Sustainability at Lawrenceville Amid a Global Crisis

As the global climate crisis persists, Lawrenceville has recently implemented various changes and additional policies for increasing sustainability in its Green Campus Initiative through both School and student-run efforts.

As the global climate crisis persists, Lawrenceville has recently implemented various changes and additional policies for increasing sustainability in its Green Campus Initiative through both School and student-run efforts.

Reflecting on a definition originally developed by the United Nations in 1987, Director of Sustainability Stephen Laubach P’23 believes that “sustainability is about meeting the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations…That framework applies to Lawrenceville as much as anywhere else on the planet.” He added that in practice this means “working with students to take action on campus and in the surrounding community on issues such as climate change, producing locally-grown food, reducing waste of resources like energy and water, and protecting natural habitats.”

In this report, The Lawrence covers recent developments in sustainability across campus: the School’s 20/20 Strategic Plan, Big Red Farm, the greater Lawrenceville Experiential Education Program (LEEP), Leopold Scholars, and initiatives by other students.

Construction and the 20/20 Strategic Plan

Sustainability serves as an integral element of the School’s 20/20 Strategic Plan, which was approved in 2016. The four key components of the School’s 20/20 Plan are celebrating and reinforcing community, energizing academic culture, further promoting the professional community, and strengthening financial foundations. As part of the 20/20 Strategic Plan, Lawrenceville has engaged with Sasaki Associates, an architectural planning and design firm, to identify “opportunities to improve the School based on forward-thinking trends and efficiencies in campus and building space utilization,” according to the School website.

Two new buildings will be introduced to campus: the Gruss Center for Art and Design in January of 2020 and, further in the future, the Tsai Complex—a new dining hall and athletic building. The School looks to actively pursue sustainable methods of design and construction.

The School is designing the Tsai Complex with the intention to achieve the Green Building Certification at the silver level through the U.S. Green Building Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Currently, some buildings on campus are already LEED certified. In addition to the LEED design, the Tsai Complex will also feature a series of geothermal wells: “We won’t be burning fossil fuels to primarily be heating or cooling the building. The geothermal drill just uses the natural temperature of the ground,” Head Master Stephen Murray H’55 ’65 ’16 P’16 ’21 said. Furthermore, Lawrenceville looks to capture wasted heat already generated by the School’s steam plants, such as dorms and academic buildings that are heated through steam pipes. “We release a fair amount of heat we are not able to use, so we are going to capture the heat and use it to heat [the Tsai Complex] in the wintertime,” Murray added.

Revamping the Big Red Farm and Composting System Initiatives

The School’s current Green Campus Initiative piloted in 2004 and involves buying locally sourced foods, encouraging sustainable eating habits in the Irwin Dining Center, and holding friendly competitions with Lawrenceville’s peer schools to reduce energy and water use, among other initiatives. According to Laubach, the School “might revive” these competitions with other institutions as they have not “happened recently.” In 2012, the Big Red Farm began operating, and a 30-acre solar field was added to campus.

On plans for change, Laubach said, “I’d like to move to us being a certified green campus through a program called Sustainable Jersey that certifies schools around the state. I hope to have Lawrenceville to enter into that type of program with collaboration among students, facilities, faculty and staff, the Big Red Farm, the dining hall, and other partners and have it be an integral part of how things are done here at Lawrenceville,” said Laubach.

A recent change in the School’s composting system was implemented by Matthew McChesney ’19 with support from former Sustainability Director Sam Kosoff ’88 P’19. McChesney compiled a list of faculty members who wanted kitchen compost picked up from their homes on campus or on Main Street. The program continues to operate with the help of Lifetime Farming students who collect kitchen scraps from these faculty members once a week then bring it to compost at the Big Red Farm. On plans for revamping the compost system for the future, Laubach said, “Right now, we sort our food in the [Irwin Dining Center] into bins for composting, but we have plans to compost more of what ends up in those bins than what we are currently able to do.”

Potential Leaps in Sustainability through LEEP

The Lawrenceville Experiential Education Program (LEEP) is overseen by Director of Experiential Education John Hughes. Implemented in 2015, LEEP combines the previously individual programs of sustainability, international programs, outdoor programs, Ropes Course, and the aforementioned Big Red Farm. Through LEEP, faculty members have worked to ensure that sustainability serves as a greater part of students’ lives at Lawrenceville.

Although Hughes reported that there are “no major” changes or updates to the reduction of Lawrenceville’s carbon footprint in travel, Hughes said, “Lawrenceville has been looking for the last couple of years at ways…[to make the] carbon footprint for travel more sustainable [as] it is the least sustainable thing [Lawrenceville does].” Because international programs serve as such an “important” part of the School, Hughes believes that the School must “spend smart money.”

Lawrenceville’s Leopold Scholars

One way students are helping Lawrenceville move towards its sustainability initiatives is through the Leopold Scholars program, named after Aldo Leopold, a conservationist who went to Lawrenceville. The students were able to make steps towards greater sustainability at Lawrenceville and have plans to continue their efforts.

Leopold Scholar Stephanie Kim ’21 reflected on the group’s volunteer work where “we harvested a lot of kale and peas” and other produce. Then the Leopold group donated some of the harvested produce to a local food pantry called ArmInArm. In addition to harvesting produce from the Big Red Farm with guidance from Farm Operations Manager Ian Macdonald, Leopold Scholar Noor Bhatia ’21 said that the group’s “main goal” this past summer was to “create a map to guide students and visiting guests to the Big Red Farm.” The students used Google Maps to create a digital walking tour from campus to the Stuart Deans Garden and through the golf course, including landmarks such as the telescope and sugar maple trees. On sustainability at Lawrenceville, Bhatia said, “A big problem at Lawrenceville is that many people care about sustainability but don't take an initiative to become part of a solution. This was one big thing Leopold Scholars taught me: to stand up, to act, and to make a difference even if it's just in the local Trenton community or at the Big Red Farm.”

Looking ahead, the group hopes to further share its work and increase sustainability awareness.

Other Student Initiatives

Students across campus have joined the effort against the global climate crisis. During Climate Week, from September 20 to September 27, the Religious Life Council organized a call to action by having members of the School community from various religious and spiritual backgrounds play the carillon every day at noon in solidarity with the 2019 United Nations Climate Conference. On the purpose of the initiative, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life Sue Anne Steffey Morrow H’12 said, “When you heard the carillon, you were meant to and stop and think about what you should do about climate change.” With regards to the Sustainability Council, Sustainability Representative Sid Sharma ’20 said, “We can come up with ideas to make the community more sustainable, but it doesn’t work if students are not following the guidelines or our suggestions.” Because of this, he believes it is “really important” to keep “an open ear to the more sustainable option.”

He advises students to “educate themselves about what is going on in the sustainability world. It is a constantly developing topic, and there are advancements in the news every day.” Sharma plans to further educate the Lawrenceville community on the School’s sustainability endeavors through information published on the new” Villeage” website made by this year’s student council.

Additionally, students in the Sustainability Seminar class are currently working on environmentally friendly proposals for future construction projects, including the Tsai Complex. Both Sharma and Laubach are working with these students to also “reduce the School’s carbon footprint and green aspects of campus life such as feeds and waste management during athletic team trips and events.”