Striving Towards 2020 Vision

Carrie Cao ’23 sat down with Mr. Hahn, assistant head of school and director of strategic initiatives, to discuss the school’s intention to be carbon-neutral by 2020.

When can we expect Hotchkiss to be carbon-neutral?
In 2010, the Board of Trustees endorsed a ten-year initiative to become carbon-neutral. An aspirational date of 2020 was set to achieve this goal. Since then, the school has taken on significant energy conservation and renewable energy initiatives, including building the biomass plant, which reduced the school’s [carbon footprint] by 40%, building a solar array at the ’49 Fields, adding solar [panels] to the Grange, [and] a massive overhaul of almost all our lighting to switch from conventional to fluorescent [LED] bulbs.
One thing to note is that the school aims to get to carbon neutrality in a substantive way, not superficially by buying carbon offsets. We could achieve carbon neutrality today by cutting a check to an organization that would give us credit, and it actually wouldn’t be tremendously expensive. But, the school is committed to getting to our goal in ways that are on-site and, as much as possible, connected to student learning and the lived experience at Hotchkiss. I don’t have a specific number to give you as to how far we are towards our goal. We will do an analysis at some point in the coming year to get a sense of where we stand.

Where are we now in the process of becoming carbon-neutral?
While we have yet to achieve neutrality, we remain on an aggressive path towards that goal. One “under the radar” initiative to reduce our carbon footprint is our local food purchasing program. Right now, we are getting 30% of our produce and almost all our beef from our farm. We haven’t done the math on this yet, but think about how much carbon we save on shipping food. Beyond our farm, 60% of our total food is bought within 100 miles of the campus. This is due to an extraordinary effort by Mr. [Mike] Webster, Ellie Youngblood, and our whole team.