Tag Archives: 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 pinkus@nais.org with comments and suggestions for future blog posts.

Day 4: As I reflect on the summit…


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I’m Ari Pinkus, associate editor at NAIS, and I’ll be reporting on the environmental sustainability summit throughout the week.

As I reflect on this summit, I must make a confession. At the kick-off dinner, when Dan Garvey asked participants to stand if we were hopeful about the planet’s future, I didn’t stand up. A news and information junkie, I thought things were looking bleak.

But the experiences of this week have shifted my perspective. I was heartened to hear sustainability moving beyond the sciences into the ethical and social realm. In my view, inclusivity and equity are key to this movement. Bringing the point home was a lunchroom conversation: one participant told others at the table about Israelis and Palestinians finding common ground on sustainability concerns. Also, the idea of buildings on campus being “green” teaching tools was eye-opening. I saw the immediacy and proximity of place-based education. I was moved as we toured the farm and noticed the affection between two Hotchkiss graduates as they shared how much they grew and how they wanted to pay it forward. I marveled at the biomass plant at Hotchkiss and solar panel array at Berkshire. The data and fact geek in me appreciated the range of metrics in the STARS system, designed to evaluate sustainability. I see much potential for progress by using it.

Mostly, I was struck by the participants’ energy, passion, and creative thinking as I was witnessing lives being lived with deep purpose. I feel privileged to have spent a little time among leaders – true change agents – committed to working together to build a better world, one idea at a time. And I am newly committed to doing my part toward that end.

I carry a fresh sense of hope now.

Day 3: Tweets from the Summit Street

First up, Julie Newman of Yale’s Sustainability Ctr

See goal paradox: growing campus, reducing resource use

Coins phrase: science of sustainability change management

Be aware of mission statement, hierarchy, decision-making

Know where you fit in your school’s org chart

See tensions: foundation v. vision, incremental v. systematic, short- v. long-term

Can’t just be environmentalist yelling recycle

Use all chances to bring other depts. together

Required to sit in endless meetings? Learn, learn from architects, others

Propose changes from your learnings

Streamline building design process

Always push needle a little further

Achieved LEED Gold? Develop living building

Use a public progress report for accountabililty

Julie got from 1 goal to 43 b/c of buy-in from leaders. Wow!

Attendees share in open space sessions

Consider diversity & equity in sustainability

Reach out to inner-city schools

Have kids do cost comparison of foods in high & lower-end markets

Not about navel gazing, prettifying but working for greater good

Employees’ compensation big piece of sustainability

Sustainability not one person’s responsibility but everyone’s

Working self out of ‘sustainability’ job

How to make everyone feel empowered?

Show me the greenbacks….

What’s sexy to donors: funding peddle-a-watt bike kits

As kids ride, bike generates electricity & meter reads how much

Consider green revolving fund, popular in higher ed

Invest in green campus projects and use savings to invest in others

Can bundle projects, too

To donors: Your $ will be used in perpetuity, keep letting us buy new needs

Green revolving fund helped one org get grant

Craig Wescott, dir of Samson Enviro Ctr and part of growing.greener, speaks

Darrow School’s growing.greener initiative raised $2.5M

2008 market crash spurred Craig’s idea forward

One giver, two types of gifts: annual fund, growing.greener

Lots of 1800s buildings would be lost without changes

Securing the future, preserving the past

FEMA donated $ to protect structures after hurricanes ravaged other areas

Growing.greener created 20-stop walking tour

See interior storm windows, attic insulation, etc.

Growing.greener big presence at Earth Day event

Telecom problem folded into growing.greener

B/c without Internet, no business plan, no future

Ensure donors can follow their money to project

On yellow bus to Berkshire School to see solar array

Cool scene! 8,000 solar panels, 8 acres, 2 Megawatts

Frank Barros of Berkshire: It fills 40% of school’s electric needs

Four students presented climate action plan to Board

Building company, PowerPlay Solar, was run by a student’s parent

One donor owned panels, now many do: Friends of Berkshire

Berkshire pays locked-in price of $.09/kilowatt

1st donor’s ROI is in ~ 8 yrs

Berkshire trailblazer in adopting STARS to measure sustainability

Measures: operations, administration, education & research

Inc. things like: curriculum, climate, public engagement

Now one of nine high schools w/ STARS; Hotchkiss another

Princeton Review & Sierra Club use STARS to rate colleges’ sustainability

Recent grad talks school’s STARS, turns heads at Yale

Barros trumpets transparency and quality w/ STARS

Create a challenge among rival schools? Food for thought.

