Leadership for Sustainability

Saving the planet one school at a time

By: David Dixon


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Pages272 pages
Size222 x 182mm
PublishedMarch 2022

Written by David Dixon, Leadership for Sustainability: Saving the planet one school at a time is a stirring and informative greenprint to help school leaders play their part in making their schools more environmentally friendly and better places to learn for all.

Mobilised by the rousing words and protests of Greta Thunberg, young people all over the globe are calling for more action to combat climate change and better protect their futures. Yet they cannot do this alone. They are reliant on people in positions of power to set the necessary changes in motion – and these people include their own school leaders operating within their own local communities.

This book is a rallying cry for all schools to unleash their potential to deliver a brighter future for both their pupils and society at large.

David Dixon draws on both his doctoral research and his 20 years’ experience as a head teacher to set out how school leaders can embed eco-friendly practices in the day-to-day running of their schools that will also contribute to overall school improvement, including that recognised by inspectors.

David weaves his guidance around the ‘five Cs of sustainability’ – captaincy, curriculum, campus, community and connections – to position sustainability as a natural vehicle for developing a type of fully integrated learning ecology and culture for the benefit of all.

The book provides a detailed analysis of where we are now in terms of environmental impact, and lays out a road map to help schools move towards more effective eco-friendly provision. It shares practical examples of sustainability in schools and how these contribute to school improvement in the wider, more conventional sense too. Furthermore, each chapter concludes with a series of suggested strategies to encourage further thought and discussions among school stakeholders.

Suitable for school leaders, teachers and teacher trainers – in both primary and secondary settings – and for any professionals who work in schools on environmental education or improvement projects.

Picture for author David Dixon

David Dixon

Dr David Dixon was a full-time primary teacher for 15 years before becoming a head teacher for the following two decades. In that time, he promoted the twin causes of environmental education and sustainability, which formed the central ethos of his schools. David is now a freelance education consultant, specialising in curriculum and leadership and helping individual schools to link sustainability with school improvement more generally.


  1. David Dixon’s book was inspiring to see how the work we do in schools really does make a difference and how we can build on this to create a better future for us all. The book also gives me hope – trying to make a positive sustainable impact in schools can often seem a daunting task. This book is a tool to help simplify and understand the process and brings all members of a school together to work towards a more sustainable planet while ensuring we recognise the urgency of forming a society where we reduce our consumption and ensure we leave it in a better state for future generations.

  2. This book gave me hope, a feeling that the tools outlined have been successfully used elsewhere, and so could bring transformation to the school and the MAT I work within. The book gave me a real sense of pride in this work – talking of those of us carrying out this work as ’Guardians of the long term future‘, ’co-creating new solutions‘, offering a ’bright future for everyone‘ through ’unleashing minds to avoid blind acceptance of what is normal'. It explains in very clear, simple, straightforward terms why continuing to live inside a myth that infinite growth on a finite planet, walking forwards blinding into the oncoming catastrophe, is sheer madness – and then plots a clear, sensible course out of that madness. It outlines why such a course must necessitate a complete transformation of our culture, and that this can best be driven by a transformation of education – by bringing students to see what is necessary, and teaching them that such changes are possible. By spreading that change on to our communities, we can, and must, drive forward such a cultural shift.

  3. This is a well-researched book which has been translated into figures and diagrams specifically for educationalists. Probably aimed at pedagogical leaders more than school business leaders, the information and appendices full of policies, charters and curriculum statements would trigger strategic conversations to help all types of school leaders determine their school’s own sustainability strategy and culture.

  4. I really enjoyed this book and found it thought provoking, as a school leader. The book provides detailed information about the state of affairs right now.  It is really clear about the impact our actions are having on the environment. The author provides sensible, detailed information about what practical action schools can take and suggests the ways in which the curriculum can support this. There are examples of how schools can be more sustainable, and how this can actually be part of the school improvement plan (which we would term the ARIP). There is the simple approach of ‘five Cs of sustainability’ – captaincy, curriculum, campus, community and connections.

