Interlochen Arts Academy recognized for sustainability efforts by U.S. Department of Education, White House

  • The Interlochen delegation, including Pat Kessel (second from left), Cookie Dutch (third from left), Emily Umbarger (fourth from right), Lauren Greene (third from right), and Cindy Hann (second from right) with representatives from the U.S. Department of Education.

On Sept. 25, representatives from Interlochen Arts Academy traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the 2019 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools ceremony.

Vice President of Finance and Operations Pat Kessel, Sustainability Manager Emily Umbarger, Brand Specialist Lauren Greene, Interlochen Center for the Arts Trustee Cindy Hann, and Arts Academy theatre student Cookie Dutch joined delegations from the other award-winning schools for a series of recognition events, culminating in a formal awards ceremony at the White House. Interlochen’s award was first presented by the Michigan Board of Education in an on-campus event on May 22, 2019.

“It was inspiring to be in a room filled with other educators and proponents for environmental stewardship,” Umbarger said. “I'm so proud to be a member of this school and of a community of people who care deeply for our Earth.”

For the past several years, Umbarger has been one of the leaders of institution-wide sustainability efforts, including the construction of a 100-foot composting facility, the installation of a high-efficiency dishwashing system, and the introduction of single-stream recycling. Umbarger also oversees the R.B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden, which provides fresh produce and agricultural educational opportunities for Interlochen’s students, staff, and local community.

“Receiving the U.S. Department of Education's recognition for this award has been an incredible honor, as well as a reminder to step back and to feel proud of the many things we’ve achieved so far,” Umbarger said. “We have made significant improvements to our facilities, and we're raising awareness about our footprint on the earth. As a community, we're embracing a cultural mindset that is sensitive to healthy lifestyle choices.”

While Umbarger has been the architect of the institution’s sustainability strategy, she hasn’t worked alone. Since 2017, representatives from other Interlochen departments—known as the “Green Team”—have consulted with Umbarger to plan and implement sustainability initiatives.

Greene, a member of Interlochen’s Marketing department, represented the Green Team in Washington. “Every year, we continue to make environmentally positive strides, and our commitment to a greener campus is one of the aspects of working at Interlochen that makes me the proudest,” she said. “Traveling to Washington connected us with other like-minded schools that share our values and sparked new ideas that we're looking forward to sharing with our community.”

Dutch, a four-year student and current senior, echoed Greene’s excitement about new ideas. “It was an incredible experience to hear what other schools across the United States are doing in terms of sustainability,” he said. “I'm grateful to be able to take the knowledge of these inspiring sustainable and environmentally friendly practices back to Interlochen.”

Ultimately, Umbarger notes, the award is not a destination: It’s an indicator that the journey of sustainability is off to a strong start. “While we should be extremely proud of what we've accomplished so far, we should never rest on heels,” she said. “There is so much work yet to be done, and it truly will take the entire community to embrace a sustainability-first mindset.”