Sustain-In Results

Approximately 100 people attended the Sustain-In on February 23 and spent the evening–or the whole night–talking sustainability at Durham Academy. There was attention to nature, thanks to a presentation by Merritt Schulz ‘25 and a night walk led by science teacher Andrea Caruso. There was discussion of the role sustainability plays in the school’s culture and mission. And there was an element of competition. Thanks to an anonymous donor, $10,000 of seed money was available to speed implementation of proposals.  

The proposals came out of mini think tanks led by Sustainability Committee members. Each one focused on a particular element of  DA culture, natural areas, or carbon emissions. Required elements included 

  • a description of the idea and how it would improve the school’s environmental sustainability 
  • sources to support the idea
  • an estimate of costs and benefits
  • a person or group who could take charge of implementation
  • anticipated reactions from the community and ways to build support 

Twelve proposals were submitted by the deadline of 7 am February 24.

Electricity Think Tank

A team of judges evaluated the proposals: Mimi Franco, Adriel Lubarsky, and Alyssa Walker of GreenPlaces, and Tina Bessias, who provided school-specific context. The judges applaud all the Sustain-In participants, whether they submitted proposals or not, for engaging in the important work of cultural change. They loved reading all the proposals. A few were found not to be practical for implementation at this time but should be considered for the future. The judges recommend implementing most of them right away or within the next year. Here are their findings.


The judges would like to give special recognition to the authors of two proposals, “Centralizing & Automating Electricity Control” and “Carpool Fast Lane,” for their imagination, research, and well developed ideas. Congratulations and thank you to Matthew Guo, Charith Fernando, Pete Crowley, Owen Brent-Levenstein, and Alden May!

Recommended Actions

Biodiversity: Pocket prairie in field at corner of Pickett and Ridge Roads

$2000 for benches, signage, and structures to support nesting wildlife

This proposal would reduce carbon emissions slightly by reducing use of maintenance equipment. While this effect would be difficult to detect or quantify, it would be real. More importantly, this proposal would enhance sustainability by increasing habitat for pollinators and other wildlife. The cost of seeds or plants will be incorporated into the cost of offering the spring Biodiversity in Action course, so the award of $2000 could be used to install structures that support wildlife (bees, bats, etc.) enhance community attention to this resource, or invite use for educational purposes. 

Carpooling & Bus Transportation

$1000 for signage, incentives, or social gatherings

This collection of four Sustain-In proposals and one Climate Action Plan from the Youth Climate Summit shows much promise for emissions reduction. It is recommended that student leaders work with Parents Association leaders to… 

  • Gather information from people who are currently carpooling: what works? what support is needed? what doesn’t work?
  • Raise awareness of carbon emissions associated with the commute to school and the power of carpooling reduce it 
  • Consider a wide range of incentives 
  • Create “meet and greet” opportunities for parents
  • Develop signage to reduce idling

While this initiative is more student and family focused, many parts of it could apply to employees as well.

Congratulations to Wyatt Benjamin, Owen Brent-Levenstein, Pete Crowley, Nik Larson, Alden May, CJ Nwafor, Sanju Patel, Miller Roessler, Paul Wang, and Charlie Lyerly.

Living Sustainably Blog

No cost

Inform the community so that all members know what’s being done for sustainability. Include measures that can be taken at home. 

This is a good example of no-cost action that enhances a culture of sustainability. Including more student voices in the blog and occasionally targeting students as an audience for it could increase readership. Congratulations to Connor Ennis!

Kirby Gym Lighting

$7000 for sub-meter and/or LED lamps

Kirby gym shares a meter with the Learning Commons/Administration building. It is therefore difficult to estimate the energy use, but it appears to be high. One reason may be  the large  light fixtures above the basketball court that hold 216 – 36W compact fluorescent lamps. We propose replacing these lamps with energy efficient LED lamps.

A sub-meter and replacement of fluorescent lights with LEDs would entail some expense but has good potential for return on investment. This is a good example of what seed money can do. Congratulations to Sean McLean and Sanju Patel!

Waste Overhaul

No cost

In the summer, before the school year starts, we should gather all trash,  recycling, and compost bins. We should label and distribute them so that they are centralized and evenly spread around campus. The number of trash cans should be reduced. Uniform appearance would be very helpful but might be difficult with current supplies. A standardized appearance and signage, perhaps created by STEAM, robotics, and engineering classes, would take much of the work out of proper disposal of waste on campus. 

With strong student leadership, this initiative could improve the efficiency of recycling and composting and decrease the amount of waste going to landfill. A companion program to meter waste would help show results. By counting or weighing bags of trash, a change should become apparent. The composting program has already reduced the amount of landfill waste the school generates, and a reduction in the frequency of waste collection should be attainable in the near future. This would save money and reduce carbon emissions.

Uniform waste stations might require the purchase of new containers. With an organized distribution of bins and mapping of bin location, reuse of old waste containers can still be considered. There may be future costs associated with this initiative, but much can be done without expense at this time. 

Congratulations to Jack Vail, Connor Ennis, and the whole crew in the Waste Room!


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    • e e t on March 9, 2023 at 5:44 am

    This is fantastic. Kudos and gratitude to All who participated and All who will benefit in our futures…

    • Tyrone Gould on March 9, 2023 at 8:03 am

    This update is greatly appreciated. Thanks for all the time, effort, and energy that has been dedicated to making our campus more sustainable. Looking forward to seeing the progress of these wonderful proposals.

    • Jennifer Garci on March 9, 2023 at 10:17 am

    Such fantastic work and I loved reading all of this! Thank you to Ms. Bessias and Ms. Caruso for your wonderful leadership. Bravo to the students who put so much work and thoughtfulness into this first Sustain-In! Your leadership and example have surely set the bar high and are inspiring future student leaders.

    • Bonnie Wang on March 12, 2023 at 7:29 pm

    Congratulations on the successful Sustain-In and collecting all the exciting ideas!

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