Meadowbank scooters lined up photo Celia Wells

Drive it down! Measuring and mitigating school-gate transport emissions

We’re using cutting-edge climate science to inspire primary school students to drive down their school-run carbon dioxide emissions.

For the average New Zealander, transport contributes 90% of their personal, direct carbon dioxide emissions. People who drive to work or school can reduce their own emissions by around 20% simply by swapping to a low carbon transport option one day per week. Yet, because emissions are invisible, it is difficult to connect changes in our own behaviour to changes in the atmosphere.

The Project

The Drive it Down project will install atmospheric greenhouse gas sensors at the gates of participating Auckland and Wellington schools , capturing the emissions patterns from school drop-off and pick-up during term time and school holidays. The data will be used to make the ‘invisible’ visible for the students, to inspire them on a mission to squash their emissions peak through a school-wide active transport campaign. 

Carbon cycle teaching resources

The project has developed a carbon cycle literacy teaching package, to build students’ understanding of the carbon cycle and to support further inquiry. This includes a booklet and game-based tools. These resources are freely available for the public to download, and will also help the teachers and students from the participating schools interpret and understand the emissions data from their school gate. 

Urban Carbon Cycle

Atmospheric greenhouse gas sensors connected to international network

The greenhouse gas sensors are connected to the BEACO2N (Berkeley Environmental Air-quality & CO2 Network), an initiative to help understand greenhouse gas emissions in near real-time. Data from the sensor is sent to University of California Berkeley to be calibrated and is then analysed by GNS Science carbon cycle scientists in Wellington.

The project team will present baseline data to the students, showing the results from term-time and the school holidays, and following the student’s behaviour change active transport campaign. 

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A GNS Science atmospheric greenhouse gas sensor installed at Meadowbank School measures carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide concentrations. Photo: Meadowbank School

Student-led behaviour change campaigns

The project team will support teachers and students through an inquiry learning project about transport behaviour and emissions, and strategies to lower emissions. To influence their school community’s behaviour students will be guided through social science methodologies to conduct surveys, research different transport alternatives, consider safety, and problem solve. They will plan an active transport campaign for the school, analyse their results and present recommendations to the school.

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Data from the atmospheric sensor at Meadowbank School shows a peak in CO2 concentrations at the morning school drop-off time during term time (red). Measurements taken during the two-week initiative (green) had concentrations similar to those of school holiday levels.

Meadowbank School Pilot Project

Drive it Down builds upon the success of a pilot project with Meadowbank School in Auckland in 2023.

GNS Science carbon cycle scientists installed the atmospheric greenhouse gas sensor at the Meadowbank School gate, and the data gathered showed spikes in CO2 and CO concentration in the morning that were much greater during term time compared to school holidays, indicating the daily school-run was the culprit.

Year 6 Enviro leader students took action with a two-week schoolwide festival of active transport activities, including a ‘Glam your Wheels’ day for scooters and bikes, ‘Wear What Ya Want Walking Wednesday’, and a ‘Feel Good Friday’ to encourage groups of kids to walk to school together.

The GNS Science team continued to measure the greenhouse gas concentrations across the two-week campaign and found that the efforts of the school community had brought it down to school holiday levels. 

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Creatively decorated scooters for 'Glam your Wheels day'. Photo: Meadowbank School

Funding and collaborators

Drive it Down is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment through the Unlocking Curious Minds fund. The Meadowbank School Pilot project was funded through the GNS Science Social Science Strategic Science Investment Fund.

Supported by: Sustainable Schools (Auckland Council), New Zealand Council for Education Research, Enviroschools and Greater Wellington Regional Council.

Project partners: Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington, The University of California Berkeley, CarbonWatch-Urban.

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