Sustainability Programming and Initiatives: a throughline in the IMS Curriculum.

“It’s not just about solar panels, it’s about the way we fundamentally operate.”

In his 25th year at IMS, Tom Stewart’s experience as a classroom teacher at IMS has primarily been within the humanities, but he has always been drawn to cross-curricular work and the understanding that what we learn and do now, directly affects future generations. At this moment, what could be more pressing than protecting the planet and its people?

Mr. Stewart is the Assistant Head of School at IMS, and also the Director of Sustainability Programming and Initiatives. It’s a position that is indicative of the kinds of programming that weaves through IMS — both on the academic side and operations side.

Last year, Mr. Stewart was certified as a Global Schools Advocate on behalf of the Global Schools Program, which is an initiative of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). Approximately 180 educators from around the world were selected to become Global Schools Advocates, after completing rigorous training on crucial aspects of Sustainable Development and ESD (Education for Sustainable Development). As an Advocate, Mr. Stewart and IMS are responsible for integrating ESD topics into lessons and activities within its classrooms and school community. This month, the Global Schools Program celebrated Mr. Stewart with another role: Mentor Advocate, given this year to 45 exceptional educators worldwide, who will advise, guide and mobilize a new class of Advocates.

“I think there’s no better way to have an impact than giving kids at this age the knowledge necessary, the sense that they have agency, and a will to act.”

As the first Director of Sustainability Programming and Initiatives at IMS, Mr. Stewart sometimes uses an acronym, (“I’m the Director of SPI!”). While it’s not any secret agent job, it does, none-the-less, bring with it a certain amount of intrigue. Most people who are Directors of Sustainability in schools come through the science departments. I’m not that, I’m Humanities. So this is an unusual path. But I came to it through the Humanities lens because so much of what needs to happen has all this human impact side to it. There’s a whole ethical side to it. The impact is all on people.”


For several years now, part of the 9th Grade curriculum has been the study of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, culminating in a symposium, where student teams present their solutions related to a specific SDG. “When we first started it, we were just thinking about fixing stuff. But soon we realized that solutions for some areas simply don’t work as realistic solutions for others. So we’ve learned that whatever solution that is developed has to be specific to that region, with the people from that region being engaged and involved in the conversation.” 


No longer isolated to our 9th grade program, this year our 8th graders are taking an introduction to Sustainable Development Goals, and the programming will continue to filter in various ways through all of the grade levels at IMS.

“Big picture, what are we doing to reduce the environmental and equity impact that the school may have in a bigger way?”

Mr. Stewart’s job is not just about curriculum, but also operations. “I see myself in this job as highly involved in Buildings and Grounds as we build buildings: how will it be heated, what’s the impact on the land that we have, how many trees are being cut down, and if we’re putting in a parking lot what’s the surface going to be? All that kind of stuff. But then also things like the school’s finances: where is our money invested? Are there fossil fuels in there? Then it’s also looking more deeply and in a more organized way: big picture, what are we doing to reduce the environmental and equity impact that the school may have in a bigger way?” 

“I don’t know of any place that’s doing this.”

Understanding the human impact of sustainability initiatives, Mr. Stewart has been working closely with Shantel Hanniford, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to connect elements of sustainable development with DEI in a thoughtful way. “I don’t know of any school below the college level that is even close to combining the environmental considerations with the equity aspect in such an intentional way. This combination is a really exciting thing and we’re leading the charge on that.”


There’s certainly a challenge to teaching young students a subject which carries with it an enormous burden of urgency. “On the adult end of things there’s often a lot of denial, and on the kids’ side of things there’s despair. And both those things means nothing gets done. So we need agency, a will to act. And hope is a huge component here.” Mr. Stewart adds, “If there’s anything schools can do, it’s impact the future. And if there’s any purpose that schools should serve right now, I can’t think of anything more significant than saving the world. That’s what it’s about right now. This is the decade of action.”