Bentleigh Secondary College: A 5-Star Sustainable School

Bill Thomas

Bentleigh Secondary College (BSC) is a State Government school located in Melbourne’s southeast. Sustainability has been a focus and driving force for our teaching and learning program as well as for our role in the wider community.

As part of the our ongoing commitment to sustainability, we have installed a 50,000 litre and a 125,000 litre water tank to harvest rainwater, which are both plumbed into the toilet blocks for flushing. We have has also constructed a wetland area on school grounds to capture the excess storm-water that can’t be harvested by the tanks. This excess water is treated as it travels through the wetland plants and is then channeled into a 50,000-litre underground storage tank that in turn is connected to a sub-surface irrigation system that irrigates one of our playing fields. In a typical rainfall year, the wetland area processes around 6 megalitres of water. We utilize the wetland as an outdoor classroom and it also greatly improves our site’s biodiversity and provides valuable habitat for flora and fauna.

We have planted out a single area of approximately 2500m2 in the college grounds as an Urban Forest. This too is utilized as an outdoor classroom, increases our biodiversity and reduces our carbon footprint by sequestering carbon. It is well on the way to achieving our vision of not being able to see a building in Bentleigh.

We use South East Water’s HydroShare program to monitor our water use, with data loggers attached to water meters to record usage and help identify leaks within the system. Together with tanks for toilet flushing, these initiatives have reduced our total water usage by 91%. These savings, in conjunction with our water education programs, saw us gain gold accreditation for the Victorian Government’s “Water – Learn it! Live it!” program – the first secondary school in Victoria to achieve this recognition.

We have installed a 5.25kW photovoltaic solar system to meet some of our energy requirements and reduce our greenhouse emissions. To date (24th February 201) we have generated 46,215 kWh (the energy to operate a TV for 321,194 hours) and avoided 60,542 kg of greenhouse gas emissions (the pollution an average passenger car emits over 4,873 days). A second system of approximately 15 kW was installed in late December and to date has already generated 5,850 kWh (7,664 kgs of greenhouse gas emissions) Convert this to years and you can see the substantial benefit to the college, our students and the community.

An exciting development in our renewable energy program was the installation of a state-of-the-art wind turbine to the roof of the Learning Centre. This is a new breed of turbine is very suited to urban environments and it does away with a drive shaft and gearbox. It does this by locating the magnets in the blade tips, which move through a cowling that houses the windings, effectively making the whole thing a very quiet generator. Former student Nigel Holmes made this turbine possible through the very generous donation of $11,000.00, half the cost.

We use harvested water to maintain our large harvest garden constructed from our recycled toner cartridges. This is embedded in our curriculum and produce is used in our food technology classes. We have recently installed an Aquaponics system in our Harvest Garden precinct that incorporates growing fish as part of an intensive food-growing program.

Our efforts made to reach our goal of significant water savings was recognised in November 2010. The college was named a finalist in the national Savewater! Awards and our Head of Sustainable Practice, Bill Thomas was named Savewater! Australian Achiever for 2010, an award that “recognises an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to water conservation through initiative and leadership”. In the June 2011 Queens Birthday Honours list he was also awarded the Public Service Medal for “outstanding public service and exceptional contribution as a leader in sustainability education”. This was followed by the United Nations of Australia Individual award and a Churchill Fellowship in 2012.

Further recognition was received when BSC was awarded the United Nations of Australia award for “Excellence in Sustainable Water Management” also in June 2011, successfully taking on Coca Cola South Pacific and Enviro Manufacturing. We won the regional and state 2011 Victorian Schools Garden awards.

Our Meditation and Indigenous Cultural Centre (M&ICC) is now completed and operational. This is a 100% sustainable and recyclable building located in the heart of our Moorooboon Wetland. The list of benefactors donating time, service, labour and materials at cost that enabled its construction is impressive. This building is a unique facility in Australia and a true community facility. Interest throughout its construction has been high and we had ABC Radio broadcast the 774 breakfast program from the school just after we won the International Green Award in London at the end of 2012. It is the foundation stone in our Mindfulness Meditation program and available as a unique teaching space for other domain areas. The M&ICC has received a number of architectural awards in its own right and is available to the many community groups who have supported its development.

In 2012 the college was recognized in 2 ResourceSmart Awards for Water and Biodiversity and Bill Thomas was named ResourceSmart Teacher of the Year. He also received the 2012 United Nations of Australia Individual Award for Outstanding Service to the Environment. In November 2012 at the International Green Awards held in London, Bentleigh Secondary College was named the “Most Sustainable Education Institution” globally. This was followed in 2013 with the Premier’s Sustainability Award for Education.

We have a dedicated team of student sustainability leaders “The Green Machine” who lead many of our programs and take responsibility for taking the sustainability message to the wider community. At Bentleigh Secondary College we believe in walking the walk and being an example of best practice in all areas of sustainability and we are not afraid of putting our money where our mouth is!

The school awards include:

  • 2013 Winner Premier’s Sustainability Award
  • 2013 Keep Australia Beautiful Sustainable Cities Awards
  • Winner Active School Award – Moorooboon Wetland and Urban Forest Finalist Community Government Partnerships – Meditation and Indigenous Cultural Centre, A Community Government Partnership
  • Finalist Protection of the Environment – Moorooboon Wetland and Urban Forest
  • 2012 International Green Awards, Most Sustainable Educational Institution
  • 2012 ResourceSmart Biodiversity Award
  • 2012 ResourceSmart Water Award
  • 2011 Regional and State Winner Schools Garden Awards
  • 2011 5Star Sustainable Schools Initiative Accreditation
  • 2011 United Nations of Australia World Environment Day Award – Sustainable Use of Water
  • 2010 Finalist National Savewater! Educational Institution Award

Staff recognition includes:

  • 2012/13 Winston Churchill Fellowship– Bill Thomas
  • 2012 ResourceSmart Teacher of the Year– Bill Thomas
  • 2012 Finalist bankmecu Outstanding Secondary Teacher of the Year Award, DEECD Educational Excellence Awards– Bill Thomas
  • 2012 Finalist Lindsay Thompson Fellowship, DEECD Educational Excellence Awards– Bill Thomas
  • 2012 United Nations of Australia World Environment Day Individual Award for Outstanding Service to the Environment – Bill Thomas
  • 2012 The Age Magazine – Melbourne’s Top 100 most influential, provocative and creative people
  • 2011 Prime Minister’s Environmentalist of the Year – Bill Thomas
  • 2011 Queens Birthday Honours List – Public Service Medal – Bill Thomas
  • 2010 National Savewater! Australian Achiever Individual Award – Bill Thomas

February 24th, 2014

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