Melbourne’s Albert Park Preschool has become the first early childhood service to achieve carbon neutral certification from the Federal Department of the Environment and Energy.
Earlier this month, after five years of working towards the ambitious goal, the kindergarten commemorated receiving carbon neutral certification with state and federal members, local councilors, and the wider community.
The celebration itself was a carbon neutral affair, featuring organic henna art for face-painting, a vegetarian barbecue and carbon-neutral Jeepsy Cafe Red Star Coffee.
“The rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the community,” recalled Albert Park Preschool administration director, Jenny Whelan. “And it was important we share it with them. Ours is a community success story, after all.”
According to Ms Whelan, it was the initial injection of funds from the community that made the project possible. Without donations, including $5000 from local charitable group Community Carbon Cops, the larger steps such as installing solar panels would have been impossible, she said.
“There were a number of times throughout where we thought we weren’t going to make it,” she said. “We had no budget as a tiny kindergarten, and were only able to raise funds thanks to the spirit of the community.
“Bunnings allowed us to do what we called a ‘sausage sizzle for solar’, … say that five times fast without giggling.”
Other challenges included managing heritage restrictions on the building. The rooftop solar array, for example, took some negotiation to get the correct permits.
To receive the Department of the Environment and Energy’s sign off, the preschool also had to submit 12 months’ worth of data for auditing.
“So, really, we’ve been carbon neutral for nearly 18 months but the application process was so rigorous,” Ms Whelan said.
Seeing it through the eyes of the children also made the experience more valuable. The preschool has integrated activities, such as reading a water meter, into its curriculum, helping children understand sustainability at the same time as numeracy.
“They’ve learned that numbers are supposed to go up,” Ms Whelan said, “but when they watch the meters, the kids want the numbers to stay nice and even, or maybe go down.”
The next step is to help the local primary and high schools take the same carbon neutral path, with a goal of becoming the first “carbon neutral learning community”.
Ms Whelan said this would involve sharing information with the other schools about the experience, swapping paperwork and being there at every step.
“It’s about uniting kids of all ages for a shared future,” she said. “If we can do it, anyone can.”
The certification puts the small Victorian kindergarten at the top of a list that includes big guns such as WWF Australia, Charles Sturt University and the Sydney Opera House.
Albert Park Preschool was also a co-recipient of the 2019 Cities Power Partnership Community Engagement award, for its partnership with the City of Port Phillip, and was officially presented with the award on the day of the carbon neutral certification celebration.