Sustainable education at the British International School HCMC - The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC
Lauren Binnington
Deputy Head Teacher (Enrichment)
02 August, 2023

The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC

Sustainable education at the British International School HCMC - The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC
Last academic year, 2022-23, has been a time of reflection and celebration at BIS HCMC as we have been commemorating our 25th year.  As I finish my 13th and final year in this wonderful school, I am reflecting on the changes and improvements we have made, particularly in the last 6 years, to make BIS a more sustainable place and to equip our students with a greater knowledge and understanding of the world around them. From small beginnings, the school community has grown, but we have never lost our focus on making sure that we work together in our goal for our students – to create their futures and learn together as global citizens. With global citizenship comes a responsibility to ourselves, others, and our planet, and over the last 25 years BIS HCMC has adopted more and more sustainable approaches to curriculum development, resourcing, building, waste management and global opportunities. Here are 13 highlights for each year I have spent at BIS HCMC:

1. 2020 Plastic pledge

Sustainable education at the British International School HCMC - The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC

In 2018 we began our Plastic Pledge to reduce (or eliminate) single-use plastic from all of our campuses by 2020. This date signified 5 years of the Sustainable Development Goals and we wanted to make sure that we were reducing our impact on the local and global environment. Although we weren’t able to eradicate single-use plastic completely, we hugely reduced our usage by banning straws, plastic cups and plates across all campuses, switching to environmentally friendly alternatives for International Week and other big school events, reducing the plastic waste of our school uniform packaging, committing to reducing plastic waste through reusable cups and reusable bags, and taking part in plastic diet challenges.

Although 2020 is now behind us, our pledge to become a single-use plastic free environment continues. We continue to reduce single-use plastic in our teaching resources and uniform, and our EY&I Mini Council met with our caterers to discuss alternatives for the plastic cling wrap that is currently used for their daily snacks. We’re excited to see how the Caterers rise to this challenge and reduce our campus plastic waste even further!

2. Global Goals awareness


Sustainable education at the British International School HCMC - The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC


In 2015, the United Nations countries created the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, setting a road map for how we could make sustainable change as a planet to support people, the economy, and the environment. By taking part in the World’s Largest Lesson and learning about the Global Goals through the curriculum, our students have become more aware of these goals and the actions they can take to help achieve them. Our community programme focuses on the human goals, such as reducing hunger, poverty, inequality and promoting health and wellbeing. Our eco-clubs tackle goals relating to climate action and supporting life on land and underwater.  In Year Group challenge days, our students work together to find creative solutions to some of the largest problems we face, showing amazing collaboration and problem-solving. Together, each small change adds up to help achieve these incredible goals.

3. Precious Plastics project

In 2018 a group of students presented at a competition their idea for upcycling plastic waste by shredding plastic, heating it, and remoulding it into useful items, inspired by the team at Precious Plastic in The Netherlands. They won the competition and with it some funding to purchase their first machine – a plastic shredder! This machine has been used across the primary and secondary campuses by students and teachers to learn about the properties of plastic and to trial creating items out of discarded waste.


Sustainable education at the British International School HCMC - The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC


Fast forward to 2023, and while the team of students has changed and evolved, the concept remains the same. With support from a well-deserved NAE Social Impact Grant, the team now possess a shredder, a heat press and an extruder, and have developed the knowledge and skills to be able to produce small items such as key chains and decorations from upcycled plastic. Along the way, they have learnt about different types of plastic and the most appropriate to heat, health and safety when working with plastic, the importance of scientific methodology, and had a lot of fun. The precious plastics workshop is now a feature of our Week Without Walls, and secondary students can join the project through the Global Goals Club.


Sustainable education at the British International School HCMC - The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC


4.Merging with Nord Anglia Education (NAE)

in 2015 gave us an opportunity to grow our collaborations with world–leading organisation including UNICEF, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Juilliard School. Through our Nord Anglia Global Campus our students were able to build global friendships collaborate with peers from around the world. These have helped to enrich our global learning experiences for our students helping them to develop a global citizenship mindset. One such example is the recent NAE-UNICEF Student Summit in New York City where delegates from Nord Anglia Education schools around the world met to discuss and share ideas of how to implement the sustainable development goals (SDGs) in their local communities. Through collaborations with FOBISIA (Federation of British International Schools in Asia), our students have also had the opportunity to take part in Race for Good, a competition that seeks to come up with innovative solutions for real life families in some remote locations around the world. Following a video call with a family in a small village in Haiti who were struggling to survive on a monthly income of $30, BIS HCMC students developed a sustainable business plan for the family to boost their household earnings. With a budget of just £150, the students researched and bought tools for the family to make soap using the milk from the family’s goat. The Simon family were then able to develop their own natural goats milk soap and sell it at a local market giving them an extra source of income. 


5. Eco-friendly events

At BIS we are known for our large-scale whole school or whole campus events, such as the Christmas BISzaar, Spring Fair, and International Week, and with events this size comes the great challenge of making sure that we don’t increase our environmental impact on these occasions. Our PTGs and Senior Leadership Teams have worked tirelessly to find ways to do reduce waste and be mindful of the environmental costs of events like these, from switching to sustainable cutlery, cups and plates in our International Food Festivals and making sure that every child brings their own reusable lunch box, to ensuring that our decorations are sustainable or reusable. This extends to the whole community, and we make sure to work with vendors who support our sustainable values.

