Upcoming Sustainability Audit Sparks Discussion with Environmental Consultants

Environmental consultants discussed the upcoming sustainability audit and brainstormed possible green efforts with students and faculty at a sustainability session on the March 11 reading day. Phillips Academy recently hired Woodard and Curran, an environmental consulting and engineering firm, to help conduct a campus sustainability audit. When completed, the audit will include a list of programs and campus areas for improvement, stakeholder concerns, and both quantitative and qualitative campus data. At the session, titled “Scoping Out a Sustainability Baseline Assessment for PA,” the consultants discussed how the school could efficiently reduce energy consumption. Consultant at Woodard and Curran and municipal engineer Erik Osborn said that to be more sustainable, the Academy needs goals that are both practical as well as educational. Practicality involves financial, social, and environmental factors. Consultant and municipal engineer Kristy Palmer said, “The baseline [sustainability audit] will evolve as new data and trends emerge, and we continue striving to be more sustainable.” The session engaged the community and allowed the consulting firm to gather knowledge about “stakeholder concerns,” said Osburn. Becky Bogdanovitch, Sustainability Coordinator and Instructor in Biology, said, “The session introduced a new idea to the community. It was a chance for community members to ask questions, talk to each other and for consultants to get a sense of where the community’s interest lay.” Michael Williams, Director of Facilities, said that the session helped “us, as a community, delineate what components of the school should be included within the planned sustainability audit.” “The open forum was designed to elicit broad-based input from community members,” Williams added. Within smaller groups, students and faculty discussed the balance between making sustainability more visible at Andover and avoiding excessive visibility that would be more annoying and disruptive than informational. Participants concluded that while the hardest part of sustainability is creating perpetual habits in individuals, not only is it possible, but progress has been made. Clyfe Beckwith, Cluster Dean of Flagstaff, said that ten years ago, there was much less recycling at Andover. Recycling has improved, especially since the town of Andover picks up the bins. Many students were surprised by the depth and specificity of the conversations. E-Steward Kie Watanabe ’08 said, “When I first heard about [the event], I thought it was all about numbers and some guy was going to tell us what the school needed to do with a lot of statistics. Turns out, we actually went into details to resolve issues.” Emily Wei ’09 said, “I’d thought the session would be an interesting opportunity to see what the school’s doing about sustainability and what the audit was. The meeting focused mainly on what we were working to improve on, such as [tangible issues] in Commons, instead of being directed to audit.” For some, the session provided new knowledge. Thomas Hodgson, Chair of the Philosophy and Religious Studies department, said, “This was a new thing to me, the idea that a group of people who have knowledge help set up a baseline to figure out where you are.” He said, “I’ve discovered that the factors with the most direct impact on the school’s sustainability are relatively invisible. For example, there are miles and miles of steam lines used to deliver heat to buildings.” “Educationally explicit methods don’t necessarily have the same kind of impact. Here we are dealing with trade-off, so we need to determine what has the most overall impact,” he added. Students and faculty have a variety of expectations for Woodard and Curran and the completion of the sustainability audit. Dolan said, “I think it is important to break [sustainability] down into individual behaviors and affecting change. Hopefully, [Woodard and Curran] can do that and also help with big things [such as maintaining facilities].” Hodgson said, “I hope Woodard and Curran will help us clarify our most important priorities to create a balance between facilities and educational lessons we can understand and convey, specific steps and cost estimations on how to get that balance, and what other comparable institutions have done.” Wei said, “I hope more students get excited and aware about sustainability.” Adam Tohn ’10 said, “I’d like Commons to look into more organic and local food. People are at Commons three meals a day, so if the school is willing to make an investment in this, it will prove that we’re really doing this.” The sustainability session had a successful turnout, despite being held early on a morning right before assessments, a hectic time for both students and faculty. “I was impressed by the community’s level of engagement and very pleased with the turnout, even with such short notice,” said Bogdanovitch. Tohn said, “There were people across the board that attended. I was impressed by the wide variety of adults that showed active interest and clearly wanted to do something. It showed me that the school really wants to become more green.” John Rogers, Dean of Studies, Bogdanovitch and Williams deliberated between many environmental consulting firms before hiring Woodard and Curran. Williams said, “They have a strong national reputation for this work and a good regional team.” So far, the sustainability audit timeline for completion has not been set in stone. Bogdanovitch said, “Woodard and Curran was hired for the initial stage of scoping and setting goals [for the Academy]. Later on, we may choose to go in a different route. Our school doesn’t fall into a script, and Woodard and Curran is very open.” Bogdanovitch continued, “Our ideal goal is to incorporate sustainability into education as much as possible, but time is always a problem. It’s a juggling act. For now, we want to keep the community involved.”