Powering up the PodMore by EDF Energy - Back to the December 2013 issue
Launched in 2008, the idea behind the Pod, EDF Energy’s award winning sustainable schools initiative, was that it was to help young people understand energy and the wider issues associated with it like low carbon use, climate change and security of supply.
Since then it has expanded and now encompasses a whole host of related subjects including waste management and biodiversity. “As the Pod developed, teachers became more involved in its evolution and it became a broader programme about sustainability as well as our core subject of energy,” explains Peter Thorn, Community & Education Lead Manager, EDF Energy. “The tagline for the programme is the Pod: understanding energy, science and sustainability. STEM related subjects are important to us a business and we need more and more young people to take an interest in these areas of learning and ultimately, choose a career in science and engineering. The Pod aims to spark this interest at an early age and help maintain it for years to come.”
The Pod came to the fore at a crucial time for the UK curriculum. The environment had just become a core topic and resources were few. “Teachers were struggling to find suitable content and resources,” says Thorn. The interactive website – jointhepod.org – provides a wealth of teaching resources including lesson plans, assembly packs, take it home sheets, posters and films. There are currently 229 downloads available under the teaching resources button.
EDF Energy developed the Pod because it believes that education is vital to understanding the need for a low-carbon and sustainable future. “It’s important for us to engage young people, the future consumers of energy, in the issues that are important to all of us, not just to us as a business,” comments Thorn. “It’s also important to think about the climate and how energy efficiency and using low-carbon energy, can help tackle climate change. We want young people in schools to grow into adults that understand these issues and potential solutions and help others to do the same. The ethos of the Pod is to Learn, Act, and Inspire.”
Another aspect of the Pod has been that it teaches teachers and pupils how their schools can become more sustainable. A good example of this is Okehampton College in Devon that is now virtually self-sufficient in terms of energy. Thorn says that they have achieved it through a combination of simple measures – ensuring all IT equipment is turned off at the end of the school day – to more complex solutions like solar panels and a wind turbine in the school grounds. Together, all of these measures save them thousands of pounds every year. “We’ve helped them through both the practical work that the Pod promotes and also through pointing them in the right direction for funding and general help and advice with their various projects,” explains Thorn.
The Pod runs various campaigns throughout the year to again encourage and facilitate more energy conscious thinking. “We have learnt over recent years that schools like to run campaigns and events collectively, at the same time,” explains Thorn. “For the past four years we’ve run Switch Off Fortnight which encourages teachers and pupils to switch off lights, stand-bys etc. at school and at home. Schools audit how much they’ve saved in energy and money and some even save up to 20% by taking simple steps and measures to reduce their energy consumption.”
Over 4,200 schools and 1.4m children took part in the Pod’s fourth ‘Switch Off Fortnight’ in November 2012 and more than 3700 schools took part in Waste Week (run in conjunction with Waste Buster) - which tackles subjects like food waste, textiles, recycling, plastics etc – which ran in March 2013 and will run again next year. This year the Pod also launched Science into Schools, where schools collect unwanted textiles and exchange them for science equipment for use in the classroom.
EDF Energy measures the success of the Pod through take-up and engagement. The figures say it all. There are currently over 17,500 Pod schools and the programme has reached over 10m children to date. Although the Pod is aimed at UK schools, it also has 45 members in 21 different countries including USA, Turkey, France, China, Indonesia, Nepal and Germany. Indeed, the scheme has been so successful that it’s now opened up to others in the educational field such as scout leaders and community leaders.
Everyone who registers for the Pod is checked against a database of UK schools. If an applicant is not on that database, EDF Energy will contact the school or community group directly to check that the applicant works there. If they are not confirmed as a teacher, teaching assistant, employee or governor of a school, or a community group leader, the application is rejected.
The business benefit is also measured through research with teachers, PR and brand measurement through the tracking of media coverage.
The programme also benefits other parts of the business. EDF Energy has a growing number of visitor centres at its power plants - Hinkley Point is one such – and the Pod team help generate marketing materials – leaflets, brochures, films, etc – for them based on their teaching resources.