Dinner at the barn on the Hotchkiss farm

Andy Cox, general manager of Hotchkiss Dining Srvics/Sedexo Campus Srvics, talks food

Hotchkiss in the real food challenge

Real food = what nature gives us

Plants, roots, nuts, fruits, seeds, meats, eggs, milk

Now, 37% of Hotchkiss food is real, up from 13% two years ago

Local, local, local…

Tonite’s menu: Smoked brisket (for 9 hrs!), local smoked Portobello mushroom,

Baked cranberry merlot beans, local corn succotash, mac & cheddar w/ local kale

For dessert: bread pudding and ice cream.  Yum!

Day 2: Weaving Sustainability into Curriculum

Summit participants learned about ways to integrate sustainability into the school curriculum. As part of this discussion, they toured Hotchkiss’s carbon neutral biomass facility, a key teaching tool and the source of the school’s heat and hot water from October – April each year. The curriculum conversation came full circle upon a visit to the school’s working farm, where newly minted Hotchkiss graduates and current students expressed their enthusiasm for caring for the land and cultivating a work ethic.

Speakers were Sarah Kadden, EFS partnership coordinator at Shelburne Farms in Vermont; Mark Biedron, co-director of the Willow School in New Jersey; Torrey McMillan, director of the Center for Sustainability at the Hathaway Brown School in Ohio; and Bill Wiecking, director of the HPA Energy Lab at Hawaii Preparatory Academy.

Key takeaways on infusing sustainability into the curriculum to consider:

  • Sustainability’s definition: improving the quality of life, economically, socially, and environmentally for all, now and future generations;
  • Create and nurture collaborations (in the school and the community) to the point at which collective impact is possible;
  • Capitalize on students natural capacity to wonder (inquire and make connections) to gain understanding to be responsible to take action now and in the future;
  • Have students become the change agents for sustainability: have them take on projects, including researching where school materials and food are coming from, writing reports and recommendations to administration and local political leaders;
  • Play up placed-based education right at your school, including exposing the school’s heating and plumbing systems to use them as teaching tools;
  • Make the case that sustainability courses are the most rigorous for college admissions officers;
  • Look at sustainability not just through the sciences but with an ethical and humanistic lens, surfacing issues such as regeneration, diversity, and equity;
  • Encourage deep and creative thinking, and don’t force-feed information to stakeholders;
  • Look out over the long-term and beyond the problems that exist today;
  • Develop a holistic curriculum approach in which teachers in different subject areas take up the same sustainability idea in a variety of ways: writing, drawing, singing, building;
  • Create a firm link between theory (conceptual, interdisciplinary) and action (skills and processes) by which changing behavior becomes possible;
  • Infuse sustainability into the curriculum early in a student’s study;
  • Cross-list sustainability with another subject area;
  • Look at sustainability’s future in schools by looking at a recent example: how technology came to be embraced in schools, becoming a department and a budget line item; and
  • See sustainability metrics as a way to move in the right direction

Key insights from sustainability design experts Stacy Smedley, executive director of the Sprout! Collective and the SEED Project; Daniela Holt Volith, Voith & Mactavish; and Alan Paradis, Centerbrook Architects & Planners, LLP:

  • Create a living building: greenhouse, rain collection facility, composting toilet, garden, 100 percent nontoxic;
  • Involve students in the design;
  • Expose structure and finishes – don’t bury wires and tubing;
  • Have students track all materials back to their sources;
  • Retrofit existing classrooms;
  • As yourself, what do we really need? When and how is it going to be used?
  • Make spaces multifunctional;
  • Be flexible and share;
  • Work on a landscape master plan;
  • Note that many of the leading energy-saving strategies are the least costly;
  • Take a holistic approach: reduce energy consumption, respect materials, nature, and site; minimize construction, maximize use;
  • Make the most use of light with materials and design;
  • Consider the following environmental design priorities
  • Occupant health and well-being;
  • Institutional mission;
  • Energy efficiency;
  • Reputation;
  • Maximum LEED certification;
  • Minimum carbon footprint;
  • Minimum life-cycle costs; and
  • Beauty

Keep overall purpose in mind: designing buildings to become beloved and lasting structures

During the day, participants described some opportunities and challenges in sustainability:

  • Sharing knowledge with others in the field through common repository: website, database
  • Maintaining connections with like-minded people
  • Receiving buy-in from their Board, faculty, administration, and students
  • Obtaining funds for sustainable initiatives
  • Receiving “green” awards to set a standard and achieve buy-in

We are grateful for Sodexo’s support of the Summit on Environmental Sustainability and of the independent school community!


