Environmental Initiatives

Founding headmaster Dr. William Mann Irvine built a power plant in the school’s early days. More recently, the Academy has partnered with local farms to provide food for students in the dining hall. Mercersburg has a long tradition of finding creative on-campus solutions for environmental stewardship and economic stability. These efforts serve to help elevate understanding and responsible action within the Mercersburg Academy community and beyond—when faculty and staff return home at night, students go home for breaks, and graduates carry their practices off to universities and colleges around the world.

Will Willis, Director of Environmental Initiatives and Science Faculty

Green Team

The Green Team, Mercersburg’s student-driven environmental organization, has been in existence since 2000. It's mission is to raise awareness of and promote action toward responsible environmental change in our school and the global community. Through collaboration and communication, the team will reinforce positive green habits and work with the school administration and dining services to advocate for institutional changes. To that end, this group leads numerous annual programs to educate the community, including:

EcoDorm Challenge: This heated one-month battle (in January) between the dorms to save the most energy (kWh per capita per day) started back in 2005; it became a water-conservation challenge in 2017. 

Project Earth Day Education and Networking: Project EDEN was started in 2014 as a collaborative project with the Voices 4 Justice club. Students raise money to buy LED light bulbs for the students and families at Mercersburg Elementary School, and visit the school to give a presentation to those students about the environmental importance of LEDs, as well as the cost-savings benefits.

Environmental Stewardship

Projects at Mercersburg are initiated from any number of sources, from daily actions by staff to student-led projects to more institutional opportunities. Here are just a few previous examples.

Mercersburg was fortunate to receive a generous matching grant from the E.E. Ford Foundation in 2010. Faculty members were asked to propose environmental projects that would have deep community impact. Five faculty members were awarded grants to research their proposals. After the research was completed, grant and matching funds were used to implement four of the projects:

  • Electricity-generating fitness equipment (three ellipticals and two treadmills) in the McDowell Fitness Center.

  • Creation of solar panels from scratch in physics classes, and the installation of two solar arrays. The first array was installed in 2012 to power the removable roof of the (off-grid) Class of ’38 Observatory. The second array, a grid-tied 3.7kW array, is near the Masinter Outdoor Education Center, and supplies power for the pump that services the water tank for the fire sprinkler system, as well as the center itself. Installation of a 3.7 kW solar array by the Masinter Outdoor Education Center was performed entirely by faculty member Dave Holzwarth ’78, Dan Chayes (a local solar installer), and students.

  • Installation of a greenhouse and purchase of supplies to expand the community garden.

  • Lighting inventory of campus and subsequent LED pilot projects, including the Plantz (Volleyball) Courts, the McDowell Fitness Center, and a hallway in Rutledge Hall. This also included research into various solar technologies for the Mercersburg campus.

Hurricane Sandy caused significant damage when it passed over campus in October 2012. Buildings and grounds staff and faculty bailed water in South Cottage when the roof was literally ripped off, thus saving the building. More than 20 mature trees blew over, but quick action from the buildings and grounds crew spared the worthy among them from simply going to the chipper. Several were cut into 10-foot lengths, milled on-site by a local operator, and dried for future use in campus flooring projects. Some of the wooden flooring in the Prentiss Alumni and Parent Center at North Cottage came from this project.

In 2009, the Green Team and select faculty members teamed with SAGE Dining Services to eliminate the paper and Styrofoam cups in the dining hall. Research showed that the community used 10,000-12,000 Styrofoam cups per week. With an initial investment into generic mugs and the racks needed to clean them, the investment paid for itself in a matter of months and ended up saving several thousands dollars in the first year alone. Within a few years, SAGE shifted most disposables (utensils, plates, and cups held in reserve for the occasional day when equipment or power isn’t cooperating) to a compostable, plastic-type material.

Mercersburg partnered with a local farmer in 2013, and now kitchen prep waste and select foods that are sent back after sit-down meals are provided to feed the pigs. The napkins used at meals are even repurposed for animal bedding.