SustainABLE DA Proposal


Through this Innovation Journey, Durham Academy will align its actions more closely with its values, and become a regional leader in addressing the foremost crisis in our students’ future. Preparing students to live moral, happy, and productive lives will no longer undermine those lives by contributing to the environmental crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. This journey will have students at the center and prepare them for leadership. Through it, DA will join the educational institutions at the forefront of sustainability, educating all and demonstrating solutions in our curriculum, culture, operations, and infrastructure. 

Project Description

To be environmentally sustainable is to function in a way that does not jeopardize the wellbeing of future generations. That is not a concept that predominated in the context where Durham Academy grew up, but its importance is alarmingly evident today. The current project begins with discovery: how (and how much) do we teach about sustainability in all grade levels? how much does it guide our thinking and actions? how near or far are we from sustainable operations and infrastructure? As these questions are answered, we will set goals, define steps to meet them, and establish systems for measuring progress. 

Over several years, we will develop needed expertise in house, but initially we propose to engage consultants. An extensive review convinced us that there is no single individual or organization who could help us answer all the above questions, so we chose two:

  • The Cloud Institute, led by Jaimie Cloud, focuses on Education for Sustainability (EfS). She will help us identify our conceptual and educational baseline and become aware of the school culture around sustainability. Jaimie Cloud will also assist with strategic planning and development of the leadership needed for lasting change. 
  • Green Places, led by Alex Lassiter, focuses on operations. This team will engage school personnel and students in a process of gathering and analyzing data about energy use, transportation emissions, maintenance and cleaning practices, waste, etc. They will advise us about approaches to mitigating adverse environmental impact and the costs associated with various options. Green Places will support a transparent process by providing updates for internal consumption and an embeddable web page for external audiences. Students in the Environmental Sustainability elective and those on the Upper and Middle School Sustainability Committees will be centrally involved in this process. It is anticipated that these experiences will provide a pathway for older students to engage with other organizations via community service projects, internships, etc.

Role of Project Manager:

  • Lead a steering committee of Divisional Sustainability Leaders and representatives from maintenance, business office, administration, etc.
  • Be point person for communications with consultants
  • Prepare consultants for and facilitate interactions with DA faculty, staff, trustees, students
  • Lay groundwork among DA constituencies for positive interactions with consultants
  • Make logistical arrangements for those interactions
  • Coordinate individually with divisional sustainability leaders
  • Identify opportunities and foster connections among various parties throughout the school

Role of Divisional Sustainability Leaders:

  • Coordinate with project manager
  • Identify and support sustainability reps in all departments, grade levels, and other relevant subgroups
  • Support and encourage student leadership 
  • Participate in steering committee
  • Coordinate with Parents Council members in event planning
  • Cultivate ideas and address concerns as they arise


Objective and Potential Impact

In pursuing sustainability, Durham Academy would join many organizations and institutions around the world to become part of the solution to the environmental crises that are intensifying. It would promote unique opportunities for learning, collaboration, problem-solving, and creative expression. Long-term, it will promote a greater sense of connection to the broader DA community and allow DA learners greater access to local wisdom. Moreover, it would foster hope among students and adults. It would prepare students for leadership in the most significant, foreseeable challenge of their adult lives.

Measurable Outcomes

A five year plan developed by students, sustainability leaders, and consultants will be presented for approval by the administration and Board of Trustees. It will provide a roadmap for enhanced and coordinated education about sustainability at all levels; reduced impact on the environment; and improved biodiversity on our campuses. Measures would be established for: 

  • Interdisciplinary sustainability education for students 
  • Professional development training for faculty
  • Workshops for parents
  • Reducing energy use
  • Reducing waste

Scope of Impact

This process would involve all divisions, all decision-makers, and all staff. It would also engage parents and interested alumni. Students, particularly in the Upper and Middle Schools, would be at the center of creation and implementation of the plan. Long term, we anticipate impacts would extend to geographical neighbors and peer institutions through collaboration and volunteer service. 

Potential Risks and Challenges

Members of the DA community will bring various experiences, beliefs, and degrees of knowledge to this journey. The goal is for all of us to work together, but there is a risk of division as we address a frightening future and significant change. Some might not see the need for this work or question whether it’s the school’s business to undertake it, while others might believe we’re already doing enough. Some might feel more strongly than others about the need to commit financial resources. 


Durham Academy has flourished during the expansion of American suburbs, an expansion fueled by high levels of consumption and minimal responsibility for environmental damage. We now know that that pattern has to change in order for humans to survive. This innovation journey, centered around student-driven ideas and action, represents a profound degree of innovation in our curriculum and way of operating. We are combining their services with local innovators (Green Places) to develop strategic plans for aforementioned goals of reducing resource use and transparent communication of goals, rationale, and action steps.

Connection to Strategic Goals

Preparing students for life:

The need for leaders and heroes will be great as the whole world experiences the effects of climate change and loss of biodiversity. Through the proposed journey, Durham Academy will empower its alumni, first through a sense of hope and the knowledge that change is possible; then through habits of mind, content knowledge, communication skills and more.

Meet the needs of our learners:

This journey will integrate all kinds of expertise and talent. Creative and analytical, social and solitary, physical and emotional skills will be valued and fostered. 

Agile mindset:

This may be the key to success. We will all engage in questioning norms and traditions, imagining alternatives, etc.