Thoreauness: Concord Academy among the first independent schools in the Northeast to develop comprehensive sustainability plan

Concord Academy embraces the practice of common trust: a deep-seated responsibility towards their community and their world, including the built and natural environments. The independent school for grades 9-12 in the home of environmentalists Thoreau and Emerson is developing a plan to tie the town’s history and the founding principles of their community for the betterment of their future.


“Concord Academy engages its students in a community animated by a love of learning, enriched by a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, and guided by a covenant of common trust.” —Concord Academy’s mission statement

Backpacks line the entry and hallways of the dining hall on most afternoons at Concord Academy. Though the students are elsewhere—likely at sports practices, meeting with teachers, or enjoying the sun on the green—their personal items remain unhidden, awaiting their return.

But common trust goes beyond feeling confident that your iPhone won’t be stolen from your bag while you catch up with friends over lunch. At the heart of this covenant, this declaration of common trust, is deep-seeded integrity, responsibility, and support for the entire Concord Academy community—including the natural world in which it resides.

Sustainability and the environment have always been considerations for Concord Academy. Residing within the historic town of Concord, Massachusetts, great care has been taken to ensure that all campus buildings and renovations preserve the historic quality of the area. As home to environmentalists Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Alcotts, Concordians pride themselves in preserving what Thoreau saw as a place to live deliberately and in harmony with nature. To support these desires, the Town of Concord established a set of sustainability principles in 2011.

From town to gown

Fulfilling the legacy of its community, Concord Academy has implemented many sustainability initiatives on campus, including widespread composting and implementing campus building efficiency measures The school joined with Concord Carlisle High School, Middlesex Academy, and the Concord Land and Conservation Trust to form the Concord Environmental Consortium to increase awareness of environmental stewardship throughout Concord. Past sustainability efforts were plentiful and positive, but they lacked the institutional cohesion that many colleges and universities take on to ensure large-scale change.

In the fall of 2017, Concord Academy partnered with GreenerU to begin the development of a sustainability strategic plan. Leading the charge was Marketing and Communications Director Ben Carmichael ‘01 and Director of Campus Planning, Design, and Construction Don Kingman, who, along with GreenerU, developed a planning process that encouraged participation from all community members.

For some, that meant joining one of three working groups dedicated to drafting sustainability goals and strategies for the school to accomplish. For others, that looked more like providing candid feedback on the work completed by the working groups or providing expert insight to shape the contents of the plan. In whatever capacity, Concord Academy relied on common trust and the responsibility each community member has to support and represent what is best for the community at large to define the future of sustainability at Concord Academy.

By developing this plan, Concord Academy becomes one of the few secondary schools in the region to set long-term intentions toward becoming more sustainable. Among them is the Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Massachusetts, who launched a Sustainability Action Plan in 2013, and The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, which set a 2020 campus carbon neutrality date.

Overcoming the challenges of pioneering

Developing a strategic plan is no walk in the park. When considering all of the stakeholders, topic areas to cover, and budgeting needed for a successful plan, independent schools might lack the resources to tackle such an undertaking. Concord Academy came up with some key hacks to overcome their hurdles:

  1. Consolidating their focus:  Concord Academy chose three focus areas for their plan: (a) greenhouse gas emissions, (b) food, and (c) building operations and materials management, which helped the school concentrate their initial efforts on the largest impacts first.
  2. Frequent administrator review sessions: A strategic plan cannot drive change if there isn’t broad institutional buy-in. Concord Academy not only engaged students and staff in the development process, they frequently discussed their plan with and got input from the head of school, executive board, board of trustees, and all levels of school staff and faculty.
  3. Outsourcing project management and facilitation: Meaningful participation and contribution to a strategic planning process is greatly aided by help with project management. Concord Academy hired GreenerU to facilitate the entire strategic planning process, which kept up the momentum and enabled staff the time needed to gather information and endorsements from important stakeholders.

Though planning is just the beginning, the care that Concord Academy took in developing an inclusive strategic planning process bodes well for the success of their sustainability efforts, which improve the lives of everyone in a community. Concord’s covenant of common trust ensures a future of collaborative respect, responsibility, and action to improve the Concord community and the world.

Is your school ready for a sustainable future? Developing and implementing a sustainability strategic plan is our recommended first step. Contact us at 781-209-5760 or to join the growing community of independent schools that are leading the way.

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