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Linking ecological passion and technology in Jesús Obrero, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

16 December 2011

"Our Planet Alive," a game during Green School Days. Photo credit: Jesús Obrero

Eduardo Ochoa de Aspuru

Jesús Obrero is a school where life is shared, promoting Basque culture and local action from a global perspective, and that trains people, both in their private and professional life, to develop a strong commitment for sustainability.  Jesús Obrero is a technical college and secondary school of the Society of Jesus in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain oriented by Christian values and following the principles of Ignatian pedagogy.  It encourages an integral education committed to reduce social inequalities, attentive to the needs and participation of all stakeholders, and applies sustainable and responsible management.

Ecology class on renewables. Photo credit: Jesús Obrero

After the 1992 Earth Summit or the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we started some small initiatives in the school such as collecting used oil.  Seeking a stronger commitment, several members of Jesús Obrero’s community, launched in 1996 the Environmental Commission, where students, faculty, staff, and their families participated.  The same year, the International Standard ISO 14001 was obtained and provided a method for reducing the environmental impact of an organization through four steps: planning, performance, checking, and corrective action.  Applying this methodology, we started a project together with our students on “Designing environmental management systems for surrounding companies.” Jesús Obrero’s Environmental Commission implemented ISO 14001 in our school.

In 1998, we joined the European network of eco-schools, the Foundation for Environmental Education, now expanded worldwide to 10,000 schools in 25 countries.  In 2002, we got the Green Flag.  A year earlier, the European Regulation on Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) allowed its use by organizations that provide services such as ours, so we decided to adopt EMAS.  In 2003, the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz (one of the first in Europe with Local Agenda 21) and the Basque government offered us the opportunity to join the program “Agenda 21 for Schools” (A21E).  With this, we managed to implement and certify, both in 2005 and 2006, an Environmental Management System according to the ISO 14001-EMAS requirements.  In addition, since 2008, we are part of the Sustainable Schools Network of the Basque country.

Ekospinning, an R&D initiative school entry. Photo credit: Jesús Obrero

In June 2010, we participated in the International Children and Youth Conference in Brazil called “Let’s take care of the planet” commissioned by the Basque Government.  The conference was held in the framework of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainability 2005-2014 and 600 young people from 55 countries gathered to discuss global socio-environmental issues.  The conference produced a World Charter of Responsibilities and we contribute actively in its dissemination.

Fundamental to our system are the training and the awareness of the school community, both through formal and informal activities, implementing a structured process to achieve continuous improvement, and the systematic monitoring of environmental performance of the school and its educational impact.  It is an integrated system that works with the active participation of volunteers from the school, pollution prevention, transparent reporting of results, and the collaboration with various government, business, and environmental organizations.

Rivers for life in Zaragoza, Spain. Photo credit: Jesús Obrero

For the last 20 years, we continue to improve our energy efficiency and develop renewable sources of energy.  We installed a wind generator, hydrogen batteries, and solar panels, both thermal and photovoltaic.  We improved the consumer-user ratio through initiatives such as a centralized control of lighting and the rationalization of its use, the installation of discriminatory sensors, and the replacement of diesel boilers with the use of natural gas.  Moreover, with the advice of the Electricity and Electronic Department, we undertake consultancy work that assists local companies and institutions on new lighting technologies (LED, induction) and renewables (biomass, hydrogen, vertical axis wind turbines).  We also develop research and development projects such as Ekospinning, a bicycle that uses mechanical energy that transforms into electrical energy that can be stored.  In 2008, we got an EMAS Award from the European Commission for contributing to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and our energy efficiency.  In the last three years, we stopped emitting more than 40 tons of CO2.

“Let's take care of the planet” Conference in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo credit: Jesús Obrero

All this would not have been possible without the active participation of the community of Jesús Obrero.  Although we come from different backgrounds and disciplines, we were able to become a “green factory,” a laboratory of ideas that are shared and discussed.  Next year, Vitoria-Gasteiz, our home city, will be the Green Capital of Europe and we will be among the strongest supporters of this event.  We will continue to contribute the best we have, our people, and by learning and working together, we collectively seek our reconciliation with Creation.

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