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Sustainability

Students working on a community garden, dumping soil.

An important part of the The Pennington School’s vision is that “Our students develop a sense of responsibility for themselves, for others, and for the world in which they live.” It permeates the work we do in our classrooms, on the field, and in the greater community. Given that the concept of sustainability is inherently central to this vision, we have been working to support and advance sustainable practices and thinking throughout the School. This work has been taking place, and is continuing to develop, in several different areas.

Want to get involved? Contact Dr. Andrews or Ms. Vesnaver and let her know of your interest!

Sustainability Committee

Faculty, staff, and students recently formed an ad hoc Sustainability Committee to connect and advance existing efforts to implement sustainable practices on campus. The committee’s interim goals are to improve coordination and communication as they relate to sustainable efforts across all segments of our School, including the broader Pennington community. We also aim to create a culture of sustainable thinking that informs decision-making in every aspect of School life, from the classroom to the dorm room and the boardroom. These goals cut across the three pillars of sustainability—environment, society, and economy—and extend well beyond simply “greening” Pennington. For example, our sustainability efforts intersect with social justice in that we must consider the uneven effects of environmental issues on different groups of people, on and off campus. We are therefore working to involve all relevant stakeholders in decision-making and planning.

The Pennington School’s Sustainability Committee goals are to:

  • Connect and advance existing efforts to implement sustainable practices on campus;
  • Improve coordination and communication as they relate to sustainable efforts across all segments of our School, including the broader TPS community; and
  • Create a culture of sustainable thinking that informs decision-making from the classroom to the dorm room to the boardroom.

Our work falls under five subcommittees:

Energy
  • Power, heating/cooling, fossil fuels, and renewable sources
Waste
  • Recycling program, paper and printing, electronics, dormitories, water usage
Food
  • Food waste and compost, local food sourcing, School garden

Buildings and Grounds

  • Landscaping, ecological studies, Lowellden Pond, facilities maintenance, cars on campus

Curricula

  • Middle School, Upper School, within specific classes and School-wide

STUDENT-LED INITIATIVES AND PROJECTS

Students are encouraged to turn their environmental interests into action. Whether they are involved with the Green Team, the Sustainability Committee, the Global Studies and Applied Science certificate programs, or a class project, we support their efforts to make a difference at The Pennington School and beyond.

The Green Team is a student-led club whose members share an interest in the environment and the ambition to tackle various issues from the campus to the global scale. Most of their efforts are focused on minimizing the School’s impact on the environment and fostering a stronger environmental ethic within our community. Recent successes include:

  • September 2019 - Established our campus as an “idle-free zone” in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and reduce impact on human health 

  • September 2019 - Initiated Phase II of our on-campus compost program, which includes the composting of all food waste produced in the dining hall and kitchen during breakfast and lunch

  • September 2019 - Modified our classroom and dorm room recycling and trash practices to improve education and accountability

  • August 2019 - Eliminated disposable plastic bottles from vending machines and campus events, and switched to fountain drinks in the Snack Bar

  • February 2019 - Initiated Phase I of our compost program, which was the composting of kitchen food-prep waste, carried out by School advisories

  • January 2019 - A group of Environmental Science students won the nationwide Lexus EcoChallenge with their well-researched proposal to switch to LED bulbs. The School transitioned four buildings to LEDs during summer 2019 (exterior lights were switched in 2017)

  • May 2018 - Secured approval for a “Turtle Crossing” on the perimeter road, adjacent to the pond, with educational signage (made by students) describing eastern painted and common snapping turtles and the impact of habitat fragmentation

  •  February 2018 - Implementation of “Meatless Monday” in the dining hall to minimize the various environmental impact associated with the production of meat

Student initiatives currently in development include:

  • Designing an incentive and reward program for biking or walking to school
  • Creating a carbon-offset program for all School flights
  • Improving public education and community awareness of environmental issues
  • Reaching out to our local representatives and state legislators to strengthen efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags, straws, and take-out containers in NJ
  • Building a stronger connection between the Green Team and Community Service club through work in the School garden and off-campus volunteering
  • Identifying spaces and developing plans for more “greenscaping” on campus

ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION

We are continuing to enhance and develop interdisciplinary curricula that get students outdoors, in the pond and brook, at the School garden, and exploring campus ecologies. This environmental education opens students’ eyes to the various effects—both positive and negative—they have on local and global environments and provides them with the tools and opportunities to make a difference in the world.

Various classes and student clubs visit and work in the garden to engage in hands-on learning, conduct observational studies, and perform community service. The School pond serves as a wonderful outdoor classroom, laboratory, space for meditation, and active site for fieldwork and ecological restoration. The Green Team and Sustainability Committee are both fundraising to build a new garden fence and purchase tables and seating for classes and after-school events held in the garden area. Finally, a Pennington student recently built and installed an outdoor classroom overlooking the pond for use by all.

