If Dumbledore was an advocate of sustainability and stewardship, Green School Bali is the world’s answer to Hogwarts, full of magic. Situated a 30 minute drive from Bali’s spiritual hub of Ubud, Green School is an international education centre providing a holistic and a natural learning experience to its pupils.
Established in 2006 by John and Cynthia Hardy, the school was inspired by the revelations and call to action highlighted by Al Gore’s seminal ‘Inconvenient Truth’. The founding mission was to create a new paradigm for learning, the purpose of the Hardy’s is outlined in their statement; “We want children to cultivate physical sensibilities that will enable them to adapt and be capable in the world. We want children to develop spiritual awareness and emotional intuition, and to encourage them to be in awe of life’s possibilities.”
In 2008, the school had 90 students enrolled and fast forward a decade and this has now reached 500! Let it be understood, this is no an orthodox learning environment, a fascinating tour reveals all…*
*Gallery of selected highlights can be found at the end of the article!
Aesthetically and architecturally, Green School was constructed from bamboo with little more than a mini bamboo structural model as a guide (civil engineers look away now).
Facts on Green School’s bamboo
- This was developed alongside two partnering companies. The first being the Meranggi Foundationwhich develops bamboo plantations by presenting bamboo seedlings to local rice farmers. The other company to collaborate was PT Bambu Pure, a construction company that promotes the use of bamboo as a primary building material to avoid depletion of rainforests.
- The school has combined traditional Balinese bamboo methods with modern technology to construct majestic artisan structures in a process predominantly focused on creating an environmental impact of net zero whether this be in the growth, transportation phase or use phases.
- Did you know Bamboo produces 30% more oxygen and absorbs more CO2 than trees and can grow up to one meter a day?!
- The stems of bamboo can be re-harvested multiple times which renders it one of the globe’s most sustainable and organic materials.
- Bamboo is as strong as teak, taking only 3 years to reach a size for large scale construction using rainwater to grow.
- Unlike traditional timbers which require larger surface areas to grow, bamboo is able to thrive in very dense plots thus is less labour intensive on land area and quality of soil. Green School uses human manure to fertilise the soils of local bamboo farms and has created another closed system with zero waste.
- Structurally, because bamboo has a lightweight fibrous anatomy it can span great lengths, widths and distances which is highlighted by the range of architecturally significant spaces on campus. From large multi-storey communal gathering spots to bridges, huts and smaller classrooms, the bamboo is used in innovative and experimental ways that demonstrate the abundance of architectural possibilities.
Moving onto the education philosophy, Green School focuses on holistic learning, now what the bloody hell is that you ask!? This is a far cry from airy fairy hippie tree-hugging ideologies but focuses around 8 core principles of holistic health. These are: emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical, environmental, financial, occupational and social.
In complete contrast to the militia of state education focused purely on GCSE/ALevel results and OFSTED reviews, the school’s learning curriculum is a breath of fresh air. No exams from lower school to middle school, instead students must partake in their ‘Green Stone’ projects, passion based and of their own choosing, this could be a study about climate change, deforestation or palm oil to name but a few. Of course all core subjects such as sciences and mathematics are taught but this runs simultaneously alongside the other focuses of learning. With classes no larger than twenty students and no uniforms to allow children the freedom of expression and comfortability in a learning environment, on the tour it was noticeable how happy and care free many of the enrolled students were. It’s also worth reiterating that this is by no means an un-academic school, many pupils are chosen to attend prestigious international events such as COP 23 which was the 2017 United Nations Climate Change Conference hosted in Germany. It is evident the ethos of this school is to breed the future green leaders of tomorrow and embrace sustainability and circularity from many different angles.
On the tangent of technology, and in the seismic juxtaposition to the UK’s increasing reliance on laptops, interactive whiteboards and iPads for the conducting teaching and class activity, at Green School only the middle school and high school students are allowed to bring laptops, no screens for the little guys.
The principles of teaching at Green School are a formidably different experience to those of previous schools and there are a special set of guidelines for the institution’s specific teaching style and strategies. Interestingly, these methods are not for all staff as a number leave after a year if they are less accustomed to the unique methods and find it harder to adjust.
The features of the campus noted below truly embody the founding principles of John and Sarah Hardy and are quite honestly breath-taking and embody everything the school intended to be.
- The campus is powered by a number of alternative energy sources, including a bamboo sawdust hot water and cooking system, a hydro powered vortex generator and 100 solar panels. Currently, it generates 20% of its electricity from this source. Additionally, it combines sun and rainwater and the power of the nearby river to generate electricity. The school has plans to increase this but is reliant on funding which has plateaued to inefficient levels to continue the project. Classrooms do not use electricity although sky lights are installed in certain areas as are fans, much needed in the Balinese climate!
- The school provides clean filtered water from it’s own well and a dedicated compost area.
