The Twelve Topics

Schools in New Zealand choose from Twelve Topics when implementing Eco-Schools. Although all Twelve Topics must be included in the Environmental Review, you then get to decide which three topics (two chosen by the Eco-Committee, plus Litter) that you will focus on.

For the Green Flag application, each school must illustrate progress in their three topics. By working through the Seven Steps with these three topics, you will have collected evidence showing your commitment to sustainable developments within the school environment and wider community.

Below there is a brief description of each topic as well as links to resources that can support the integration of each topic into the classroom. Also available upon registering, is a comprehensive Curriculum Mapping Guide that covers all Twelve Topics across all eight year levels.


Maintaining a high level of plant, insect and animal life locally and globally.

Biodiversity (biological diversity) refers to the incredible variety within, and between, all life species: animals, plants, right down to micro-organisms. In this Eco-Schools topic students aim to discover, understand and enhance the flora and fauna present in their school environment. They explore ways to increase the levels of biodiversity around the school and raise awareness of biodiversity and nature. The focus is on how they can make nature flourish (again) and how to ensure more biodiversity in the area. Think of a green schoolyard, planting flowers to combat bee mortality and taking action to protect the forest in your area. Knowledge about plants, animals and ecosystems are all covered in this topic. By working on the Biodiversity topic, you ensure that the school and the environment becomes a green, lively and healthy environment full of life!

Link to SDGs:

Climate Change

Learning about climate change and its effects, as well as actions that can help reduce your carbon footprint.

The climate is changing: the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is causing the earth to warm up at a rapid pace. What is the effect of this on the quality of life on earth and how can you do something about it? In this topic students look at what climate change is and examine the impacts they, and we, have on the climate through our lifestyles. You will take a broad, global view of the problem and look for solutions. You’ll explore links between behaviour and climate change and come up with actions to get your school moving to combat climate change and adapt the school environment to the changing climate. By working on this topic, you will contribute to climate awareness at the school, take joint action for the climate and work on climate adaptation. With this topic, you bring out the bigger picture of a sustainable school!

Link to SDGs:


Reducing energy use and investigating greener energy sources.

How many students know where their energy comes from? We now rely on more energy than ever and a huge number of countries worldwide still lack access to this. Do your school buildings use energy efficiently? Solar panels, wind turbines, coal or oil: these are all sources of energy, but they are not all sustainable. Which energy sources are future-proof and which can you use to make your school more sustainable? Think for example of energy conservation, actions such as solar panels on your school building and sustainable use of ICT. Through the Energy topic you contribute to clean air and a school that is ready for the future: no more contribution to climate change!

Link to SDGs:


Understanding the wider environmental implications of our food choices.

Fruit, vegetables, meat, fish or plants: the food choices we make every day not only affect our health, but also the health of the planet. By consciously choosing sustainable options, you can ensure a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a reduction in land and water use, and more care given to animal welfare and biodiversity. The impact of our food choices is often underestimated. In fact, what we eat accounts for as much as 20% to 30% of our environmental impact (Milieu-Central, 2021). But which food is the most sustainable? What is the impact of organic, regional and seasonal? And how can I get other students to choose sustainable options too? In this topic, you will dive into the issues surrounding the impact of the production and consumption of different foods on the environment as well as the growing problem of food waste. By working on this topic you will encourage young people, their parents, and the whole community to take responsible food-related choices and actions that protect the environment, promote human rights, and improve the wellbeing of society – every day.

Link to SDGs:

Global Citizenship

Taking an active role in your community and making our planet more peaceful, sustainable and fair.

This a great opportunity to see how climate change affects people around the world. It provides a clear link to climate justice and how developing countries are being affected the most by our changing environment. Actions for this topic could include charitable fundraising activities undertaken by the school, service-based awards students participate in, or work that covers issues such as equality and workers’ rights.  Studying the ethics of climate change could allow this topic to link to the Climate Change topic.

This topic examines what our rights and responsibilities are on a national and global scale and encourages staff, students and parents to look at the impacts our consumption habits have on other parts of the world.

Link to SDGs:

Health & Wellbeing

Addressing your, and our planet’s health. These two issues are intrinsically linked!

