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Let’s Buy In to a Sustainable Deerfield
Andy Harcourt Science Teacher
May 23, 2018

Long known for its beautiful campus nestled in the Pocumtuck Valley, Deerfield Academy has taken important steps toward becoming a more sustainable community over the last ten years.  Insightful and purposeful mission-driven decision-making with regard to facilities, resources and programs has positioned the school to become one of the leaders in implementing environmentally sound policies.  Of equal importance is a cultural shift in the administration, faculty, staff and the student body toward becoming more environmentally aware and “all in” on making Deerfield greener.

For decades in the past, Deerfield was slow to embrace sustainability as a priority, prompting some to describe the school’s approach to environmental stewardship as “neanderthal.”   All that has changed.  Most students and adults in the community now view taking care of the people, the program and the place as just another part of Deerfield life.  Most seem willing to do their part to “Act Locally and Think Globally” as we strive to meet the challenge put forth by G. H. Bruntland, former PM of Norway and Director of the World Health Organization: “We must consider our planet to be on loan from our children, rather than being a gift from our ancestors.”

The institutional commitment to sustainability is embedded in the DA mission statement: the Academy prepares students for leadership in a rapidly changing world that requires global understanding, environmental stewardship, and dedication to service.  This obligation to the environment has been further clarified by the Sustainability Mission Statement: Deerfield Academy seeks to preserve our heritage by operating in a manner that sustains our natural and human resources for future generations.

Dr. Beth Hooker, Sustainability Education Coordinator, David Purington, Environmental Management Coordinator, and two members of the Class of 2018 recently delivered a presentation on advances in sustainability to the Board of Trustees.  Some highlights included:

Overall greenhouse gas reduction of 33% since 2005 through a combination of innovative and substantive design engineering, energy efficiency upgrades, and targeted education

Innovative water conservation program, leading to 15-20% reduction

Purchase over 20% locally, sustainably-produced food

Shift toward sustainable landscape management, with an 83% reduction in synthetic fertilizer use.

Targeted analysis of solar PV for on-site electricity generation

Development of represent-ative courses, including Global H2O, Global Food Systems, AP Capstone: Environmental History and Research in Sustainability

Student-led initiative to implement composting in all dorms by Fall 2018

Annual sustainability offer-ings through the CSGC: Including Panama, the Bahamas and Tanzania

These advances in sustainability should provide momentum for next steps for Deerfield.  According to Dr. Hooker, “The Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee (ESAC) with input from across campus will work to draft a climate action plan, with clear curricular and co-curricular linkages.  In addition, the program will promote the campus as a living laboratory, as a way to teach and practice responsible environmental stewardship through place-based, experiential learning as well as to provide a platform for effective engagement with important environmental issues.”

Education lies at the heart of the Sustainability Mission Statement and this vision for future directions reflects this, modeling Deerfield’s aspirations after a successful program at Princeton University.  The success of this initiative will depend on the level of buy-in by all members of the community as change will involve further sacrifices in the existing culture of entitlement and convenience.  Moving forward, Deerfield Academy must consider ways of connecting interdisciplinary offerings that focus on sustainability to graduation requirements in order to demonstrate a firm institutional commitment to its mission.