Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for the Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation

Environment education and sustainability in schools

Environment education and sustainability in schools
14.02.2017 | Minna Kaarakainen

Green flag – program is an international sustainable development program and recognition for schools and kindergartens. School or kindergarten that fulfills certain criteria is allowed to use ‘Green flag’ as a sign of their dedication and work in sustainable development. Green flag – program principles are:

  • Participation, which means that children and young people are active participants in the project planning, implementing and evaluating process.
  • Reducing environmental waste
  • Sustainable development as a part of everyday life
  • Continuous improvement of persistent and systematic development
  • Collaboration with the surrounding society

Green flag is part of the international Eco-schools – program, which acts in almost every European country and it has expanded to some Asian, African, Australian and American schools. Almost 50 000 schools around the word use this program as their environmental program and it reaches over 16 million children and students. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) recommends Green flag. The FEE Finland, has developed own, country specific teaching and education materials for the Finnish daycare- and school system based on the Green Flag.

Green flag have influence to various stakeholders. For the public government, Green flag is a way to carry out the nation’s sustainable development strategies. To the educators, Green Flag is a tool to put sustainable development teaching and education plans into practice. Positive attitude towards sustainable development and environmental awareness are carried with the children to their homes.

Green flag in Kuopio Steiner-school Virkkula

Kuopio Steiner School Virkkula, is located in Eastern-Finland, Kuopio and it provides primary school education from the first to the ninth grade. There are approximately 150 students and 20 teachers and 8 supporting staff (for example a school nurse, a principal and an accountant). Virkkula is a Steiner school, also called Waldorf School. However, it provides same rights and benefits as completed public primary schools in Finland. 

 Green flag was granted to Virkkula School in 2015 after almost one year hard and ambitious work to improve environmental education and decrease the environmental load of the school activities. The primary aim of the first green flag project was to decrease the waste produced by the school. The aim of the process was to increase awareness of recycling. Additionally, it was considered important to create a  suitable processes to decrease waste, for example, by reminding children which  waste is goes to which waste container: paper, carton, organic, mixed etc. . Even though recycling was already carried out in the school in a systematical and active way, there was a need to create mutually agreed practices and increase awareness of recycling among students and staff.

 Students created the following waste promises that the whole school is committed to:

  • We use materials wisely: no wasting, littering or throw away anything useful.
  • We recycle all the waste to appointed places. Hand towels belong to the organic waste.
  • Drawing and writing papers are used wholly and eventually put to the paper recycle box.
  • We use sparing of paper, towels and napkins.
  • We avoid food waste: take right amount of food and take more if you are still hungry. Do not throw food away.

School waste disposal has improved enormously with these actions. From November to spring waste amount had decreased and sorting of recycling waste had increased. Altogether, the amount of mixed waste decreased by 85%. Based on a student questionnaire, attitudes changed towards a more conscious and economical attitude towards the use of material. Drawing and writing papers are now used wiser than earlier.  

 The Green flag process requires active collaboration among various people and contractors in the school: cleaning, catering, waste company, childrens’ parents etc. Students have made an excursion to a waste area to realise where waste actually goes to and what happens to it after they threw it away.

The school has an environment team which consists of two to three students from each class, a hand full of teachers and an environment educator. The school has a suggestion box, named “Kake Boksi” where all the students, teachers, parents and others can leave suggestions to improve the school environment and its sustainability.

Green flag is not just a one moment action, it is an on-going process that the school is committed to. School children are actively participating to planning and implementing actions put forward by the school’s environment team. It has brought students from different classes, teachers and other school staff closer together. Moreover, all of them are empowered to work together and inspired to continue this journey for a sustainable future.


More information:

Foundation for Environmental Education

Green Flag (international pages)

Green Flag/Vihreä lippu (Finnish pages)

Virkkula, Kuopio Steiner School (in Finnish)

Pictures: Minna Kaarakainen


Relevant themes: Public participation, Sustainable innovation, Environment
Relevant tags: Green flag, enviromental education, education, children, Virkkula, Social innovation, Sustainability, Sustainable lifestyles, Sustainable materials management


  • Minna Kaarakainen - Consumer Society Research Centre at the University of Helsinki

    Minna Kaarakainen