This topic covers mental and physical health. Access to green spaces and a clean environment are incredibly important for this. You could explore topics relating to how litter can affect mental wellbeing and how New Zealand can improve this. Additionally, for physical health this could include sports days, daily steps and yoga.

This topic can connect well with the school grounds topic. It encourages schools to promote the health and wellbeing of young people and the wider community and to make environmental connections to health and safety. 

Link to SDGs:


Reducing litter, which harms wildlife and costs millions to clear every year.

Litter is the only mandatory topic in the Eco-Schools programme.

This topic examines the impact of litter on the environment and explores practical means for reducing the amount of litter at the school and in the surrounding community. It focuses on the material cycle and how environmentally conscious citizens and students might identify positive ways to change people’s behaviour when it comes to littering. Students can aim to tackle littering through awareness campaigns, organising clean up events or encouraging recycling practice. 

Link to SDGs:

Marine & Coast

Protecting and conserving water-based ecosystems.

Did you know that there is no location in New Zealand that is more than 130 km from the sea and that our coastline is estimated to be between 15,000 to 18,000 km long? Much of our cultural identity comes from being an island nation.

The Marine & Coastal topic focuses on issues directly affecting our marine and coastal ecosystems e.g. marine plastic pollution. Schools are invited to investigate water courses from source to sea and to learn more about local and/or global coastal and marine habitats, how people are affecting these habitats and what we can do to protect them. What goes down our drains and into our rivers can end up in the sea to the detriment of life there.

Link to SDGs:

School Grounds

Improving school grounds for students, staff, plants, insects and animals.

The way school grounds are developed, used and managed can have a significant impact on students’ attitudes and behaviour towards school, each other, the wider environment and society. Students can spend as much as 25% of their time in the school grounds so it’s important that the experiences they have there are the best and most positive they can be. As with us all, young people read messages and meanings from the quality of their surroundings. They may interpret the condition of the school grounds as a reflection of the value placed on the environment.

The School Grounds topic encourages schools to introduce students to the natural environment and to biodiversity in a practical way by offering safe and enjoyable opportunities for outdoor education that can complement classroom-based activities.

Link to SDGs:


Promoting and Encouraging Sustainable Transport.

The Transport topic suggests ways for students, staff and the local community to work together to raise awareness of transport issues and come up with practical solutions that will make a real difference to students’ everyday lives.

Do you walk, bike, bus or car to school? How do you travel to your holiday destinations? These choices contribute to your CO2 emissions, and therefore also to climate change and air pollution.

What can you do to promote sustainable transport for school trips and to motivate your classmates, parents and community to choose public transport more often? How can you make sure that everyone who can, rides a bike to school and that there are enough bike racks and charging stations for electric scooters and cars? These are some examples you can focus on with this topic. By working on the topic of Transport, you contribute to clean, healthy air and fight against climate change. You could focus on active travel which you can also link to the Health & Wellbeing topic.

Link to SDGs:


Refusing, reducing, reusing, repairing, recycling.

Old smartphones, clothing and food packaging: waste comes from everywhere. The topic of Waste involves looking at how to prevent litter, reduce waste, separate, upcycle and recycle. For example, think about the waste from lunch that is thrown on the ground and ends up in the ditch. What is the environmental impact of this and what could you all do to reduce this impact? This topic examines the impact of waste on the environment and explores actions to minimise the amount of waste that we produce and dispose of on a daily basis. 

If you want to work towards a clean neighbourhood, to stop resource depletion, reduce CO2 and save water, then this topic is of interest to you!

Link to SDGs:


Valuing and preserving our most important natural resource.

Water: what would we do without it? The earth is made up of as much as 70% water and is an essential resource for all life on earth. What could you do to ensure that the water in your community is as clean as it should be and supports life? And how can you reduce water use at school? By working on this topic, you can not only contribute to clean water in your community, but also worldwide. In addition, by conserving water, you can combat water shortages and adapt yourself as a school to the changing climate.

This topic introduces students to the importance of water both locally and globally and raises awareness of how simple actions can substantially cut down water use. This could link to the Waste topic if water wastage is an issue at the school/in the community.

Link to SDGs: