Category Archives: Environment/Sustainability

Sustainability educators convene at Hotchkiss for environmental summit


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What’s happening in sustainability education, and where is the field headed next? Some 60 educators, including sustainability directors, business officers, facilities and IT managers, and teachers, considered these questions and others at an environmental sustainability summit at The Hotchkiss School (Connecticut), a joint event held by NAIS and Hotchkiss this past summer.
Hosts were Jefferson Burnett, vice president of government and community relations at NAIS; Wynn Calder, director of Sustainable Schools, LLC and NAIS sustainability consultant; and Josh Hahn, assistant head of school and director of environmental initiatives at Hotchkiss.

Hotchkiss, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2020, was chosen as the summit site in part for its leadership on sustainability. Summit attendees participated in a variety of activities while they stayed in LEED Gold dormitories for four days. They toured the school’s biomass plant that burns locally sourced wood chips for fuel and supplies the campus with heat and hot water from October to April. The most prominent aspect of school’s green building program, the facility reduces the school’s carbon footprint by about 45 percent.

Later, during a visit to Hotchkiss’s Fairfield Farm, two recent graduates described what they learned from their farm experience and expressed a newfound energy and commitment to sustainability — personal and global.

Participants also took field trips to area schools. At Berkshire School (Massachusetts), the focus was on the school’s solar array: 8,000 panels on eight acres, generating 40 percent of the school’s electricity. While on campus, summit attendees learned how Berkshire measures progress on sustainability issues, including climate, water, and energy. At Millbrook School (New York), participants saw the school’s zoo and learned about creating a building designed to attain carbon neutrality.

Several speakers addressed a range of current topics. Sarah Kadden, EFS Partnership Coordinator at Shelburne Farms in Vermont, discussed placed-based education. Torrey McMillan, director of the Center for Sustainability at Hathaway Brown School (Ohio); Bill Wiecking, director of The Energy Lab at Hawai’i Preparatory Academy; and Mark Biedron, cofounder of the Willow School (New Jersey), gave examples of weaving sustainability into the curriculum in various grade levels. Key highlights included teaching sustainability early and expanding the concept beyond science classes.

Craig Westcott, director of the Samson Environmental Center at the Darrow School (New York), spoke about “growing.greener,” a highly successful fund-raising initiative that has helped to generate significant support for campus sustainability projects.

In a panel on sustainable design, architects Stacy Smedley, Daniela Holt Voith, and Jeff Riley discussed developing “green” buildings and using them as teaching tools by exposing heating and plumbing systems. Throughout the week, participants were treated to a variety of fresh and locally sourced food, including Hotchkiss’s own Fairfield Farm (organic vegetables as well as free-range beef and chicken). At the closing dinner in the farm’s barn, Andy Cox, general manager of Hotchkiss’s dining services and Sodexo campus services, noted the school’s and Sodexo’s significant progress in walking the sustainable food talk. Sodexo was a summit sponsor.

In the wrap-up session, attendees committed to working together to achieve sustainability change in and beyond their schools.

To read more details, visit the summit blog on NAIS Connect.

Ari Pinkus is associate editor at NAIS.

From Mindfulness to Sustainability


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In a world whizzing by at warp speed, books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink are instant best-sellers, sites like Twitter and Instagram are always buzzing, and Netflix binge watching is all the rage. We call it multitasking as we engage with the latest technology to read or watch gossip on the web, text a friend on our phones, make status updates on our online social networks, etc. – all while we’re supposed to be focused on doing real work for school or jobs. And despite the constant communication, we don’t necessarily relate to each other in a thoughtful way; some say we have lost the ability to have a meaningful conversation.

Emerging equally strong is a countertrend that replaces coarseness with compassion and distraction with attention. It’s called mindfulness – characterized by awareness of the present moment and concentration on a focal activity such as breathing. Although it’s rooted in 2,500-year-old Buddhist teachings, mindfulness has no religious undertones in its current incarnation. Formally practiced through meditation, it’s sweeping through fields from psychology to business to the military to education.

Media coverage has been pervasive.  The Huffington Post maintains an entire section on Mindfulness Research. Recent New York Timesarticles describe how it’s used to treat soldiers with PTSDhow it helps people boost their GRE scores, and how it increases one’s morality. Indeed, instilling values of empathy and discipline is what we want and need in our schools and society at large.

Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman takes mindfulness to the next level when discussing its future at the Center for Mindfulnessat the University of Massachusetts. He posits that the “antidote” to a decaying planet will likely come from the mindfulness community, and cites “new tools” that can help bring about such positive change. For example, the 10-year-old industrial ecology field, he says, combines the expertise of designers, chemists, and environmental scientists to analyze all aspects of a product’s life cycle. Now, a product is really a process filled with social, environmental, health, and other impacts that can be measured. In one case, Goleman mentions that the toxicity levels of various shampoos are found on Skin Deep.

Here, he says, mindfulness can play a crucial role as we pause and examine detailed data about a product’s negative impacts and those of competitors before making a purchase. Studying this information, we’re no longer buying goods on impulse. When enough of us take the time to consider a company’s supply chain and decide to buy or not buy products based on their impacts, it creates a “strong business case for doing the right thing,” Goleman says. The message is clear: employing mindfulness has the potential to make us better stewards of the planet – and help us heal ourselves.

Changing habits begins with teaching and learning. As mindfulness has moved into the education sector, independent schools have been leading the way. And NAIS’s forthcoming 2013-2014 Trendbook is right there to capture this with relevant research and original reporting in the field. In a chapter titled “School Climate Outlook,” my colleague and I examine how mindfulness is being used as an intervention to cope with stress. Stay tuned for studies on its benefits and ways teachers and schools are integrating the ancient practice into 21st century classrooms.

The views expressed here reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS. Please contact the author at with comments and suggestions for future blog posts.