    As David Dixon has been a head himself for 20 years, he understands and describes how heads can and should be effective change agents regarding sustainability. He explains how school leaders can embed eco-friendly practices in the day-to-day running of their schools and points out that this area is actually subject to inspection by Ofsted, under the new framework.

  5. This inspiring and captivating book successfully expands the reader’s knowledge of sustainability and explains how change for a better world is indeed possible. Dixon has structured the book into five chapters, which I found helpful as the book was clear and organised. The recommendations for leaders at the end of each chapter are a great addition as they allow school leaders to think more about how they can contribute into making sure future generations are aware of global issues, as well as sustainability in their schools.

    As a young adult myself, this book allowed me to realise that there are so many small, simplistic things that we can be doing to help make big changes in order to save our planet, with sustainability at the heart of every action.

  6. Students are only too aware that they face life in a climate-altered world, yet many schools have barely begun to address the challenges this poses. Leadership for Sustainability is invaluable reading for every school leader wondering how best to start. Extremely thought-provoking, wide-ranging, and clear, it explores how school leaders can place sustainability at the heart of their institutions and the multiple benefits of doing so. Enriched throughout with links to sources of further information, the book also benefits enormously from concrete examples and the author’s candid discussion of his experiences implementing change. While referring mainly to primary settings, there’s much here that's useful for leaders in the secondary sector too. I recommend that anyone working to embed sustainability at their school reads David Dixon’s inspirational book.

  7. Dr Dixon’s book is challenging and inspiring.  It is presented in a very accessible but comprehensive style. It links sustainability to a school/college’s key mission and purpose, and cuts right to heart of what it means to be a leader with sustainability at the heart of the organisation’s vision.

  8. The government’s recent announcement that all schools are nurseries are to have designated sustainability leads by 2025 might be viewed in some quarters as another responsibility heaped on schools already overstretched. There is no doubting that schools will need support and no better source can be found that David Dixon’s Leadership for Sustainability. Drawing on extensive experience and expertise in the field, Dixon shows how headteachers and other leaders can move beyond paying lip service to sustainability by integrating green learning throughout the school community. He achieves this by offering down-to-earth advice covering five Cs of sustainability – captaincy, curriculum, campus, community and connections. The appendices also provide a useful set of practical tools, from designing mission and curriculum statements to policies on procurement, food, waste and utilities. There are reminders of how simple actions can save money and C02, for example turning off all stand-bys can represent a saving of £124 a year and 155 kg of CO2. But this is not a dry read. It is packed with ideas on how to engage learners so that they can think critically for themselves about the global environmental challenges we face. It shows how the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals can become a reality in the life of a school. The author’s candid rather than preachy tone leaves the reader feeling that sustainable schools are within the reach of all leaders who have the courage to act. This is a book which should move all to action. Now.

  9. The growing involvement of children and young people within education and community actions to address climate change has highlighted a need for better clarity to co-ordinate, direct and channel their enthusiasm and desire to promote change.

    In a challenging, thought provoking and evocative text from his academic and professional experience, David Dixon’s book Leadership for Sustainability expounds his personal perspectives to give the reader insight, guidance and direction for the challenges faced in promoting and embedding effective eco-friendly practices within schools, colleges and communities. With a lucid and broad based insight into strategies to move practice forward, David focusses his suggestions on five key dimensions he terms as the “five c’s of sustainability – captaincy, curriculum, campus, community and connection”.  The onus is on each school/college to take a radical lead to secure the future.

  10. It is clear that students are concerned about a future, their future, in a world of altered climate and constrained resources. Survey after survey tells us this and yet we move glacially, if at all, towards solutions that might give them confidence. As educators, our priority is to make the abstract, distant and global into something that is real, now and local. If we are making learning visible, we need to make sustainability visible.

    This is what David Dixon has done in writing Leadership for Sustainability.

    He has given schools a way forward – a method of taking control at a local level and delivering, for students and their community, a practical way of making a difference. He also realises that the best protagonists are created in primary schools. (I’ve seen first-hand how effective smaller environmentalists can be!) Yes, we need systemic change, but we also need to get everyone on board to support such measures. The best way is to start at home – and this book is an excellent place to begin that journey.

