Usually when I have a new project on I start with the “Why” - why am I doing what I'm doing - having listened to the marvellous TED talks by Simon Sinek. But today I'm starting with “who”, having just read Dominic Monkhouse’s blog that explains why he thinks starting with Sinek's principle of starting with the "why" is fundamentally wrong! One of things that caught my eye was that Monkhouse believes that we are trying to “create a tribe that love what we do and feel like they belong”. And surely that is what we are trying to do in our homes and nurseries. Sustainability has to feel right to our customers and of course to ourselves, but the subject is complex and enormous, so how might starting with “who” help?
One idea is to think about something you're passionate about and consider how to attract others to join you. For example, you could be passionate about caring for your outside space, maybe growing vegetables and flowers, or providing a lovely home for bugs or your pets, whether they are dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, fish or snails. Maybe you’re interested in being the best you can be physically so are knowledgeable about food and exercise. Maybe you like being on the beach, by the river or in the water and don’t like seeing plastic rubbish everywhere. Whatever it is, why not make more of that, researching how to follow that passion as sustainably as possible, and attracting families with the same interests to your provision?
Where would you find those families? Probably in the same sort of places that you hang out! That might be online in social media interest groups, or in parks, gyms, bulk food shops, studios, pet shops, car showrooms, on the beach etc. Think about posting or advertise in those places, therefore attracting customers that appreciate you for who you are, and customers who would feel very comfortable and at home with you. Wouldn’t that be great?
We have a climate emergency on right now, we are producing far too much carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and other “greenhouse” gases. So what can we as the adults in early years environments do to help? The main culprits for greenhouse gas production in this country are gas, electricity, petrol, diesel and meat, especially beef. You can save money and be more sustainable at the same time by reducing your consumption of these five things, and I expect you already know how, just need the motivation to do it and maybe a few tips? Let’s start with just energy, and perhaps we can study the rest in further articles.
Start by working out your energy use, possibly spend in £s per month or you could do it in “therms or units” - your utility bill will often show the exact energy you've used - and try to reduce it by 20%. Put this up on a noticeboard and explain this to your families and colleagues in terms of saving the planet. This will help you all engage and help you focus on it, and maybe they will do it in their homes as well.
So for example, if you decide you would like to cut your electricity bill, find out what it is now, and then check your timers and your temperature settings. Make a real effort to turn lights and heating off when you don’t need them, you might want to invest in movement or light sensors if you find that’s impossible in particular rooms. Immersion heaters are notorious for being left on when they aren’t needed so if you have one, make sure it has a timer on it, and that it works. If you are closed over the weekends you need a seven day timer to do this, as a 24 hour clock one won’t enable you to turn off, ideally an hour or so before you finish on Friday and turn on again an hour or so before you start on Monday. Of course the timings will depend on how long it takes for your building to cool down and warm up. The more insulated it is the earlier you can turn it off at the end of the day. Did you know, though, that insulation deteriorates over time, so if your insulation is more than 10 years old you might want to have it checked, and re-install (you might even be able to get a grant).
If you want to leave your outside doors open in the winter to allow the children to access outside freely then you are almost certainly heating your garden, and next door's garden, as well as your inside space. You can keep your heat in and save money with PVC strip curtains (which can also be unhooked in the evening when you shut the door if you don’t like the look of them).
If you haven’t already changed your light bulbs to the modern LEDs (so much better than the old energy saving bulbs that took forever to get bright) then you would really benefit from doing this because the investment in the bulbs will be repaid within a year with the savings on the electricity bill. The prices have dropped astonishingly, you can buy six for around £12.99, they last much longer, and there are some very attractive shades and decorative lighting also available to suit all tastes, so a quite different situation from just a few years ago.
There are some amazing smart heating controllers that you can use from your mobile phone that will enable you to turn the heating on and off remotely when you want to. Perfect if you extend your trip to the park, or come back early, you can pop the heating on and off accordingly. They have the potential to save you money, as well as helping you and your children do your bit to save the planet.
Nest heating system (left) and Geo Minim Energy Montior, self installed (right)
Another really interesting thing to do with the children is to buy a home energy monitor. For less than £100 you can look at displays of energy consumption, actual power, CO2 emission or room temperature – and watch the meter go red when you put a tumble drier or kettle on! This is great for science, technology, engineering and maths, (STEM), as well as knowledge and understanding of the world.
So who are you and what are you interested in? My book on starting an eco-sustainable nursery, much of which equally applies to running an early years setting from home, will give you lots of ideas (Routledge, due out Spring 2020). Becoming more sustainable and reducing your carbon footprint does mean some change effort, but it can save you money, and can help you attract the kind of families you would be happy to have in your establishment. Publishing your targets, and celebrating your improvements will be great for your own morale and help your families be proud of you, and where their children learn and play during the day. Spread the word!