Deerfield Magazine Fall 2012

By Nathaniel Reade

“Deerfield Academy seeks to preserve our heritage by operating in a manner that sustains our natural and human resources for future generations.”

Academy Sustainability Mission Statement–approved and adopted by the Board of Trustees, January 2012

Jeff Jewett sprang a little surprise on his Advanced Placement Environmental Science class. All he’d told them beforehand was that their next research report was going to involve something called a trash audit, and that they should not wear class dress.

trashWhen they arrived, Jewett, a wiry, fast-talking 34-year-old with a dark beard and blue eyes, led his students outside the Koch Center to something he’d set up by the track. There they saw eight plastic bags of trash he’d collected that morning, laid out on a tarp and surrounded by orange cones and yellow “caution” tape. Their task was to sort everything, weigh it, and in so doing better understand what Deerfield Academy throws away.

Some of the students were enthusiastic. Some begrudgingly complied. And some openly rebelled. “I’m not touching that,” one girl said.

“No way,” agreed another.

A third student said, “I can’t do this.”

“Why not?” Jewett asked them.

“It’s too gross.”

“Who wants to go through someone else’s garbage?”

“It’s disgusting.”

“Just put on the suits,” Jewett told them, and they did: Tyvek coveralls, booties, gloves, and masks he’d provided. They started laughing. Then they saw that their teacher was picking up the most disgusting things of all, and joined in.

Over the next two hours, aside from one brief setback when the wind blew a corner of tarp into a girl’s face, causing her to scream like a horror movie actress, nearly everyone in Jewett’s class sorted trash. They put moldy apple bits into the compost pile, soda cans into recycling, used tissues into “bio hazard,” and slimy, stinking, week-old take-out containers into the trash. As they worked, Jewett says, his students became horrified—not because of the smell, but because “half the things shouldn’t have been there.”

His students began to ask Jewett lots of questions: Why were there perfectly good ceramic dishes from the Dining Hall in the trash? And so many recyclable cans? Why would someone throw away a new pair of jeans? And why was there so much trash in the first place?

“I don’t know,” Jewett said. “Go ask your friends.”

Jeff Jewett was hired last fall to fill a new position at Deerfield: He’s both a science teacher and the school’s Sustainability Coordinator. His goal, he says, is “to make the invisible visible. People think that when you flush the toilet or toss something in the trash, it just magically goes away. Well, where does it go? What happens when you turn on a light switch?  Is it just magic light? No. It comes from someplace—possibly a power company that burns coal that was mined by completely removing the top of an Appalachian mountain.”

Jewett takes his students to waste-treatment and recycling plants. He screened a movie about mountain-top-removal coal mining. He teaches the sustainable way to do things, then tries to make it easy for people to comply. He also pushes to ensure that Deerfield serves as a model for sustainability.

Toward that end, Jewett advocated for more solar panels on the new dorm. He works with a group of student “enviromental proctors,” who coordinate recycling, composting, and conservation efforts in each dorm. He’s helping to develop Deerfield’s Sustainability Action Plan, and it’s his job to make recommendations and monitor energy efficient practices.

It’s a tall order, but he’s not alone in his efforts. When Jewett first came to Deerfield in 2011, he was impressed by the grassroots support for sustainability that already existed across all corners of the campus: He saw Physical Plant workers who wanted to grow food, a Dining Hall that had done away with trays to save the water and energy required to wash them, Finance Office folks willing to spend the money for compostable cups and recycled paper, and a facilities director who had already “picked the low-hanging fruit.”

Jewett regularly works alongside another recent hire, Dave Purington, the Academy’s Environmental Management Coordinator. Together they chair Deerfield’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC), a combination of students, faculty, and staff that works toward advancing the school’s sustainability mission. Purington’s primary duty is ensuring that the school obeys federal and state environmental regulations on everything from smokestack emissions to lead paint removal. He does lots of other things as well—from serving as an environmental liaison across campus to spearheading the recycling program.

This fall Purington unveiled the THINK 80/20 Program, geared to improve already active recycling on campus by standardizing the process. As with all of Deerfield’s sustainability efforts, it will be an ongoing, long-term process: the school year began with steps to improve education and publicity of recycling (particularly in dorms)—hence the 80/20 concept—to remind students and employees that 80 percent of their waste should be recycled or reused. In the dorms, waste management is simplified to two streams: recycling and landfill; in the Physical Plant it becomes a little more complicated, with the recycling bay acting as a receptacle for paper and plastic, of course, but also electronics, batteries, light bulbs, and hazardous wastes such as pesticides and solvents.

Both Jewett and Purington heap praise on the man who oversees that department: Chuck Williams ’72, Director of Facilities, who they say for years has been reducing costs in ways that benefit the environment “not because it was fashionable,” Purington says, “but because it was the right thing to do.” Williams and his staff, for instance, have replaced over 1200 windows in the past six years with insulated, double-paned glass, and replaced the furnaces in 33 out of 44 houses with new Buderus boilers that are up to 97 percent efficient.

