every one of the world’s classrooms and, ahead of the pack, King’s College Panama already has Geography teacher Natalie Sawyers, who is one of only four UN Climate Change teachers in Central and South America.

“We have had a big push on Eco initiatives this year here in Panama,” says the school’s Head of Administration, Alison Donnelly. “We are trying hard to be more environmentally aware and we know that we need to change our working practices to ensure that we are taking proactive steps to reduce our environmental impact immediately.”

Both King’s College Panama and King’s College Madrid have signed up to become an Eco School, a programme run by the Foundation of Environmental Education in Copenhagen. It is, in effect, another bid to heighten awareness and try to reverse a global warming trend that a UN report released at the COP25 summit confirmed continues unabated despite all the talk of cutting emissions. According to the study, each year, these emissions have been rising by 1.5%, with only a brief respite between 2014 and 2016 while another study released towards the end of the summit has revealed that the Greenland ice sheet is melting seven times faster than it was in 1992.

Education is vital to changing our mind-sets. How many of us are aware that the fashion industry is the world’s second biggest polluter? Or that according to the Greenpeace Unearthed investigation, much of our waste which is not biodegradable, far from being recycled, is currently being burned or languishing in a landfill on the other side of the world since the waste we produce – between 1 kg and 2kg a day per person – is too copious to be dealt with domestically.

Excessive consumption at Christmas is one of the areas the Eco Club at King’s Infant School Chamartin is tackling via its Parenting School with a talk on consumerism to help parents be more thoughtful about presents in the run up to Christmas. No easy task when a bulging stocking is what has rocked your children’s Christmas in the past.

For too long, there has been a stigma attached to wearing or playing with hand-me-downs. Fortunately, such snobbery is becoming out-dated – at least among the eco savvy at in Chamartin where a books-and-games library has been set up by the Eco Club to combat the throw-away culture. Recycling these “pre-loved” products, many of which have plastic elements, at least delays their long journey from the trash can to the dump and almost inevitably to our oceans.

The concept of plastic and other debris clogging our seas is often easier for us to relate to than the invisible CO2 emissions. Plastic bags billow in the water like jellyfish while plastic bottles break up into tiny pieces along the shore, not only compromising the beauty of our coastlines but also devastating marine life.

Both King’s College Alicante and King’s College Murcia are actively involved in dealing with the issue. Passionate about environmental issues, Geography teacher at King’s College Alicante, Sharmila Ghandi explains that the school has started to work with Secondary students on beach clean ups as well as collaborating with the Ocean Race Project to help heighten awareness about the amount of plastic in the sea. “They now have the 5 R’s mantra – Refuse, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” says Sharmila.

King’s College Panama is also getting involved in beach clean ups in conjunction with a local charity. Likewise, King’s College Murcia, which has also been doing climate change projects, according to Geography teacher Joanna Browne, in which students have been measuring the weather as well as producing posters to encourage others to recycle and save energy.

Transport is, of course, a key issue when it comes to saving energy and cutting emissions. Cycle lanes are becoming more common and taking trains and buses to school and work is starting to be seen as a badge of progressive thinking.


At King’s College Madrid, Head of the Environment Committee Ana Pérez explains that the students have made a video to try to encourage parents to car pool. Meanwhile, in Germany, Kirsty Sharp, Headteacher at King’s College Frankfurt says that, as well as stringent recycling, many of their pupils pedal to school and leave their bikes in the school’s bike park.

Of course, it’s not always possible to take the zero-emissions route, as Greta Thunberg found out when she had to take the partially diesel-fuelled night train from Lisbon to Madrid that allowed her to arrive in time to lead the Fridays for Future mass demonstration on December 6.

Having been awakened by Greta’s straight talking to the emergency on our doorsteps, King’s College schools are beginning to put climate change firmly on the academic agenda so that the rest of the curriculum will be worth something 50 years down the line.

For more information, download the Eco-tips made by our students here 


Heather Galloway

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