Eco-Schools Programme Celebrates 30 Years In Northern Ireland

The Eco-Schools programme, a renowned global initiative led by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that aims to create environmental awareness and action, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in Northern Ireland. The milestone is being marked by a celebration event taking place today and tomorrow at Stranmillis University College with over 500 people attending including teachers and pupils. Established in 1994 to involve young people in finding solutions to environmental and sustainable development challenges, the programme is operated locally by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and supported by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), local authorities and a range of other partners. 

Northern Ireland’s record of success in the programme over the last three decades is significant. The Green Flag, an international accreditation for the environmental education and performance of schools, has been awarded to 2253 schools across the region to date. Northern Ireland was also the first in the world to award a Green Flag to one of its schools – Downpatrick Nursery in 1994. The 1000th Green Flag was awarded to Walker Memorial Primary School in Dungannon in 2017.

Over the course of the two-day event, supported by RiverRidge and Translink, a variety of awards will be presented to schools, recognising their outstanding achievements in environmental stewardship and sustainable practices. 

The Green Flag Awards will reaccredit successful schools, whilst the Wheelie Big Challenge Awards funded by Antrim and Newtownabbey Council, Belfast City Council, Mid and East Antrim Council, Lisburn and Castlereagh Council and Natural World Products will be given to schools with strong waste management initiatives. 

The Eco-School of the year Award is sponsored by Nexus, whilst the Eco-Teacher of the Year and the Eco-Pupil of the Year is sponsored by Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE). Pupils who participated in the international Young Reporters from the Environment (YRE) programme will also be acknowledged.

Carol Forster, Head of Business Development at Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful said, “Our journey over the past 30 years has been remarkable. I commend our schools across Northern Ireland for their steadfast commitment in inspiring young people to care for the world around them. We’ve seen countless young people grow into environmentally conscious citizens, equipped with the knowledge and passion to make a difference. 

“The Eco-Schools programme aligns with our wider organisational vision. We believe that through education, engagement and empowerment, we can change behaviours so that everyone can enjoy a beautiful, resilient, and healthy environment.  

“This event not only serves as a platform to celebrate our continued achievements, but also as an urgent reminder on how important it is to continue to inspire and invest in our youth to ensure that future generations actively participate in environmental stewardship. We’re grateful to all our partners for their continued support and strongly encourage more schools to join the programme and give every child in Northern Ireland the opportunity to get involved.”

A key highlight of the anniversary event will be the launch of Generation Nature – a new outdoor learning demonstration site at Stranmillis University College which will provide trainee teachers with the hands-on experience and practical skills essential for continuing the success of the Eco-Schools programme. The project has been developed in partnership with the college and is supported by Energia’s Greener Possibilities Fund.

Dr David McKee at Stranmillis University College said, “It’s essential we continue to integrate environmental education into teacher training in Northern Ireland, to ensure that new teachers are equipped with the tools and the knowledge needed to strengthen our collective performance in Eco-Schools. Generation Nature will play an essential role in this endeavour – it’s a wonderful addition to the teacher training experience.”

Leo McKillion of RiverRidge, Northern Ireland’s leading waste and resource management company, said, “We are delighted to be involved in this event to celebrate the success of the Eco-Schools programme in Northern Ireland.  It is vital that we continue to both educate and listen to the next generation as we all strive to live in a more sustainable world.  

“At RiverRidge we believe that schools play a key role in achieving these goals, changing the environment by reducing the amount of waste and treating it as a valuable resource.  I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone who has participated in the Eco-Schools programme over the past 30 years and going forward.  Let’s keep working together to spread the word and change behaviour.”

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