16th December 2021

Event Paper: Environmental Sustainability in Digital Learning

On Wednesday 24th November, the Education Policy Institute hosted a virtual roundtable bringing together education leaders from across the sector, focusing on how we can improve environmental sustainability in digital learning. 

The following paper summarises the discussion that took place. You can read it here.


At COP26 in November 2021, the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi set out a vision for the education sector to build back greener from the pandemic, with a focus on empowering young people to tackle climate change and ensuring the development of the necessary skills to take this action. Key proposals included delivering climate change education through a model primary science curriculum; the development of a National Education Nature Park across schools’ grounds; the creation of a Climate Leaders Award to support young people to develop sustainability skills and the testing of new innovative Energy Pods to help schools to become net-zero.

In the same month, the Department for Education published their Sustainability & Climate Change: A draft strategy for the education & children’s services systems. The strategy set out the department’s plans for a whole-system approach to ensuring the education sector takes critical steps towards tackling climate change and follows on from the creation of a Sustainability and Climate Change Unit in Spring 2021.

The strategy outlines the aim for the United Kingdom to become the world-leading education sector in sustainability and climate change by 2030. This will be achieved through four key strategic aims:


  1. Education and skills: ensuring young people are prepared for the impacts of climate change through learning and practical experience
  2. Net zero: reducing emissions from education buildings, meeting legislative targets and providing opportunities for young people to engage with net zero plans
  3. Resilience: adapting education buildings and infrastructure to mitigate against the possible effects of climate change
  4. Environment: improving biodiversity in education settings to create a better environment for future generations


The education sector will have a crucial role to play in meeting the government’s target of reducing emissions by 78% by 2035 and reaching net zero by 2050.

In the last twenty months, the education sector has faced immense challenges. With schools experiencing several closures amid a national lockdown, the majority of learning was forced online, marking one of the biggest changes to education delivery in recent years. The response of schools to the pandemic has been remarkable and school staff must be praised for their work supporting pupils in a very challenging context.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the EPI has run a series of events exploring the lessons of the digital shift to learning, particularly considering the role of digital learning in education recovery and embedding digital learning beyond Covid-19. Our next programme of work in this area will focus on building sustainability in digital learning and in schools more widely.

In November 2021, we held a private roundtable which brought together policymakers, school leaders, academics and education unions to discuss how we can build sustainability in digital learning offers and support the sector in its aims to become net zero.

This paper provides a summary of the discussion that occurred during the event. We are grateful to all participants for their contributions.

A copy of the summary paper, Environmental Sustainability in Digital Learning, can be found here.