Earth Day/Month Marked by Sustainability Activities and Survey for Master Plan

As a native Mainer, Cameren Cousins, Fenn’s director of Sustainability, grew up with a keen appreciation of the outdoors and natural resources and with the old Yankee sensibility, she says, of “Waste not, want not.” Cameren, who teaches Latin at Fenn, took geology and ecology courses in college as well as classics. Those studies reinforced her awareness of “the delicate nature of our planet,” she says.

Some ten years ago, Fenn launched a formal sustainability program and put Cameren, who earned an MBA in Sustainability from Antioch University New England, at its head. Since, she has worked tirelessly to “appeal to the hearts and minds of Fenn students as we experience and protect our planet,” she says. Her goals have been to introduce new sustainable behaviors and reinforce existing ones, trying to make sure that they “stick.”

During Earth Month each April, Fenn’s sustainability efforts are highlighted, and despite the pandemic, this spring has been no exception. Activities this year have included three Lower School competitions—solid and food waste, energy, and “general sustainability awesomeness,” Cameren says.  During the energy competition 36 participants saved 877 pounds of CO2 by making an effort to turn off lights when not in use, put on sweaters rather than turning up the heat, remind parents to run dishwashers only when full, and conduct other energy saving practices.

The contests are part of the Joulebug challenge, for which a free app provides challenges that help users make their lifestyle and home greener. Using the app, boys “buzz” a sustainable action when they complete it. In late April the final Joulebug challenge was held, when every action from biking to turning off printers to getting outside and off screens was reported. 

One of the sixth grade cohorts (small groups of boys that stay together during the school day—a pandemic year practice) is revitalizing Fenn’s garden, located between the gym and the headmaster’s backyard. With garden tools and bags of soil, boys work on the plot during recess and after lunch.

Sustainability is being discussed in classrooms, too. Matt Ward ’00 is addressing United Nations climate policy in his 8th grade Justice without Borders class, with students researching sustainable development goals relating to climate science and then trying their hand at developing climate policies using Mission 1.5, a video game developed in part by the UN.

Cameren is working on a Sustainability Master Planning Process that will lead to a set of climate action and sustainability goals for the School as it assesses and addresses Fenn’s environmental impact in areas such as energy use and emissions, procurement and waste, curricular and co-curricular programming, and student health and action. Through a survey provided in April and a Zoom “idea session” held on May 11, Fenn boys and their families, faculty, staff, and alumni were able to provide input for a team that is compiling data, identifying priorities, and developing strategies to achieve its goals. A final plan is to be published next spring.  

The Sustainability program has been monitoring the scope 1 and 2 emissions from Fenn’s buildings for over a decade and is turning its attention to the emissions produced from operations—transportation, purchasing, refrigerants, food service, and land management. “It’s a lot of chasing information,” Cameren says, “sorting data on spreadsheet after spreadsheet and working with online databases.” Often members of other departments, such as buildings and grounds, assist with acquiring information.

Cameren’s experience in sustainability education was acknowledged recently when she was selected to participate in a webinar titled “Getting Schools to Zero Carbon,” co-hosted by the Center for Green Schools (an organization within the U.S. Green Building Council) and the prestigious Aspen Institute. The webinar was designed to educate school leaders interested in setting their school or school system on a path to low-carbon operations. Being selected was an honor that Cameren found to be “humbling,” she says.

The past several months of meeting guidelines for Covid compliance have been challenging for sustainability work, says Cameren. During the winter, doors and windows were opened in some buildings to ensure air circulation, which meant boosting the thermostats. Though it is not a sustainable practice, having individually wrapped food has been necessary this year. Recycling in general has been difficult, she adds, but the good news is that Fenn’s food service has continued to compost during food prep and to donate unused food at the end of the day to Open Table in Concord.

Cameren hopes that campus life post-pandemic will mean that students continue to spend time outside as they do now for recess and lunch. With her focus on sustainability, she is pleased that many boys have been riding their bikes to school—to the point at which Fenn purchased a second bike rack last fall.

Contributed by Laurie O'Neill 



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