  11. This thought-provoking book is both timely and relevant to addressing issues related to sustainability in schools and global issues linked to COP26. Dixon uses the five Cs of sustainability – captaincy, curriculum, campus, community and connections – as chapter headings to underpin the understanding of why sustainability is important, which I found useful, along with the recommendations for leaders at the end of each chapter.

    Although this book is primarily geared towards primary settings, there are definite links to secondary schools and extracurricular eco-councils too. In particular, Dixon ensures that the definition of sustainability is unpicked and misconceptions addressed, along with clear links to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and highlights the importance of sustainability as a core geography concept. The book’s appendices also present a wide range of policies and strategies which could be implemented in schools to raise awareness of sustainability.

  12. Rooted in experience and encouragement of what can be achieved, Leadership for Sustainability provides school leaders with an inspiring ‘greenprint’ for embedding sustainability throughout school communities. Every school should have access to this book to support their vital role at the centre of education for sustainability, so that every young person is equipped for a healthier, happier and fairer future.

  13. In Leadership for Sustainability David Dixon provides inspiration and practical advice on how to embed sustainability, based on significant evidence and authority of experience working across multiple schools. But he argues there is a moral ‘captaincy’ required to take the initiative in the face of wider system and external pressure, echoed by Lord Knight in the foreword.

    Leadership for Sustainability is not a neutral book. At each turn, Dixon’s personal values and purpose shine through his words, and he is unafraid to challenge the status quo and big names. He elegantly describes what it really means to be a leader with sustainability as one of your values, as much as the operational process by which you might accomplish the aim of moving your school estate to net zero. The provocations and reflections in each chapter help to frame the discussions, and form the starting point for your own journey towards leadership for sustainability, if you have courage enough to grasp them. This is a provocative and challenging book for traditional leadership models.

    Dixon looks at the key ideas that shape thinking about sustainability, with well-recognised theories made accessible to all, and builds on his doctoral study of successful Eco-Schools leaders to explore methods, policies and language approaches, and ways to embed the existing knowledge and Sustainable Development Goals structures into schools effectively.

    He also examines the ways that curriculum can be used to educate and inform pupils, and the wide range of ideas that can be integrated into a school environment. As a geographer, I found familiar and reassuring the intent of learning beyond the classroom, and the integration of place and space into environmental education, but Dixon’s ideas go beyond the traditionally academic and into the moral and character education of the child too. Eco-Schools and forest school practitioners alike will recognise a lot of his principles and embedded ideas, and welcome the support for their aims, but Dixon draws on his wide experience to offer lots of routes and options. A great example is the systematic analysis of the need for training, expertise and even the Royal Horticultural Society as part of a ‘grow your own’ case study example! Dixon also turns his attention to the campus, and the structural work that can be done to bring sustainability into the built environment. Here, Dixon’s sense of personal example and captaincy is perhaps at its strongest and most provocative, and his determination and pursuit of marginal gains shines through. Finally, in Chapter 5, the wider sense of community integration is explored, with a thoughtful review of the historical development of the role of schools as community centres over time.

    This book, then, is as much a challenge and call to action for leaders to use their powers and make their own decisions for social and climate justice, as it is a practical and realistic framework of working with real pupils in real schools.

  14. Leadership for Sustainability develops the reader’s understanding of green issues and sustainability and sites them within the context of school leadership, learning, emotional intelligence, curriculum innovation and school improvement. The focus on transformational leadership and linking the local to the global, supported by grounded examples from the author’s own practice and that of others, makes possible the planning and actions needed in order to implement a whole-school sustainability agenda that is more than just a tokenistic gesture. The book offers concrete ideas to develop a school culture in which the sustainability agenda is supported by, and supports, a learning culture focused on equity and inclusion.

    The radical changes needed to create a greener school are embedded in examples of deliberate and explicit acts of transformation that link together school staff, students, families and the community as equal partners. As David says, ‘sustainability is literally life, the universe and everything’ – and fortunately for school leaders he offers a clear contextual exploration of the issues and a road map that will allow each school to plan its own journey while seeing itself as part of the global challenge to save the planet one school at a time.

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