By John R. Newman, Dean of Students

We have talked a lot this year at Idyllwild Arts about sustainability, and we have achieved measurable successes. We discovered through this event, and in our work on other projects this year, that sustainability is a rallying cry for community; it is an opportunity for us to come together and celebrate a constant that keeps us connected.

Likewise, many folks have attended talks we have hosted on campus and have inquired about how to become more involved in our initiatives. As a school community, we have met more frequently this year to discuss how we can make improvements in our daily operations, and in our arts, academic, and student life programs.

As we near the end of the school year, I thought I would provide a brief summary of what we have accomplished so far, and encourage others in the community to join us in our efforts. We are all very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place, where we see reminders everyday of the importance of taking care of ourselves and our environment.

The wholesale elimination of disposable plastic water bottles from campus was one of our first initiatives as the school year started. All plastic water bottles were targeted regardless of their use — for sack lunches when our students and faculty travel off campus, water for catered events we sponsor on and off campus, and cases of water bottles we routinely stocked in offices and elsewhere on campus.

Since September 2011, we estimate approximately 15,000 disposable water bottles have been elminated. Knowing how important it is for our students and staff to stay well hydrated, we provided eco-friendly Idyllwild Arts Academy canteens to every student and faculty member at the start of the year, in preparation for our an annual all-school hike.

Duing this year, we have been extraordinarily fortunate to have had a chance to work with Evan Mills, an expert in energy conservation. Mills was a member of the Nobel Prize-winning team of scientists who advised Al Gore in the wide range of administrative climate change initiatives featured in the acclaimed documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Mills has helped us identify areas of our operation where we can make significant conservation improvements, in part by providing analysis of past utility consumption data we have gathered for future planning.

Our water conservation plan has a goal of reducing consumption 10 percent over the next five years. Our first year goal of 2 percent has been achieved, owing partly to the installation of low-flow shower heads and air-assisted flush technology for toilets, and a 50 percent reduction in irrigation. We have also made a concerted effort to raise awareness of water conservation, knowing it will take effort from the entire school community to effect real change.

We have established six sustainability subcommittees, each one focused on a different facet of our overall goal. The subcommittees are Buildings and Campus; Fuel and Energy; Curriculum and Education; Food; Recycling; and Marketing.

We have instituted a policy for all new public buildings on campus to seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. LEED certification process is underway in our design work for a new campus health center and concert hall. New faculty housing units slated for construction this summer will be Energy Star certified homes, and we will aim for a NetZero carbon footprint with the proposed new president’s residence on campus.

These policy commitments to conserve energy and resources have resulted in several specific actions, besides the plastic bottle ban, at the school. Many of these will be discussed in the second part of this column next week.