Santa Fe Sustainability
Tucked into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, St. John’s College Santa Fe sits 7,300 feet above sea level on 250 acres in the most beautiful part of Santa Fe, New Mexico, the country’s oldest capital city. Surrounded by hiking trails and a majestic landscape, the Santa Fe campus brings Rocky Mountain living quite literally to our doorsteps. We are also a high desert community and are therefore acutely aware of how precious our desert resources are and we use them with great efficiency and care. We do this through our long-standing water conservation, green building, and dryland permaculture practices, and through our multimillion dollar, donor-funded solar energy projects launched in 2023.
Solar deployment is one part of the college’s commitment to investing in a sustainable campus. 1,670 panels are connected to the power grid through an inverter that allows them to co-operate with PNM (Public Service of New Mexico). During a clear day, the panels supply over 100% of the college’s needs and provide excess energy to the grid. Power is then sent back to St. John’s at night and on cloudy days—in effect using PNM as a giant battery.
- Solar System Size: 677 kilowatts (kW) DC or 544 kW AC
- Anticipated Annual Electric Output in Year 1: 1,210,499 kilowatts per hour (kW/h)
- GHG Reduction: Equivalent to reduction of 858 Metric Tons of Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
- Additionally there are twenty electric vehicle-charging stations in four parking lots.
This project was made possible thanks to a gift from the Class of 2019 for a campus-wide energy audit that paved the way, followed by an anonymous donor who stepped up to fund the cost of installation.
With this project, the college reduces its CO2 emissions by 858 metric tons. This is equivalent to:
- 96,530 gallons of gasoline
- 167 homes’ electricity use for one year
- 104,352,291 smartphone charges
The college also replaced 100% of its lighting with light-emitting diode (LED) technology. In addition, the college updated electrical systems in Evans Science Laboratory, Pritzker Student Center, Santa Fe Hall, and the Fine Arts Building (FAB), and it also installed high-efficiency boilers at FAB, Weigel Hall, and Meem Library. These efforts provide annual electricity savings of more than 358,000 kW/h and dollar savings of $55,000 per year. The college’s commitment to energy conservation and solar power therefore saves over $100,000 annually.
By 2027, the campus will move to an all-electric vehicle fleet, which will garner its power from our electric charging stations—which will garner their power from our solar roofs. We have 20 electric charging stations for vehicles on campus.
When the Pritzker Student Center, Weigle Hall, and Winiarski Halls were built, they were created with rain and snow catchment systems leading into underground cisterns which have a collective storage capacity of 23,000 gallons of water. From here, pumps pull water back up into highly efficient drip irrigation systems that feed the desert xeriscaping around Fishpond Hill, between the Fine Arts Building and Levan Hall, between the Fine Arts Building and Pritzker Student Center, and around the Winiarski buildings.
Looking ahead, the renovation of Pritzker Student Center will add new water harvesting opportunities that will significantly expand our water and snow catchment capacity and the reach of our permaculture practices. Goals also include water catchment and reuse for Lowers, the Student Activity Center, and Meem Library.
At St. John’s College in Santa Fe, we practice dryland permaculture, a type of permaculture suited for desert environments. Our permaculture design parameters include the following criteria:
- Conscious Plant Choices: Utilizing native and adapted drought tolerant species will allow for the landscape to thrive even in the high desert climate. Species of plants that have adapted to dry ecosystems use a variety of measures to conserve water, therefore providing a more sustainable and aesthetically pleasing landscape that stands the test of time.
- Water Harvesting: Through passive water harvesting techniques, we will be able to ensure that precipitation does not leave the planting sites, and if it does, then it is routed or harvested to other useful places. Keeping rainwater on site will help decrease the need for supplemental irrigation over time.
- Soil Building Techniques: We will ensure that we begin the soil building process for each new entrance immediately. The native soils in the high desert are extremely fragile and nutrient poor, and they do not naturally infiltrate or retain moisture. A plant cannot be healthy without a health soil biology, period. All water and nutrients that plants need to survive, yet alone thrive in the desert, come from moisture and a soil biology that is constantly releasing water soluble nutrients. Soils cannot hold moisture and foster life unless there is organic matter and mulch to help mitigate the effects of high temperature, sun and wind evaporation.
- Efficient Irrigation: All updated irrigation systems will provide accurately proportioned water to specific species of new plantings via drip emitters. Equal pressure distribution along each individual zone is critical for equal water distribution and performance of emitters to produce their individually specified gallons per hour.
Sage Dining is the college’s food service provider. Every day, Sage collects the college’s green food waste (no meat or animal byproducts) for pick-up by Reunity Resources, a local regenerative community farm and soil/compost yard, to compost kitchen waste created during food preparation. As a Reunity Resources partner, the college contributes to a thriving community nonprofit providing fresh produce to the needy, Summer Farm Camps, and professional training. Plans are currently underway to extend this initiative by partnering with student clubs and other members of the campus community. This program composts many pounds of food waste per year.
On the recycling front, the St. John’s community recycles about 25% of its non-food waste and strives for higher rates. Recycling bins are in all main buildings on campus. Dormitories have recycling bins if and when a Resident Assistant agrees to take responsibility for overseeing the bins.
The Santa Fe campus currently has two LEED-certified buildings: Winiarski is a Platinum-certified building, which is the highest-level LEED certification that a building can be awarded; Levan Hall is a Gold-certified building, which is the second highest-level LEED certification that a building can be awarded.
The Greenhouse Club consists of members of the St. John’s College sphere who wish to engage in activities related to environmentalism, political action, and education on the local ecosystem, the ongoing climate crisis, and skills related to gardening. Our vision is to create a community at SJC committed to strengthening our connection with the natural world, highlighting our intricate connections to local flora, and fauna, and educating others on the ongoing climate crisis.
Our pillars form the acronym E.N.T.S:
- Exploring the connection between humans and nature.
- Nourishing our souls, bodies, and minds through an intimate relationship with the local ecosystem.
- Teaching others about the preservation of native life and its importance in fighting the climate crisis.
- Securing a future through the adoption of undisruptive methods of living within, not apart from, the natural world.
Every year, the Master Gardeners of Santa Fe County bring their Native Plants class to study the many mature plant specimens on our campus. Through a grant from New Mexico State University, many of these specimens have identification labels that correspond with a map for self-guided tours of our campus plant species. In the future, we may develop it into a digital walking tour.
The college also works with the City of Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, and the Forest Service and volunteers to maintain multiple trails that begin on our campus. These trails are used by more than 100 visitors each day.