Each year, Lawrenceville emits a total of 7,600 metric tons of CO2, uses 11,882 MWh (Megawatt hours) of electricity, and demands 70,000 MMBtu (million British thermal units) of natural gas. The School’s emissions alone are equivalent to the emissions of over 1000 gas-powered cars driven for a year, 20 million miles driven by an average gas-powered car, nearly 1000 homes for a year, or the consumption of nearly 20,000 barrels of oil. To sequester our total campus emissions, we would have to build 2.1 million wind turbines or restore around 9000 acres of U.S. forests.
Think about those staggering totals. Now multiply them by the over 33,000 private schools in the U.S., each emitting varying levels of CO2. Quite quickly, the massive environmental strain to which Lawrenceville and other educational institutions contribute becomes clear. Nonetheless, Lawrenceville stands in a unique position to help curb this impact—our reputation and unparalleled financial resources make it imperative that our School take leadership responsibility in mitigating the climate crisis, amongst similar institutions. While ongoing sustainability efforts by students and faculty on campus are already doing important work with regards to student engagement, the most effective and ambitious sustainability effort—committing to pursuing carbon neutrality—represents the best and only path forward to fully realizing the potential of our community to inspire lasting environmental change.
Lawrenceville is currently working with the environmental engineering firm Introba to guide our potential future commitment to pursuing carbon neutrality. Students are engaged with Introba’s work on campus, helping to survey and collect necessary data on buildings for the company’s models to provide a more accurate assessment of what a full pivot toward carbon neutrality might look like. Once Introba’s work is finished, likely during the next school year, the task will fall to the Lawrenceville Board of Trustees to make the final commitment to pursuing a carbon neutral campus, allocating financial and other resources necessary to make the switch. Introba’s work specifically details action steps to achieve 50 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2035 or complete carbon neutrality by 2045— the Board of Trustees must also select which avenue to take, if they choose to make any commitment at all.
With this in mind, pending the completion of Introba’s work on plotting a path toward a carbon neutral future, our School will find itself at an important crossroads for sustainability. Although commitments to carbon neutrality grow more common at the collegiate level, efforts at reaching carbon neutrality at secondary schools are almost unheard of. Unfortunately, if Lawrenceville cannot make such a commitment toward pursuing carbon neutrality, even with its unique array of resources, then it is highly unlikely that any other schools will set a similar goal. If no leader exists in advancing the cause of climate sustainability in its most ambitious form (i.e. carbon neutrality) at the secondary school level, then we can not expect any change. Lawrenceville’s decision therefore represents a profound opportunity for us to on the most pressing issues of our time. Leadership in this capacity powerfully demonstrates Lawrenceville’s commitment to advancing and facilitating the futures of its students in the years and decades to come.
A commitment to carbon neutrality also represents a further important opportunity to continue to enrich the value of a Lawrenceville education. All future leaders in every industry will need to know about and grapple with the impacts of climate change on their industries, as well as how to best guide organizations and companies in meeting these challenges. If we students are involved and educated properly about the process by which Lawrenceville transitions to carbon neutrality, we will be better prepared to handle these same challenges in the real world. Lawrenceville can leverage such a commitment to carbon neutrality into profound environmental change and leadership, as well as educational value in directly contributing to its primary mission.
Therefore, the School must consider the pursuit of carbon neutrality a worthy endeavor for the School and community, both to further enhance the value of a Lawrenceville education and to assume a necessary leadership role in protecting our earth. All members of our community, from students to faculty and staff, can play a role in encouraging this change—a greener, even more beautiful campus and an even more valuable Lawrenceville experience.