Increasing sustainability in the classroom with digital alternatives

June 13, 2023

Daren White | @Ranga_EDU

June 2023

Increasing sustainability in the classroom with digital alternatives

At a time when school budgets are stretched tighter than ever, and sustainability has never been higher on the agenda, how might schools improve sustainability in the classroom?

It’s a question that has been doing the rounds for decades in various different forms. Some 15 years ago I was myself heading up an Eco Schools initiative in my own school where pupil voice was the loudest in the room. Our Eco Schools group met, decided their priorities and then 2 year 8 girls put together and delivered a plan and presentation to a full staffroom of their teachers. The pupil group spoke passionately about the future of the world they were destined to live in and why we needed to take action, and they blew everyone away with their knowledge and insights.

As a school we focused on recycling paper, switching off unnecessary lights and devices and even started our own garden areas to increase biodiversity. They were also a key voice in discussions around plans for a new school building in 2010.

13 years later and the conversation hasn’t changed, largely because attitudes and habits haven’t changed either. It’s not for want of trying on the part of the pupils, they worked hard during their tenure, but they moved on…so why didn’t we? Why are so many schools stuck in cycles of ordering and reordering, replacing new for old and doing what we’ve always done?

In truth, I fear that education in particular suffers from a form of denial of technology’s many benefits and as a result, romanticises the ‘traditional methods’ as superior because it’s more comfortable and keeps us in a state of unconscious competence, rather than the far scarier conscious incompetence.

But it needn’t be scary. There are many things we could do to make our schools and classrooms more sustainable.

Sustainability: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”
(1987 Brundtland Report)

Multi-coloured Swap Shop: Here are 5 things all schools could do to be more sustainable.



Exercise Books

Considerations include:

●      cost – exercise book costs have risen by 66% in the last year

●      paper – exhausted department budgets in May onwards often result in pupils working on paper until we “can afford new books”

●      lost or damaged books – nothing to spill a drink over or get ruined in the rain on the way to school, no ripping out pages.

●      storage – especially in newer buildings, just doesn’t exist

●      finished books – where do they go? Do parents really thank us for sending them home at the end of the year? Do they just go in the loft or the bin?

Ditch the exercise books for digital alternatives that are available anywhere in the world at any time.

I’ve personally used the Google Docs add-on Magic Exercise Book to replace traditional exercise books via Google Classroom.


●      Zero cost means you can invest in other things

●      Zero paper – less waste

●      No lost work – available anywhere in the world at any time

●      No damaged books – version history!

●      No physical storage needed – more space in class

●      No forgotten books – the teacher(s) and pupil always have access

●      Finished books are always accessible in their Google Drive.

Text Books


●      costs are astronomic

●      text books can quickly become outdated, often as soon as they are printed

●      storage – is that the best use of the spaces we have?

●      damage – rips, tears, doodles, turn to page 57 – we’ve all seen it, read it, spent hours trying to fix a spine to get another year out of it.

●      sharing resources – 1 between 2 if we’re lucky

●      photocopying – poor quality photocopies affect accessibility and also, you know, the law!

 Look at digital alternatives such as Book Creator to create living text books for individuals.

Yes, there is a cost involved but the benefits might outweigh the costs:

●      can be updated at any time

●      storage used for multipurpose devices instead of single use books

●      zero damage

●      each pupil can have their own

●      no need to photocopy and accessibility features built in including zoom, overlays and screen readers.


PCs and laptops


●      Operating system – outdated and unable to run latest apps and software

●      Unexpected updated – circle of death anyone?

●      speed – who’s got time to wait for that circle right?

●      damage – lack of ownership and speed can lead to damage due to frustration

●      mice/keyboards – as above

 If your windows PCs and laptops are slow and old, did you know you can breathe new life into them by converting them into Chromebooks using Google ChromeOS Flex?


●      easy to convert in minutes just using a USB drive

●      Extend the life of your existing machines while you decide your longer term refresher plan

●      faster and serverless, all saved to the cloud (more secure)

Screens and projectors.


●      operating system updates – keeping them up to date for the latest software, making sure they work well across the school, regardless of what classroom you are in

●      power – devices left on draining power, compromising security and accelerating repair needs

Consider screens that offer centralised device management. My schools are rolling out with Viewsonic.


●      ensure updates run when required and at a time that suits everyone, not at 9am!

●      power down/up devices at set times to reduce unnecessary bills

Exam Papers:


●      printing – 1 year group can easily cost over £1200 a year in mock exam printing.

●      accessibility – quality of print, costs of reprints for errors, logistics of different paper sizes and colours

●      staffing costs – growing need for readers and scribes

Imagine if you could run all your exams online, using tools that pupils are used to because they use them every day.

Not only would that benefit them, but it would also reduce costs dramatically and be more sustainable. Tools like OrbitNote allow online exams through JCQ approved methods.


●      JCQ approved

●      Zero printing requirements or costs

●      Accessibility tools that pupils are familiar with

●      Reader and Scribes are not needed so TAs can be in class having direct impact with other year groups instead.

Of course, there are many other ways but these are just 5 examples of how we might think differently to be more sustainable with specific consideration to the 3 pillars: social (work life balance), environmental (natural surroundings) and economic (sustain your schools by making efficient purchases or reducing expenditure where possible and ethical.

What might your school do to increase sustainability?

Have you shared a roadmap with stakeholders?

Have you considered how your strategy aligns with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

We can’t keep coasting. We owe it to our young people to take action. What will you do?