We’re a Green Achiever

Thacher earns state and national honors for sustainability.
This is an update to an earlier story.

Thanks to the continuous efforts of student, faculty, and staff leaders, as well as the ongoing work of the entire community, both the California Green Ribbon Schools recognition program and the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) program have recognized Thacher for its environmental sustainability initiatives.

The CA Green Ribbon Schools program awarded Thacher a Green Achiever designation, the highest honor in its program. The award also meant that Thacher was nominated by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to compete on a national level in the ED-GRS program. The School ultimately earned a place among the official 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools, which included 45 schools, nine districts, and nine postsecondary institutions (and just six nonpublic schools!) from around the nation.

Both awards recognize excellence in resource efficiency, health and wellness, and environmental and sustainability education.

“These awards are big for Thacher because they recognize the efforts of our entire community,” said Sustainability Coordinator Juan Sánchez. “It is a clear indication that we are doing the right things in an organized and planned way. This strategic approach to our sustainability program is helping us see the opportunities and challenges not just in the short-term, but also in the long term.”

Over the last few years, environmental leaders on campus—including Mr. Sánchez, Environmental Action Committee (EAC) Advisor Kurt Meyer, Director of Facilities Ed Bennett, and the students of the EAC—have been working to integrate sustainability practices into every facet of the School, expanding these efforts into a holistic foundation for the whole campus and community.

“I don't like the terminology ‘sustainability program’ because, to me, it implies something that is separate and distinct,” Mr. Bennett explained.Transforming Thacher into a sustainable school and campus means that sustainability becomes ingrained in our total ethos. It becomes part of what and who we are.”

The School has adopted the Whole-School Sustainability Framework to guide these efforts, providing a map by which to develop a unique vision, facilitate communication and interdepartmental learning, plan and implement systems for conservation, and develop student-powered, place-based sustainability education.

“Much of our success lies in the fact that most of our programs and projects are proposed, designed, and executed by our students,” said Mr. Sánchez. “They are the heart of the program and we (the adults) do all we can to keep it that way. We have five students on the sustainability council, which, along with other adults in the community such as the CFO, director of facilities, director of dining services, and faculty advisors, advise the School on best sustainability practices. The students are then in charge of planning and executing many of the initiatives.”

“Thacher really encourages all students to lead and take part in sustainability opportunities on and off campus,” said Béa Pierrepont ’18, who is a member of the EAC and sits on the Sustainability Council. “The students regularly host events and activities to get people involved and to begin to understand the impact we have on the environment.”

“The Sustainability Council has periodic meetings in which we go over projects that students are leading, along with anything new that we would like to see implemented within the sustainability program,” Béa described. “These meetings incorporate both student and faculty perspectives.”

The California Green Ribbon Schools program and the ED-GRS cited a wide range of sustainability projects at Thacher in their nomination documents, including (but not limited to):

  • Our on-site solar PV array that went live in June 2016, which now provides about 92 percent of the School’s electrical energy and saves more than $100,000 annually in purchased electricity.
  • Water conservation projects, including rainwater catchment systems, greywater systems in the dorms, and xeriscaping projects on School grounds that have allowed Thacher to reduce non-potable water use by 44 percent and domestic water use by 39.5 percent from a 2013 baseline.
  • Thacher’s composting program, which processes more than 1,600 tons of horse manure, dining hall food waste, and green waste annually for use in soil augmentation and stormwater control.
  • Our student-run hog, chicken, and bee programs, which offer hands-on engagement with sustainable food systems, provide meat, eggs, and honey to the community, and, in the former two programs, utilize food waste from the dining hall in a productive manner.
  • The practice of regularly using real data from on-campus systems or from local sources (like the Lake Casitas reservoir) in math, environmental science, physics, and astronomy courses so that students can develop predictive models or engage in applied learning of concepts.  

“I’m excited to see sustainability principles and thought processes becoming a part of the fabric of the school in all areas, including academics, the horse program, operations, and administration,” said Mr. Bennet of evolving practices on campus. “I especially want to compliment my facilities staff. They have really had to change, in many instances, the basic tenets of their jobs.”

“There are so many members of the community who are committed to the principles of sustainability and who want a more sustainable community and world,” agreed Mr. Sánchez. “Much of our success lies in the collaboration and teamwork that we’ve integrated into the sustainability program.”

Learn more about Thacher’s Sustainability Program.

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Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.