Another benefit Thorn sees is the knock-on impact for EDF Energy employees: “There’s an employee benefit because it makes people feel good about working for EDF Energy. Hundreds of employees have got involved in volunteering within the project so far and given that we are relaunching our volunteering programme shortly with more Pod specific opportunities, we expect that to grow significantly over the coming year.”
Thorn emphasizes that working in partnership has proved a very big part of the Pod’s success. “From the beginning we’ve partnered with Eco-Schools, an environmental organisation which is part of Keep Britain Tidy,” Thorn says. “It helps schools set up the process to enable them to work with the material we talk about in the Pod. Another growing collaboration is with the Met Office, in the development of climate science related resources.”
EDF Energy will be developing the Pod further over the coming years and new partnerships are on the horizon. “We are reaching a new phase,” says Thorn. “Phase one was really about recruiting the schools and broadening the Pod’s focus. Now we are at critical mass, reaching over 50% of schools in the UK, we are trying to make the relationship between the Pod and schools deeper so that we can understand the greater impacts of the programme and improve the outputs and the inputs.”
While Thorn maintains that there is no commercial aspect to the Pod whatsoever – “we are doing this because we believe it is the right thing to do” – he does acknowledge that the fact the company is behind the Pod has proved favourable in business pitches. “We are aware of that impact,” he says. “Clearly we hope that the Pod will have a positive impact on the way parents and their children think about EDF Energy now and in the future.”
Thorn believes that the Pod can serve as a model for others: “Similar things are already happening in the financial services sector.” He says that the important thing when setting up something like this is to know what you are trying to do and why. “There needs to be something specific. Teachers welcome business into the classroom but they don’t respond well to anything overtly commercial. Education is first and foremost in our programme because it’s important to us and to the future of the UK,” he points out.
To find out more go to www.jointhepod.org
more about EDF Energy
EDF Energy is one of the UK’s largest energy companies and the largest producer of low-carbon electricity, producing around one-fifth of the nation’s electricity from its nuclear power stations, wind farms, coal and gas power stations and combined heat and power plants. The company supplies gas and electricity to 5.8 million business and residential customer accounts and is the biggest supplier of electricity by volume in Great Britain.
EDF Energy’s safe and secure operation of its eight existing nuclear power stations at sites across the country makes it the UK’s largest generator of low carbon electricity. EDF Energy is also leading the UK’s nuclear renaissance and has published plans to build four new nuclear plants, subject to the right investment framework.
These new plants could generate enough low carbon electricity for about 40% of Britain’s homes. They would make an important contribution to the UK’s future needs for clean, secure and affordable energy. The project is already creating business and job opportunities for British companies and workers.
In 2013 EDF Energy received seven “Big Ticks” in the Business in the Community (BITC) Responsible Business Awards, including a Platinum Big Tick in BITC’s Corporate Responsibility Index. EDF Energy also received the Environmental Leadership for Behavioural Change Award in the national 2013 Environment and Energy Awards and was highly commended in the first ever pan European Corporate Social Responsibility Awards scheme for its Sustainable Schools programme – the Pod.
EDF Energy is part of EDF Group, one of Europe’s largest power companies. The company employs around 15,000 people at locations across the UK.
HARRIET KEMP, Institute of Business Ethics
EDF Energy’s Pod initiative started as a means to help schools teach climate change and low carbon use. It has developed into a much deeper agenda including teaching schools and pupils to be more sustainable.For organisations looking to make a difference, this shows both that small ideas can be effective and that you don’t need to have a grand agenda at the start.
Points of note:
- By starting with a real need in the community - teachers needing resources - and through addressing that need with the Pod, new opportunities to develop and grow the programme then emerged.
- Employee engagement and a sense of pride that has come from working for an organisation making a difference, has been a positive but unplanned upside for EDF
- EDF’s programme is helping to make a difference at an international level.