Day 1: Are we winning or losing the battle?

That’s the question Dan Garvey, president emeritus of Prescott College in Arizona, principally asked the summit participants to ponder in the Summit’s kick-off session.

A conversation he overheard between two fellow air travelers was disconcerting: they were still debating global warming, Garvey said. He wondered aloud: How did we lose them?

In many ways, the data about the state of the environment is troubling: Consider Dennis Meadows’s Limits of Growth that the carrying capacity of the planet is reaching its limits. He noted a study that this generation of high school and college students is not as concerned about the environment as prior generations had been.

Nonetheless, Garvey sees data that supports the opposite.  “We’re on the threshold of a renaissance,” he said, adding that when institutions fail, humans evolve and change the system.

A grandfather looking at his grandchild, he said, “The world you will inherit is much better than the world as I have it because our species is made that way.”

The challenge for us is that the meme  (a meme encompasses the entirety of one’s belief system and a community’s belief system) we belong to is competing with others out there and there isn’t much overlap. We’re all thinking and operating independently, and we tend to be suspect of one another.

He took a pep-talk like tone as he encouraged attendees to shift their thinking.

Reach out to each other (in other memes), he said, and collaborate with others. Seek leadership positions and use them wisely. Be ambassadors of hope and mean it, he said. “We painted a picture of veritable environmental Armageddon, and we wondered why people didn’t follow us to a better place.” The problem with that scenario? We were under the false impression that when ignorance is a problem, information is the solution. But that’s not how it works, as the rise in smoking among young women demonstrates. When people face criticism, they tend to flee from it, he noted.

He noted that Summit attendees are in the strata that moves the needle. Cases in point, Outward Bound and experiential learning haven’t happened for the most part at nonpublic schools. This thinking came to independent schools. “When we say things are good, the rest of society takes a look,” he said.

Overall, Garvey’s optimism was palpable. “Have faith and a lot of confidence in what you do, in what we do,” he said.

Tuesday, June 25

And Off to the Enviro Summit We Go!

I engaged summit organizers Jefferson Burnett, vice president for government and community relations at NAIS, and Wynn Calder, director of Sustainable Schools LLC, in a bit of Q & A car talk, prompting them to share some background and expectations for the summit this week.

As we rode from the Boston suburbs to The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT, I asked:

Q: How did the idea for the summit come about?

A: Calder said that from 2005 to 2009, NAIS held a summer Institute for leadership and sustainability that lasted about four days. He and other core faculty addressed attendees on sustainability, including teaching it, how to reduce waste, save water, lower their carbon footprint, provide sustainable food and transportation, and how to assess their progress. All participants were asked to come up with a plan of action for their school. On the final morning, they presented these plans and received feedback from the faculty and co-participants.

Q: What makes this summit new and unique from those other gatherings?

A: Burnett and Calder (along with their colleague, Josh Hahn, assistant head of school and director of environmental initiatives at Hotchkiss) decided it was time to offer an event for experienced sustainability professionals. They see it as a chance for independent school professionals to come together and discuss their hopes, dreams, and concerns in sustainability. It also provides an opportunity to examine: Where is the independent school community on sustainability concerns? Where are we headed?

The summit will look at many questions, including: What are independent schools teaching in the classroom? How do we use resources? How do we engage with the local community and beyond it? What does it mean to be an educated person in the 21st century? Are we wasting energy, water, etc.? Are we doing the basics when it comes to using resources? How do we measure success?

Q: What are the goals for the summit?

A: Burnett and Calder said they hope participants engage with their peers and have time to contemplate on the future direction of sustainability. They want the summit to be about learning from each other, not just the experts. On Thursday, there will be an open space exercise in which people will form discussion groups and create and introduce a topic in the moment.

By the end, the hope is to be able to identify the top sustainability challenges and possible solutions and how the community can work together to address them.