- Nourishment at the Green School, as you can envision is a bountiful sustainable affair, putting Whole Foods and Planet Organic to shame! Adjacent to the school is the Kul Kul Farm which is an organic perma culture farm providing for the school and wider community (this was part of the extended tour and you can check out their incredible organisation and courses here. The school’s menu is vegetarian, organic and of course local, served in natural baskets, with no plates and hailing the zero waste philosophy. Post chow-down students are dedicated waste separators which in turn is deposited to the campus recycling center.
- The grounds are also home to chicken coops utilized for the principals of lessons in social enterprise and sustainability. For example, Grade 4 students participated in a social enterprise and sustainability project to better understand how to care for the animals in a happy environment with maximum space. Simultaneously to this, they were also able to sell the eggs at the farmers’ market which encouraged students to become part of the market system, apply for finance support via the student bank and if they became profitable to further justify their need for a bank loan for expansion. This is a prime example of how Green School applies its stewardship and sustainability principles to a business.
- Forget football and rugby pitches, Green School has its very own designated mud wrestling arena. Games of 1 VS 1 are a mandatory and encouraged activity by the school as it embraces elements of holistic being and learning where each person has skills not focused on academia and intellect but emotional, spiritual and social. It is clear there is absolutely no room for the ‘Mummy, Mummy I simply don’t want to get dirty’ mentality.
- One of the most impressive elements of the tour for me was the inbuilt aqua gardening system. As a closed system with no soil, they are actively and successfully growing flora and fauna fed by the excrement of the fishes that live underneath the plants. Nurtured and cultivated by the bio nutrients, these plants have flourished and again demonstrate the innovative processes undertaken by the school and propel the ideal that waste is in fact not just waste but can be manifested into key biological nutrients for sustainability and long term growth.
- With mindfulness at the top of the agenda, it is no surprise to find another unique element of Green School which takes the form of a Yoga Studio. This is integrated into the after school programme, practicing mindfulness and connection between the heart and mind. Such attitude is woven into the daily rhythm of the school where at 2pm every day the Gong is sounded which acts as a cue for a moment of reflection, time to breathe and go forth with the rest of the day. Mindfulness activities are not to be snubbed as it is a known fact that many of the world’s top CEO’s practice mindfulness and meditation to aid productivity, such as Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, and the LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.
- Saving the best for last, our adventure brought us to the Innovation Hub. This felt like the heart and core of the abundance of ways in which Green School has cemented their zero waste philosophy into every crevice of their campus activity. Walking around it almost was like a crazy inventor occupied by sustainability had spent a century conducting experimentsPractices within the hub included the melting and reduction of plastics including bottle caps which are reduced down and become the filament for 3D printing and computing within the Innovation Hub. Additionally, the area housed the Green School Bio Bus Green Transport Hub. This ex-student led social enterprise uses and recycles the cooking oil to turn it into biodiesel and glycerine. As demonstrated by the photograph in the gallery below, glycerne in theory should be clean but remains contaminated. The biodiesel is subsequently used to fuel the school buses that run from main island areas such as Canguu and Ubud to school. Not only is this recycling but it boosts the reduction of the communities carbon footprint and vehicle emissions by sharing transport and reducing island air pollution. The popularity of the Bio Bus has transformed from a school project into a social enterprise making profits. The waste used from the oils is also further used by students who have formulated it into their own bio soap (not quite Aesop or Le Labo but it’ll do nicely). I’m no scientist but the lessons that a bi product of waste can be leveraged to increase profitability and benefit the earth is a concept that resonates with me.
- The Innovation Hub was also home to the Green School ‘KemBali’ Recycling Centre. Here you can find more than seven degrees of separation, from the segregating of tetra paks, glass, cans, cartons, paper, plastic bottles from plastic bags and hard and soft plastics. In regards to disposal, the school has teamed up with Eco Bali, to whom they sell their trash and is an island organisation committed to responsible zero waste management and upcycling. The KemBali deals with waste disposal but also has a devoted area to second hand items, whether that be for materials for student projects, household items or clothes. On the morning of each Friday, a market is hosted where pupils are able to re-use and repurchase clothes helping to close the loop and move away from the notion that you should purchase everything brand new. Let it be known one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
I would challenge any visitor to depart from Green School to not have left feeling truly inspired, and left in wonder and awe of one school’s possibilities. In a world riddled with bad news and often pessimistic outlooks on the planet’s future, it was blissful to see such an example of how scientific theories and strategies of circularity can legitimately and readily be put into practice. The school’s philosophy to question ‘If not us, then who?’ is integrated into both the education and sustainable ethos of the organisation, and one that I hope gathers momentum for many future schools, centres for learning and our world’s future leaders!
A tour of Green School Bali costs IDR 150,000 (£7.50) from which all the proceeds are donated towards funding local Balinese students to attend the Green School. More information can be found here.