State Champs: How Holderness Became a Model of Sustainability
Courtney Williamson, Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications
It’s one of the first warm days of this year’s late spring—warm enough that a walk up to the pole barn is a pleasant one. As essential as our buildings and grounds headquarters is, it’s usually not a tourist destination. But, today the new biomass facility just up the street is co-starring with the lights in Hagerman and the motion sensors in the gym in a new video. For Holderness it is a fairly major film production: ECast Productions has sent a producer, Anne Marie, a cameraman, Josh, and a film editor, Jehanne. Northeast Energy Efficiency Partner (NEEP), the video’s sponsor, has sent Lisa from their marketing department to coordinate and help with the talking points. The team is carrying tens of thousands of dollars of equipment—cameras, tripods, lights—but the mood is light. It’s great to finally be able to be outside.
Our new central woodchip heating system has been one of the big stories of the year. Since the school was awarded the grant from the state in fall of 2013, right through to the first muddy trenches that snaked across Route 175 and on to campus in the fall of 2014, to the first delivery of woodchips during the last week of April 2015, the project’s been the school’s most welcome inconvenience and indefatigable conversation piece. The latest milestone is the completion of the heating plant itself. Hidden behind a simple building made out of insulated metal panels lies the biomass converter and its multi-colored arrangement of pipes, cones, cylinders, and conveyors sitting adjacent to a vast, temporarily vacant cache that will soon be filled with woodchips. There is a Rube Goldberg-esque effect; the foil cones, twisting pipes, rubber belts, and primary blue, yellow and red hues suggest the more fantastical production of everlasting gobstoppers. Or, of course, heat — enough for an entire campus, and with only steam as a by-product.
The headline is well known by now: converting to biomass will save the school upwards of $300,000 a year on the price of fossil fuels, a giant increase in annual energy efficiency savings. In the context of this particular award, though, the biomass plant plays a supporting role. It’s the backdrop to the story of a decade’s worth of small and intentional steps toward sustainable practices that have hit a tipping point. The video team is here because NEEP has named Holderness School the New Hampshire State Champion in energy efficiency. Although the biomass project is an eye-popping backdrop, this award is a result of the school’s practices that exemplify what is now being called ‘sustainable development.’
The eighteen-page nomination packet for the NEEP award, submitted on Holderness’s behalf by the New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC), is an odyssey in acronyms that, for the sustainability layman, threaten to obscure the impressive results. The reader who clambers over the difference between NEEP and NHEC and grasps that the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) gave Holderness the biomass grant, discovers these are only the beginning. First of all, there is the 2008 Level II ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) audit that led to the report, “A Comprehensive Energy Plan for the Future,” which laid the foundation for a systematic and planned series of energy efficiency steps as part of Holderness School’s operations management. This is key to the award; it illustrates how the school has been strategic in taking its operations in sustainable directions. One of the first big outcomes of the plan was the 2011 completion of our two Gold Certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) residence halls—Woodward and Pichette. They received this rating as a result of their solar hot water heaters, power pipes that reuse waste hot water, low flow toilets and shower heads, as well as their light-emitting diode (LED) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) that provide lower energy consumption, faster switching, and improved longevity. These fixtures have been part of seven lighting projects on campus since 2008, including new track lighting in Weld, as well as new spotlights in Hagerman.
Not in the video but still playing an important role in the alphabet soup of the nomination packet are the school’s eleven new Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) – systems providing better ventilation and lower heating and cooling costs – and the Direct Digital Control Automatic Temperature Control (DDC ATC) – systems that allow the school to create “occupancy schedules” for buildings that are based on usage, enabling the school to automatically dial back lighting and heating when they are unoccupied. The fact that Holderness buys Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified furniture for the residences and prints Advancement and Admission materials on FSC certified paper is also part of the story. The FSC certification means that the school is purchasing from those who commit to “socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world's forests” and will help offset its use of wood for fuel. And, there are the plans to put photovoltaic (PV) cells on the roof of the new rink and the subsequent goal of having a net zero result on electricity use.
These and the other energy efficient initiatives that make up the eighteen-page application are a stunning testament to Peter Hendel, Tony LeMenager and Maggie Mumford, who have patiently and ceaselessly worked sustainable choices into the core of the school’s business planning and management practices, seeking rebates when possible, continuously documenting and evaluating energy use, and ultimately factoring savings into the budget. It is this intentional part of Holderness School's sustainability efforts that helped elevate it to “champion” status.
It’s been more than twenty years since the concept of sustainable development first emerged as an international concern at the United Nations Earth Summit in 1992. It was at that conference that the importance of local communities making changes across all aspects of civil society became known as being essential to lasting change. Organizations of any size – businesses, towns, nations – interested in growing in sustainable ways needed to cultivate actions and habits from the social side of society in addition to cultivating actions and habits that are normally thought of as environmentalist – energy programs, food co-ops, recycling programs. It’s not just about recycling or even reducing carbon use anymore; it’s about cultivating a long-term win-win-win or “triple bottom line.” This means that to be truly sustainable, an organization must do the following:
1. Steward its natural resource use
2. Strengthen its financial stability
3. Develop a highly ethical, educated, and caring community
When the biomass facility comes online for the winter of 2015 – 2016 and the school begins to use 133,000 fewer gallons of oil per year for an annual savings of $300,000, it will have demonstrated these resource management and financial ‘wins’ most comprehensively.
But it was the third ‘win’ that would be at the heart of the video, namely the way Holderness’s culture is nurturing sustainable values that will permeate the Job Program, the school’s operations, the professional choices of our alumni, and the way the school interacts with its business and non-profit neighbors for decades to come. This is why the afternoon of the shoot was focused on our student sustainability initiatives supported by Maggie Mumford’s work as Sustainability Coordinator and advisor to the student Green Team—the club that works to foster sustainability on campus. As students were leaving class and heading for the practice fields, two students met up with the NEEP team to give a short tutorial on how to read an electricity meter and to conduct a ‘tour’ of the recycling shed.
Later, as Maggie spoke on camera about how she and other faculty members are developing coursework tied to sustainable development, it became abundantly clear that Maggie – and a growing group of the Holderness Community – is committed to efforts to raise awareness around resource management and sustainability, whether big or small. “I believe we must actively address climate change for the sake of our children,” she said. “I believe we must protect the biosphere they will inherit from our generation, a generation which has tended to view time as measured by quarterly reports instead of by the rhythm of life cycles, ecological implications, and evolution.” Listening to her it became evident that all of the meetings, paperwork, extra hours, explanations, community education, grant applications, patient budget adjustments and more are not only done for our community, but also something that more and more comes from inside our community. It’s something innate to Holderness, that for so many is a privilege and joy to make sure the land that sustains all of us stays verdant and whole.
While no State Championship banner will hang from the rafters of Gallop Gymnasium, the actions leading to this accomplishment and our unrelenting commitment to sustainability will continue to make an indelible impression on the school. Unlike an athletic season, the season of sustainability never ends. On to the next project…
NEEP’s mission is to serve the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic to accelerate energy efficiency in homes, buildings, and industry through public policy, program strategies and education. NEEP’s business leader’s recognition program showcases stories of leaders in energy efficiency in order to draw attention to ratepayer-funded efficiency programs. NEEP chooses from organizations in CT, DC, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, RI and VT
Holderness School has also been selected as the 2015 NEEP Business Leader for Energy Efficiency that places the school alongside 14 other business voices in support of energy efficiency in New Hampshire. The 15 organizations that were chosen have all completed or are in the midst of completing programs that the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships believes are exemplars of the advantages of collaboration and leadership in energy efficiency.