New Zealand schools will soon be "carbon-neutral" if the teachers have their way.
Primary and early childhood teachers, meeting at the annual conference of the NZ Educational Institute in Rotorua, have resolved to take the lead in making all schools carbon-neutral - meaning both reducing carbon emissions and planting trees to offset remaining emissions.
Liam Rutherford of Ross Intermediate in Palmerston North, who leads the institute's climate-change working group, said teachers had to take a lead on the issue because it affected the children in their classrooms.
"For a long time, issues concerned with climate change were seen as fringe in the union movement," he said.
"However obvious examples as to the effects of climate change are pushing us to do more. The push for the union movement has come from the loss of jobs due to higher global temperatures and rising sea levels, such as the closing down of coal mines as renewable energy options have become economic."
Labour and the Greens both pledged in the recent election campaign to make New Zealand "carbon-neutral" by 2050. National promised to cut carbon emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels, or 11 per cent below 1990 levels, by 2030.
Rutherford said the institute had not set a deadline for making schools carbon-neutral, but many schools were already involved in local action such as planting trees.
"The low-hanging fruit is planting trees to offset emissions," he said.
"For example, my school is partnering with the Horizons Regional Council to donate trees to farmers which the schools are raising themselves to plant on river banks as natural filtration systems."
Institute national secretary Paul Goulter said the institute was working with Air New Zealand to pay for "air miles" for teachers flying on institute business.
"That involves Air NZ planting trees and we pay for that," he said.
But Rutherford said the biggest gains for schools would come from making school buildings more energy efficient. Ross Intermediate is exploring installing solar panels to stop carbon emissions from heating and electricity.
"We are hoping to work with the Ministry [of Education] to develop a set of minimum requirements around new and retrofit buildings," he said.
Goulter said the Wellington-based Sustainability Trust had audited the union's waste policies and its offices had now been fitted with recycling bins.
The trust will also do an energy audit of the institute's head office in Education House in Wellington, which the conference has voted to sell.