Science teacher Gretchen Roorbach began serving this year as Concord Academy’s first environmental sustainability and justice coordinator—merely one outcome of Concord Academy’s sustainability plan, which was adopted in the fall of 2019. Last week, she articulated to students, faculty, and staff her vision for the new role.
“I want to create a campus that is carbon neutral, where the school’s graduates and students are ready to embrace global challenges, educate others, and become planetary advocates,” she said in an all-school meeting in CA’s Chapel. Her responsibility, she explained, is to help to promote a more sustainable community. And the challenge CA has set for itself is carbon neutrality by 2050.
“Sustainability is not one person, or one committee, or one action,” Roorbach said. “It is the collective community supporting and embracing a holistic and just approach to all decisions.” In practice, she emphasized, that might look like conserving energy by turning off lights or closing windows in the winter, or decreasing waste by recycling and composting.
Effective community action also involves organization and investment at the institutional level. Roorbach reported on several measures that CA’s Environmental Sustainability Committee has already taken, many of them in collaboration with students, to lessen the school’s environmental footprint:
- Institutional: The Sustainability Committee has identified grants and allocated funds to help implement the sustainability plan. Environment-focused curriculum options have been planned for Spring Session. And assemblies have been scheduled with speakers who will focus on sustainability and justice.
- Greenhouse Gas Reduction: CA has initiated yearly greenhouse gas audits to begin tracking progress toward targets. And when it came time to replace two aging school minivans this fall, the newly established Green Revolving Fund offset the additional $13,000 expense to purchase two plug-in hybrid vehicles.
- Sustainable Food: The dining services team is promoting plant-forward menus in the Stu-Fac and sourcing more food locally. In addition, composting has increased, and the school began donating leftover food to Rescuing Leftover Cuisine.
- Sustainable Building Operations and Materials Management: CA has updated some heating and cooling systems, which is helping to lower greenhouse gas emissions. In September, a heating plant upgrade was completed for the Main School Building and the library, replacing two old oil burners with one high-efficiency heating system. New fans will soon be installed in the gym to lower heating and cooling costs.
Most recently, the plan to incorporate the new large fans in the Student Health and Activity Center (SHAC) involved many members of the CA community. Michael McSorley, director of operations, had identified the opportunity last year when Ishan Narra ’22 approached him looking for ideas for a sustainability project for his Advanced Environmental Science: Energy and Climate class. Once connected to the company, Narra conducted the outreach and analysis and created a proposal to install the fans over the basketball courts to reduce energy demand. Last winter, he had a chance to share that proposal with Concord Academy’s Board of Trustees, which responded favorably. This October, the Sustainability Committee formally voted to approve the project for Green Revolving Fund support—the first project to be approved as part of the school’s ongoing sustainability initiative. The fans will be installed in late November.
At the close of the all-community meeting, members of the Sustainability Committee, the co-heads of the Green Club, and the house sustainability managers from the student boarding community all introduced themselves in person. Roorbach also solicited suggestions for future sustainable actions and projects from the entire community.
“We have choices,” Roorbach said. “We have passion. All we need is commitment.”
Rob Munro, Assistant Head for Academics and Equity
Gretchen Roorbach, Science Teacher and Environmental Sustainability and Justice Coordinator
Don Kingman, Director of Campus Planning and Construction
Amy Fredericks, Chief Financial and Operating Officer
Shawna Penders, Food Services General Manager
Annie Bailey, Director of Residential Life
Michael McSorley, Director of Operations
James Booth, Science Teacher
Green Club Co-Heads
Ritika Sinha ’24
Maya Khalil ’23
Annie McGarry ’23
Jessie Ma ’24
Zach Miller ’24
Laila Mooraj ’24
House Sustainability Managers
Reid Delgado ’24
William Kim ’24
Henrik Gombos ’25
Shea Salcedo ’23
Nana Jiraphanphong ’24
Valika Trivisvavet ’24
More Sustainability News
On April 22 and 23, the CA community united in honor of Concord Academy’s 100th birthday. On this historic occasion, the Centennial Days of Service and Sustainability involved listening, learning, and taking action. The celebration extended beyond campus to include alumnae/i, parents, and friends of the school. Together over these two days, CA community members made a difference for others, and for our planet, in support of the commitment in CA’s mission to build a more just and sustainable future.
History teacher Ed Rafferty addressed the CA community during the “100 Years of Sustainability” assembly with a talk titled “Tales Along a Crooked Road: Place, Home, and Humility in Environmental History.”
Concord Academy’s sustainability plan is among the first of its kind from independent schools in the Northeast. When it was released in the spring of 2019, little did the world know that within a year a pandemic would upend life around the globe. While CA pivoted, progress toward the targets that had been outlined nevertheless continued. The plan outlines four major areas of focus for CA: institutional staffing support, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, shifts to more sustainable dining and reducing food waste, and increasing the environmental sustainability of campus operations.