Sustainability at The Putney School is a way of life. Because of that, many of the amazing things that regularly transpire here are not applauded as initiatives because they are simply part of the fabric of our daily experience. In other words, “It’s just what we do.”  

As I’m just about to start the college process, I’ve been researching various schools and campuses. I find myself looking for the same characteristics that I was so lucky to come across at Putney, all of which I had never expected to value as much as I do now!” — Gio ’22

From our Net-Zero LEED Platinum Field House that consumes less energy than it produces, to growing a portion of our own food, to a Sustainability Squad made up of students with an advisor, sustainability and stewardship are integral parts of the Putney experience.

What else would you expect from a school located on a 500-acre working dairy farm in southeastern Vermont?

Every student here is required to spend a semester working in the barn before graduation, although many come back for much, much more. Farming, even in this day and age is still satisfying and confidence-boosting work.

As far as the physical plant is concerned, our current strategic plan states that “A sustainable campus is both an educational and a financial goal.” This commitment is what led to the creation our Field House, the first net-zero and LEED Platinum school building in the United States.

Besides winning us accolades, which we appreciated but weren’t pursuing, the Field House has been in many publications and has hosted visits from other educational institutions, businesses, and organizations who want to see how a building of this size can be constructed today, affordably, with current technology. We hope it will serve as an example to everyone planning a new building in the near future.

On a smaller scale, students have designed our latest two-student cabin. It is super-insulated, oriented for maximum solar gain, solar powered, and heated with a yacht stove that burns twigs. Students built the cabin from donated insulating panels and many found parts.

Sustainability and ingenuity are just part of who we are.

And, they’re the bedrock of our future. Our latest Master Plan describes the steps we’re taking to become a net-zero campus. Our next step is to upgrade the efficiency of our current buildings while keeping their bucolic appeal.

The Putney School Master Plan: Towards a Net Zero Campus

Here is more detailed list of the major sustainability work done on campus over the past five years.

Community Culture

The Sustainability Squad conducted a campus assessment of the school’s recycling program and wrote a proposal to replace all of the old recycling and waste bins with new, more easy-to-use ones. The metal bins with liners that are currently used across campus are the result of their work.

Master Plan

Two students serve on the Master Plan committee. A few years ago a student made a “Student Guide to the Master Plan” pamphlet that highlights the most important features students would be interested in knowing about the school’s campus and energy goals. Students have also worked on an electric school bus proposal, which resulted in transportation being included in the agenda for the new Master Plan.

ESG investment

Students on the Sustainability Squad were at the heart of the move toward more environmentally and socially sound investment practices. This started with a call to divest from fossil fuels in 2013 and progressed through many conversations with the board of trustees and as a community. Working together to align the school’s endowment fund, beliefs and investment policies, they triggered a new chapter in Putney’s history.

The school now invests its portfolio using ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) lenses with Glenmede, which has chronicled their journey as they gained real-world investment experience along the way.

“The topic probably would not have come to the table when it did if the students had not been involved,” said Emily Jones, head of school at the time. “Spurred by the students’ interest, the board was engaged in pursuing an impact investing portfolio.”

Climate Justice Conference

In April 2018, students planned and hosted a professional level conference on climate justice last spring for New England residents. Attendees were mostly high school and college students. The conference included three workshop blocks, with 20 different workshops facilitated by professionals working in climate change, racial justice, and food justice careers. There was also a Justice Fair with educational and community booths and a catered lunch. Majora Carter, an urban revitalization specialist, was the keynote speaker.

Net-zero Education

Students have designed and led tours at our net-zero field house to highlight the many sustainable features of that unique building. Students have also created videos highlighting some of the features of the field house like: PV solar power, composting toilets, and its air-to-air heat exchanger and energy recovery system, as well as videos about new and evolving net-zero features on other parts of campus, like the new solar array.

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