Students learn that sustainability is a serious subject at Berkshire School – even before classes start. At new student orientation, student leaders share with newbies the importance of recycling, saving energy, and making informed purchases. Students also take a diagnostic test to gauge their understanding of key topics in sustainability. Just before graduation, students take the same assessment, as the school examines its progress.
In between that time, students receive a comprehensive sustainability education, which emphasizes standards such as local and global citizenship, sustainability economics, and natural laws and ecological principles. Not only do classes incorporate these concepts, advanced students can develop independent study projects with a faculty sponsor. A fund established by the family of an alumnus finances student projects, particularly in energy areas, that lead to measurable monetary savings.
Students have been at the forefront of the school’s leadership on sustainability issues as the school aims to be carbon neutral by 2016. One group of sustainability students developed an energy master plan and presented it to the school’s trustees two years ago. The project included a two-megawatt, eight-acre solar field, which went live in January 2012. Today, it generates up to 40 percent of the school’s electricity.
Among independent schools, Berkshire stands out for earning a silver rating on the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), a comprehensive benchmarking system used by higher education institutions to measure the quality of air, water, climate, and more. The school is also working with eight other boarding schools to build a web platform to make sustainability data widely available.