The Eco-Schools initiative is an international programme with over 10,000 schools in about 30 countries around the world enrolled. The programme encourages the participation of entire communities in sustainable living guidelines, with a focus on greening school yards, recycling waste material and planting vegetable gardens. The World Wide Fund for Nature – South Africa (WWF-SA) and Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (Wessa) sponsor the Eco-Schools programme in South Africa.
This year over 730 schools, often from poor rural areas, enrolled in the Eco-Schools initiative. Most of these are in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, but about 90 are located in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Other lowveld schools also follow the Eco-Schools initiative under the Kruger National Park's outreach programme, but are not registered with WWF-SA/Wessa.
On registration the schools are provided with a toolkit which includes a booklet to help plan learning activities around designated environmental days such as World Wetlands Day, National Water Week, Arbor Day, Birding Big Day etc. Each year all the schools submit a portfolio that charts the schools' progress in environmental awareness and sustainable living.
Those schools meeting the standard are given a cherished green flag to fly for the following year, until they are re-assessed. The green flag shows a person supported by a book of knowledge. In 2003, only 113 schools were enrolled in the programme, of which 54 won flags.
Last year 262 of the 680 registered schools won flags. Of the 262 flags, three were flown in the Mpumalanga province and 15 in Limpopo. The schools tend to fall into nodes that reflect South Africa's biomes such as grassland, succulent Karoo and fynbos. The Phalaborwa-based Eco-Schools have a bird focus.