Williams has also taken full advantage of 30-to-50-percent subsidies offered by the school’s power company, replacing lighting in the hockey rink and pool, for instance, which cut the electrical demand there by almost half. He not only replaced the chillers at the hockey rink, but also figured out a way, for the cost of a thousand feet of pipe, to use those chillers year-round, more efficiently cooling the Dining Hall, the pool, Greer Store, and several offices. That, he said, “was big, big savings.” The result is that at the same time as Deerfield has increased its interior spaces by 110,000 square feet, it has also reduced its utility bills.

As Jewett points out, Chuck Williams’ efforts do more than save money and emissions: They create a model for students. Deerfield isn’t just preaching sustainability; it’s living it, thus teaching a kind of “new normal.” Students who live around photovoltaic solar panels, and who recycle, compost, and turn off their power strips at night, will hopefully go forth into the world and help make this the standard everywhere.

“One cool thing about a boarding school,” Jewett says, “is that we have access to these kids 16 hours each day. I want that time in the dorm to teach them something, too.” Jewett is a major promoter of the Green Cup Challenge, in which for one month all the dorms compete with each other and peer schools to reduce their electricity usage against a baseline, earning the winners dress-down days and feeds. Last year they battled Andover and beat them by a 7.8 percent reduction to Andover’s 3.6.

During the Green Cup Challenge, Jewett says, students can look at an online, near-real-time dashboard displaying their dorm’s electrical usage, so when they turn off lights in the common room, say, they can immediately see their load go down. Because a computer in sleep mode can still draw up to 75 watts, adding $100 per year to an electric bill, e-proctors encouraged everyone to unplug everything they could before going away for long weekends, to reduce “phantom loads.”

Chuck Williams says that the really big savings comes when you change the culture. During last year’s Green Cup Challenge, Deerfield’s students saved 7768 kilowatt-hours of electricity, about $1000 on the school’s electric bill, and prevented the release, according to Jewett, of “6.7 pounds of smog-forming NO, 18.2 pounds of acid-rain forming SO, and 10,100 pounds of climate-warming CO2.” Best of all, Jewett says, many of them discovered that they could use as much as 50 percent less electricity without any major inconvenience.

And while he says “it’s easier to change light bulbs than to change behavior,” Jeff Jewett has changed a few light bulbs, too.

When Jewett’s dorm, Chapin, turned off their hall lights at night to save electricity during the Green Cup Challenge, someone pointed out to him the potential dangers of students stumbling down dark corridors at night. So Jewett installed LED nightlights that each used only one tenth of a watt of electricity, thus saving roughly seven kilowatt hours of electricity every night, as well as countless midnight face-plants. He’s now testing which nightlights to buy for all of the dorms.

Jewett describes himself as “a big science geek.”  He has a background in both teaching and research, so his position at Deerfield feels like an ideal fit. He studied the effects of climate change on pine-bark beetles, for instance, while earning his graduate degree in environmental science. He felt he was a better teacher than a researcher, but he likes to do both. Classes such as his Environmental Science Projects allow Jewett to share the best of his knowledge with his students, while pushing them to think for themselves, too.

“Students design experiments to analyze the world around them,” Jewett explains, “seeking to find solutions to real environmental problems. Some experiments look at both ecological and human systems, such as monitoring animal diversity in the forest, analyzing greenhouse gas emissions, or monitoring local air and water quality.”

Not only do the experiments focus on Deerfield and its environs, but students are expected to collaborate with each other, faculty, staff, and the local community. “The course requires that students are motivated to explore independently,” says Jewett. “My hope is that they will continue to do so long after they graduate.”

Jewett isn’t the only one whose classes look toward the future—Global H2O, co-taught by veteran biology teacher Andy Harcourt, Mike Schloat of the English Department, and Director of Global Studies David Miller, will focus on the future of the earth’s supply of uncontaminated water. The topic will be explored at the local, national, and global level, through an interdisciplinary approach designed to foster inquiry, global awareness, and independent thinking.

“Get the students thinking, keep them thinking, and it will lead to more doing,” says Jewett.

When asked whether trash audits will lead to better recycling at Deerfield, he says, “I don’t know yet, because I don’t have the data. I’m a scientist. In three years I hope to tell you either that we have improved our recycling, or that this is a really, really hard problem to solve.”

He did, however, overhear a conversation after his class had finished their trash audit: One student said to the others, “That was terrible.”

“Yeah,” someone agreed. “I’m traumatized.”

“And everyone on campus should have to do it.”

The others responded, “Yeah.”

“I’m really proud of that class,” Jeff Jewett says.

“And I didn’t have to preach a thing.” ••

Nathaniel Reade has written for dozens of national magazines, including GQMen’s JournalYankee, and SKI. This is his third story for Deerfield Magazine.