A Sustainable Journey: A Year in the Life of New Programs at Idyllwild Arts

April 27, 2012 at 11:25 am Leave a comment

by John R. Newman, Dean of Students, Idyllwild Arts

We have talked a lot this year at Idyllwild Arts about sustainability, and we have achieved measurable successes. We are grateful to the Earth Witness Foundation for sponsoring a fundraiser at Quiet Creek’s downtown gallery in support of our students’ efforts to “green” the campus. Together we raised $1,400 that will go directly to student sustainability programs at Idyllwild Arts, including our proposed new campus garden. We discovered through this event, and in our work on other projects this year, that sustainability is a rallying cry for community; it is an opportunity for us to come together and celebrate a constant that keeps us connected.

Many people from our community have responded favorably to this column in the Town Crier, offering feedback and support, input for future ideas, and gratitude for our attention to matters of environmental stewardship in Idyllwild. For this we are grateful to the community and to the paper for the opportunity to share our goals and progress. Likewise, many folks have attended talks we have hosted on campus and have inquired about how to become more involved in our initiatives. As a school community, we have met more frequently this year to discuss how we can make improvements in our daily operations, and in our arts, academic, and student life programs.

As we near the end of the school year, I thought I would provide a brief synopsis of what we have accomplished so far, and encourage others in the community to join us in our efforts. We are all very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place, where we see reminders everyday of the importance of taking care of ourselves and our environment.

One of our earliest initiatives at the start of the year was the wholesale elimination of disposable plastic water bottles from campus. This includes plastic water bottles for sack lunches when our students and faculty travel off campus, water for catered events we sponsor on and off campus, and cases of water bottles we routinely stocked in offices and elsewhere on campus. We estimate that since September, 2011 we have eliminated approximately 15,000 disposable water bottles. Knowing how important it is for our students and staff to stay well hydrated, we instead provided eco-friendly Idyllwild Arts Academy canteens to every student and faculty member at the start of the year, in preparation for our an annual all-school hike in Mt. San Jacinto State Park.

We have been extraordinarily fortunate to have had a chance to work throughout this year with Evan Mills, an expert in energy conservation and a member of the Nobel Prize-winning team of scientists who advised Al Gore in the wide range of administrative climate change initiatives featured in the acclaimed documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Evan has helped us identify areas of our operation where we can make significant improvements, in part by providing analysis of past utility consumption data we have gathered for future planning.

We have developed a water conservation plan with a goal of 10% reduction over five years. Our first year goal of 2% has been achieved, owing partly to the installation of low-flow shower heads and air-assisted flush technology for toilets throughout campus, and a 50% reduction in irrigation. We have also made a concerted effort to raise awareness of the importance of water conservation, knowing it will take effort from the entire school community to effect real change.

We have established six sustainability subcommittees, each one committed to a different facet of our overall goal. The subcommittees are, Buildings and Campus; Fuel and Energy; Curriculum and Education; Food; Recycling; and Marketing. We have instituted a policy for all new public buildings on campus to seek LEED certification. LEED certification process is underway in our design work for a new campus health center and concert hall. New faculty housing units slated for construction this summer will be Energy Star certified homes, and we will aim for a NetZero carbon footprint with the proposed new president’s residence on campus.

This winter we completed a comprehensive energy audit, sponsored by Southern California Edison, and have retrofitted close to 100% of the campus with compact fluorescent light bulbs and motion sensors. This includes pathway and exterior “barn” lighting, which was converted from high pressure sodium to CFLs. We have instituted new “shut-down” protocols during extended vacation periods. All classrooms and dormitory thermostats are set to 60 degrees; 95% of all barn lighting is turned off; dormitory hallway lights are turned off; and the Troy practice rooms and area to the east of campus are “blacked out.” We began an initial energy audit for our Ceramics program with kiln expert/conservationist and former Idyllwild Arts Summer faculty member, Bruce Dehnert, and have begun a full-scale weatherization audit for all buildings.