Sustainable education at the British International School HCMC - The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC


6. World Clean Up Day

Sustainable education at the British International School HCMC - The growth of sustainability and global citizenship at BIS HCMC


A major event in our calendar is World Clean Up Day, first started as a small 20-person event by our Global Goals club in 2016. Now, every year in September our CleanUp D2 club, supported by our Community and Facilities Teams, organise a clean-up and eco fair where our whole community comes together to keep our area of Thao Dien trash free. It’s a family event where even the youngest members of the BIS community get involved.

7. Eco Bricks

Of course, once we have collected lots of trash, we then need to process it rather than letting it go straight into landfill. While not all items can be dealt with in school, we wash down the reusable plastic and soft plastic waste to either shred in our Precious Plastics project or turn into Eco Bricks. These bricks are made of plastic bottles stuff full of soft plastics and other clean, soft items until the bottle becomes hard and brick-like. The bricks produced by our Primary children and students in the CleanUp D2 club have been used to build schools and houses in various projects within Vietnam.


8. Uniform Upcycling


It’s not just our students who are involved in making changes at BIS, our parents are also driving our sustainability changes and helping us to reduce our waste. Each year, schools produce huge amounts of uniform for their continually growing students and there are often lots of uniforms left at the end of the year that many would simply throw away. Wanting to find a new way to use these items, a group of Primary parents began to upcycle old uniform, collecting it and turning it into new items such as pencil cases, scrunchies, bunting, house mascots, and so much more. Our Secondary students loved this project so much that they began their own Upcycling club in 2018, collecting secondary school uniforms and learning how to design and create new items. The number of families opting for pre-loved uniforms in good condition (sometimes not even worn!) is increasing every August, and every year our Graduating students received a small mascot made from upcycled Sixth Form uniform. You’ll also see that our 25th Anniversary Mascots, the Lion and the Saola, were made from uniform that represented all of our campuses!


9. Eco Committee

With so many clubs focusing on sustainability projects we have needed to make sure that we coordinate the work they are doing to create the biggest impact possible, and so our Eco Committee was created. The committee is made up of representatives from across our sustainability clubs and they work together on an overall sustainability action plan. In this way, each club supports each other, and they always look for new ways to reduce BIS’ impact on the local and global environment. In the next academic year, they will be working with staff to create a sustainability policy for the school, recognising our commitment to continuous improvement and helping everyone to make sustainable choices.


10. Environmental design of the EY&I campus


In January 2018, we opened our Early Years and Infant campus and were proud to be the first green LOTUS school in Vietnam. Awarded by the Vietnam Green Building Council (VGBC), the LOTUS certification recognised the environmental design of the building which incorporates our green roof and central atrium to allow air circulation and in turn reduce energy consumption. Alongside a 50% energy use reduction, we also achieved a 54% water use reduction and provided fresh green spaces for our youngest learners. 


11. Global change

On expeditions in Vietnam and around the world students assist local communities. Last year students helped revamp buildings at a local school in Cambodia, cleaned up the beach in the Philippines and spent time in local orphanages in Kontum, Vietnam. 


All of these experiences help to broaden the minds of our students and open them up to new experiences that they might not come by in their everyday lives. Understanding different cultures and interacting with other children who have different perspectives on life, allow our students to reflect on their own experiences and how they can further build character and make changes in their lives and the world around them.

12. World Children’s Day


None of these changes would have happened without groups of children and students who are passionate about the Global Goals and creating change by working together, and so it is only fitting that each year in November we celebrate UNICEF’s World Children’s Day. This is a day where we recognise the rights of all children to have their voices heard, and it is run by students, for students. Who can forget the year the Secondary Student Council met with the Mini Council, or the treasure hunt to find Uni, UNICEF’s backpack shaped mascot? We are really proud of the passion with which our young people approach action and advocacy and will continue to support them to develop the skills they need to tackle these problems now and in the future.

13.  Our community partner projects

We have developed a strong sense of local community at BIS HCMC. Our students, staff, parents, and local partners are one family, where everyone respects one another and works towards shared goals.


Through collaborations with local NGOs, our students affect real social change, whether it be organising food donations for local orphanages during Tet, raising money to provide enrichment toys for the Free the Bears sanctuary in Cat Tien National Park or hosting a community football tournament with children from Friends for Street Children. They raise awareness through all our activities and events mentioned above as well as generating funds to meet community needs. After raising 190 million VND at the Spring Fair and school disco, BIS HCMC were able to provide the funds needed to build a multi-purpose sports court for the Anh Minh School for the Hearing Impaired. These projects make a tangible difference to the lives of others and the world around us. 

As BIS HCMC enters its next academic year, I think we can be proud of all we have achieved so far. The road ahead is not easy when it comes to sustainability, but together, if every person in our community makes one small change, those thousands of small changes create a big change that really does matter. The future is in good hands.