Blazing a Path By Andrew Fletcher
When she was thirteen, Katie Massie ’16 asked her father if he thought her kids in the future would always have a white Christmas. Dr. Robert Massie, a renowned leader in global and national initiatives on environmental sustainability, didn’t pull any punches. “Probably not,” he told her.
immediately contacted Foot, asking how she could help out.
“As a New England girl, that made me so upset,” Massie recalls. “It wasn’t my fault, and as a kid I shouldn’t have to worry about these things or get involved.” Fast forward five years, and Massie has officially become “involved.”
Upon her return to Cambridge, Massie took drastic measures, delivering an impassioned speech on divestment during a morning assembly. A second petition followed on the heels of the speech. This time the reaction was dramatic; nearly 200 students signed.
This spring, as part of their Senior Project, Massie and fellow senior Elizabeth Foot saw the culmination of two years of hard work pay off when they helped spur the first-ever meeting of the BB&N Sustainability Advisory Council, a ten-person collection of trustees, administrators, parents, alums, and an environmental consultant, tasked with the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability at the School for decades to come. It was an unlikely scenario for two students who two years ago had minimal interest in activism beyond the general idea that saving the environment is a good idea. It all began with a simple petition and a letter. Foot was sitting in a history class her junior year when an offhand comment by her teacher Louise Makrauer struck her. “Ms. Makrauer mentioned something about a high-ranking member of the Environmental Protection Agency not believing in climate change,” says Foot. “I remember thinking, ‘What?! That doesn’t make sense.’” Foot’s mind was already on the topic of climate change due to a campus visit a few days prior by environmental activist Jamie Henn ’02. Emboldened by some seniors who were discussing divestment, Foot sent out a petition to the Upper School community asking if BB&N should divest from fossil fuels. Massie, who was away for a CITYterm semester in New York City, saw the email and
Initially the petition fell on mostly deaf ears. “We had to send it out twice because people didn’t understand why it was important…it just wasn’t a topic they were informed on,” says Massie.
Encouraged by the response, Massie and Foot sent the signatures to the Board of Trustees along with a letter stating the importance of student voices being heard on the issue. “Our mindset was, ‘Let’s take on the world,’ but I don’t think we were expecting a lot,” says Foot. So, imagine their surprise when a few weeks later, the two seniors found themselves sitting in Head of School Rebecca T. Upham’s office with Board Chair Brace Young, discussing sustainability topics. “I remember how amazing it was sitting in that office for the first time,” says Massie. “Two of the most important people in the BB&N community sat down with two students who had questions—just from writing a letter. That’s not something you’d normally think you can do. It was extremely empowering.” The meeting led to the topic being raised with the full board. As momentum built, Massie and Foot were encouraged by Upham and Young to spearhead the formation of a Sustainability Advisory Council. With help from BB&N Chief Financial and Operations Officer Brett Fuhrman and sustainability consultant Brian Palm, and through research, planning, and numerous meetings, the council slowly came together. “In the end, it was because of Katie and Elizabeth’s leadership that the Board of Trustees became focused on discussing divestment as well as what BB&N
could do to improve its environmental footprint,” says Fuhrman. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me in five or ten years that BB&N would source its progress and pursuit to being an institutional leader within environmental sustainability back to these two students who took the initiative to pursue their passion to make the world a better place.” The purpose of the advisory council is to provide the Board of Trustees with a list of focus areas which could propel BB&N to become a sustainability leader. For Massie and Foot this list contains some shorter-term goals, which include incorporating sustainability into curriculum, building a “green” alumni/ae network, and phasing in infrastructure changes such as more solar panels, double-paned windows, low-energy lights, and revised heating systems. The girls’ aspirations for their alma mater also include longer-term, more challenging goals such as divestment and carbon neutrality—off-setting carbon emissions so that net carbon emissions are zero. Massie and Foot acknowledge that these longer-term goals are complicated asks, but both intend to keep pushing. They have even agreed to serve on the advisory council as alumnae and help mentor current underclassmen. When asked what changes she would like to see ten years down the road when she returns for Strawberry Night, Massie is philosophical: “The biggest thing I’d like to see is that people view BB&N as a place where sustainability is ingrained into the mindset and into the culture—I want students to understand it’s a priority here.” And both believe that the School is ready for the challenge. “BB&N doesn’t really give itself credit for the stuff it does,” says Massie. “The School is geared up to make some changes. They’ve done a lot of sustainability work already—but they can always do more.” That’s where Massie and Foot come in. 37