We have purchased and installed programmable thermostats in 70% of all classrooms and in our biggest residence hall, Pierson Dormitory. We have plans to upgrade other dorms with locked, programmable, centrally-located thermostats to monitor and control energy usage. In order to be more fuel efficient in our Transportation and Plant vehicle fleet, we have contracted with a fleet management firm to acquire, maintain, and cycle new passenger vans with considerably improved fuel economy and lower mileage to accommodate a huge demand for student transportation. We are exploring options for introducing highly efficient “mini trucks” to the Maintenance fleet, and possibly some electric and/or hybrid vehicles on campus.

The educational piece is hugely important for us, not only because we are a school, but because we want to instill values and habits that allow us to continue to grow and prosper in our efforts. We are exploring curriculum design for a new course, tentatively called, “A Sense of Place,” focusing on our school’s connection with the land, the rich history of Cahuilla culture in Idyllwild, principles of sustainability, and the history of Environmentalism as a cultural movement. Our Environmental Studies class undertook extensive work in analyzing lighting use on campus, which helped inform operational decisions. Their work revealed the following:

Outdoor light electricity usage before retrofitting was 42,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) each school year, equating to 64,700 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere. After retrofitting, usage is 11,400 kWh each school year, or 17,600 pounds of carbon. Retrofitting the outdoor lights therefore saves approximately 30,600 kWhs of electricity each school year, or 47,100 pounds of carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere. Total school electricity use through lighting before retrofitting was 243,400 kWh each school year, or 374,800 pounds of carbon, while total school usage after retrofitting is approximately 212,800 kWh each school year, or 327,700 pounds of carbon. This is the kind of extraordinary teaching and learning our school is experiencing this year, and which is serving the community from a financial and educational standpoint.

We were thrilled to send a staff member and four students to the National Green Schools Conference in Denver in February, 2012, where they participated in summit-style discussions with other students and leaders in environmental activism. The students came back charged up and motivated as advocates for continued change. We sent a group of faculty and students on a field trip to Anza Borrego Desert State Park in March, 2012 to facilitate “a sense of place” and further foster students’ connection to the land.

The Environmental Studies class, led by Martha Ellen Wingfield, has also spearheaded plans for our proposed new campus garden. Students have developed a planting schedule, maintenance plans, and design schematics for an 8×8 plot with raised beds divided into four equal sections, each holding three plant varieties. It will be centrally located on campus and will also include a green house, a tool shed and storage space, an “outdoor classroom,” and a compost heap.

Some of our students and staff are most excited by the work and future prospects of the Food subcommittee, which, among other goals, works closely with our contract food service provider to implement greater purchases of local, organic produce and other foods. This year we initiated and have promoted a “trayless” option in the dining hall to help reduce food waste and save water. We are laying the groundwork for a food composting system to lessen food waste in landfills, and we are recycling waste cooking oil – approximately 250 gallons a year – which is reused for energy. We are seeking community partners to identify local farms and wish to continue to reduce ours and others’ carbon footprint by partnering for food delivery on the hill.

We have been researching a variety of recycling programs to improve campus recycling efforts. We have always had a basic recycling program, encouraging students and staff to be responsible about separating trash and recyclable materials in clearly-marked receptacles around campus and in the dorms. We are working with the Idyllwild School recycling and fundraising projects to collect electronic recyclables such as cell phones, batteries and computer parts.

We are converting to a fully paperless student record-keeping system in our health center and main administrative office to conserve paper and comply with state and federal privacy mandates. We have written two letters of support for Idyllwild Water District’s proposed water reclamation project, and have met with representatives from Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council regarding ideas as far reaching as a biomass generating station that would address issues of fire abatement and ”gasification” for renewable energy.

In our marketing, we have done extensive public and internal messaging about our school’s sustainability efforts, again as a way of garnering support and energy, and generally educating the community. We are coordinating the information gathered from each of the six sustainability subcommittees to publicize our goals through social networking channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and the Idyllwild Arts Academy online publication, “Centerstage.” We have established an Idyllwild Arts “Greenies” group page on Facebook to raise awareness and serve as a platform for discussions, ideas and projects related to sustainability. The community of Idyllwild is welcome to join and participate. Please feel free to contact me at jnewman@idyllwildarts.org , or contact our sustainability guru, Shannon Jacobs, at sjacobs@idyllwildarts.org.

Entry filed under: Academics, campus culture.

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Updates from Campus

April 2012