Philanthropy Sustains Sustainability

In 2006, when Case Middle School received its LEED Gold designation from the U.S. Green Building Council, President Jim Scott '70 said, "Our students are learning to become responsible global citizens who are committed to the wise use of the world's precious resources. It is, perhaps, the most important lesson we can teach them."

Even before the 2005 Sustainability Summit, exploring ways to model green practices and teaching was underway at Punahou. Thanks to the innovative vision for Case Middle School, Punahou raised the bar for other educational institutions when it received LEED Gold in 2006 – the first LEED Gold designation for a school in Hawai'i, one of only seven LEED designated school facilities in the nation at the time, and the first LEED multi-building complex in the world.

This would not have been possible without philanthropy. Because the School is committed to building capital projects without tuition dollars, donors support of the research and planning by Punahou faculty and administration set a new standard in green design and a precedent for future projects at Punahou (Omidyar K – 1 Neighborhood, LEED Platinum in 2010). Other schools in the islands would follow, including Hawai'i Baptist Academy (2007), Hawai'i Preparatory Academy (2010) and 'Iolani (2014) School.

The sustainable design of the Omidyar K – 1 Neighborhood reflected the values of its lead donors, Pam and Pierre '84 Omidyar. It expanded on many of the energy-saving principles seen in Case Middle School and included features that would also be teaching tools for students and the broader community. The rainwater catchment cisterns, garden plots and bioswales – and the interactive real-time dashboard for energy consumption – are used by students every day.

While still under construction, the Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Community for grades 2 – 5 will build upon Omidyar's successes in its thoughtful integration of resource-saving design and teaching sustainable behavior: from a rich outdoor environment full of learning about native Hawaiian ecosystems to state-of-the-art buildings that will bring the School closer to its net-zero energy goals.

Prioritizing sustainability, while representing a greater investment, also attracts donors whose values are aligned with it. David '91 and Thais Vogel recently made a significant donation to the Kosasa Community, motivated by the opportunity to build a healthier planet.

"My wife and I decided that the best way to positively impact the lives of our children would be to focus on awareness of climate change and leadership in reducing emissions worldwide," said Vogel. "The Kosasa 2 – 5 Community exemplifies this leadership in its curriculum and in its energy-efficient, sustainable design. We hope that it will serve as an example for other schools and that we can teach the younger generation to be responsible with our environment."

Philanthropy is not limited to capital projects when it comes to supporting sustainability. Over the past decade, dozens of faculty and thousands of students have benefited from program funds that are earmarked specifically for sustainability-related teaching and learning.

Wodehouse Sustainability Learning Fellowships, which form part of the School's Wodehouse Funds for faculty professional growth, have boosted a dizzying array of projects – from building aquaponics systems to developing curriculum around ecoliteracy to visiting other institutions or inviting specialists to work on topics such as cultivating rare native plants or healthy eating.

Some of these projects, such as Ka Papa Mala (also known as Griffiths Garden) and the Rocky Hill Apiary, which will have its first middle-school elective class next year, have gradually found their way into the curriculum and "taken root."

"Most of the projects I've done with sustainability started with a Wodehouse fellowship, which gives us flexibility to explore ideas that aren't part of the regular curriculum and show their value to the school community," said K – 12 Gardens Coordinator Eliza Leineweber '92 Lathrop. "Some of them eventually become part of the formal instructional program. Sustainability is something that's constantly changing and the answer we had five years ago often isn't even the question we're asking today, so the flexibility these fellowships offer allow us to keep up with a changing set of questions and answers."

This support for innovation is so valuable that many current and former faculty are motivated to extend it to future generations of teachers. One teacher anonymously established an endowed fund for Outdoor Education. "My wife and I wanted the faculty to be able to dream what outdoor experiences can be for their students, and the fund is there so that money wouldn't be a stumbling block, whether it's planting or taking a field trip or bringing in an artist or a farmer. Resources should not inhibit your ability to dream," said the anonymous donor.