The Pennington School was honored to receive River-Friendly Certification in fall 2018 from the Watershed Institute. The river-friendly designation is a reflection of Pennington’s dedication to improving water quality and conservation and protecting our environment. Earning this certification requires the submission of lesson plans and project descriptions. Teachers compiled a report detailing the School’s “river-friendly” activities, and Pennington achieved the highest level of certification—Watershed Level—by earning points with the School’s engaging and effective eco-focused curricula.

As the campus contains headwaters to two major watersheds (the Raritan River and Delaware River), we are excited to be teamed up with the Watershed Institute for the StreamWatch program. Our Middle School and Upper School students have begun conducting chemical and biological monitoring in the pond and in Lewis Brook, and hope to eventually supply water quality data to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

FACILITIES AND DINING

Buildings and Grounds

The Pennington School campus provides ample opportunities for environmental education and for adopting strategies and practices that reflect our commitment to sustainability. As the grounds include a stormwater pond (with fish, turtles, frogs, and waterbirds!), a raised-bed vegetable and herb garden, grass and turf sports fields, energy efficient buildings, landscaped planting beds, and undeveloped woodlands, the School takes the management of the property in relation to the topic of sustainability quite seriously.

Interest in improving our campus ecologies recently inspired the initiation of an environmental remediation project in and around Lowellden Pond. We worked with an ecologist and invasive species specialist from Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space to develop a plan for the pond involving the removal of invasive species and planting of native species that will provide critical wildlife habitat. We are also working with a company to develop a plan to remove organic material from the pond’s substrate to improve water quality and benefit aquatic organisms. Students will be included as project partners throughout the multi-year remediation process.

Read more about the School's efforts here.

Dining

Don Toner, general manager of the School’s dining services, has spent much of his long career here at Pennington navigating the desires of the School community, state regulations, and the policies of Sodexo (our food service provider). Mr. Toner and his team clearly think very deeply about what will work best for our community, and have integrated sustainable practices throughout the kitchen and dining hall. For example, he and his kitchen staff are leading Pennington to reduce food waste and implement best practices for disposal of the waste we do create. He set up the kitchen so that composting and the management of food waste can be done as easily, ethically, and environmentally friendly as possible.

Read more here.

Multiple students working in a garden outside.

School Garden

Two students filling buckets of plants with water.

Environmental Education

Four students working in a swampy lake.

Lowellden Pond

Various classes and student clubs visit and work in the garden to engage in hands-on learning, conduct observational studies, and perform community service. Food from the dining hall is sometimes sourced from the garden as well.

We are continuing to enhance and develop interdisciplinary curricula that get students outdoors, in the pond, at the School garden, and exploring campus ecologies. This environmental education opens students’ eyes to the various effects—both positive and negative—they have on local and global environments and provides them with the tools and opportunities to make a difference in the world.

The pond serves as a wonderful outdoor classroom, laboratory, space for meditation, and active site for fieldwork and ecological restoration. We are also working with an ecologist and invasive species specialist to develop a remediation plan for the pond that will involve the removal of invasive species and identification of native plant species that will provide critical wildlife habitat and improve the pond’s water quality.

No-Idling Campus

A student throwing food into a compost pile

Composting

Four students working in a swampy lake.

Lewis Brook

 

As of fall 2019, The Pennington School is a no-idling campus. This change began a couple years back, spurred by student research, projects, and proposals. Students expressed concern about the number of cars left running at pick-up and drop-off. They conducted background research on the topic and carried out studies of idling cars on campus, concluding that idling has an impact on the environment, human health, and your wallet. Students wrote proposals and met with School leadership before the new policy was officially adopted and put into place following completion of the new perimeter road and introduction of new traffic patterns.

In February 2019, The Pennington School began composting the food waste produced in the kitchen during food preparation. Each advisory was responsible for carting the food over to our on-site compost area in an effort to involve the entire community in the process. In September 2019, we scaled up and have started composting all non-meat and non-dairy food scraps produced in the dining hall and kitchen during breakfast and lunch. Advisories will continue to assist with the transport of the kitchen scraps. We are tracking the amount of waste produced and the Green Team will work on public education, with the ultimate goal of reducing the amount of food waste we produce.

Environmental Science and Chemistry students visit Lewis Brook—a headwater tributary of the Raritan River—each fall and spring to conduct biological and chemical monitoring.. Data are shared with the Watershed Institute as part of their StreamWatch program. The ultimate goal is for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to benefit from high quality, student-collected data.