Go Green or Go Home: Checking in With Swadesh S. ’23’s Climate Initiative

“Nothing.” Out of forty-four responses to “What have you heard thus far about the sustainability initiative Swadesh S. ’23 announced in the Spring of 2022?” in the Tatler Poll, forty-two of them can be summated in that one word. Many Lakesiders probably recall the assembly Swadesh organized for climate change awareness, split between laughing at clever analogies between the plot of Lord of the Rings and a global crisis and applauding what seemed to be a final and concerted effort to truly affect lasting change at Lakeside. 

Yet, since that rousing call to action, all has been silent on the green front, and students are now beginning to complain of false promises, inaction, and a general estrangement from an initiative that seemed to proffer so much hope. Conversely, the small contingent of students involved in the project maintain the purpose and progress of their mission, and are hard at work through a Discord server. 

The tradition of seniors or even the school assuming the helm of sustainability work isn’t new. The first mention of the word “sustainability” in the Lakeside Tatler arrived in the form of a 1995 interview with then head of school Dr. Terry Macaluso, and the topic has been a buzzword at our institution ever since. 

Some of the most evident (and controversial) changes came in the form of 2011’s Meatless Mondays and the implementation of solar panels on top of the AAC in 2013, both of which remain to this day. These projects began as the brainchildren of student members of organizations like the short-lived EcoTeam or Stud Gov (the former of which consisted of seniors who had attended an environmental summer camp and were the de facto arbiters of Lakeside environmentalism). Notwithstanding, for every one of these advances, there were accompanying failures in the mission for sustainability, such as the Lakeside Energy Awareness Club’s dashed dreams to publish an annually-updating website about Lakeside’s energy consumption. 

To determine where Swadesh’s most recent bid in the continued fight for sustainability will fall on this spectrum, I spoke to the man himself.


Jackson B. ’25 (JB): Let’s start with having you describe the project for those who don’t know about it and why you decided to tackle sustainability at Lakeside.

Swadesh S. ’23 (SS): You have a problem that threatens to hit everyone. That’s a problem about which we ought to do something. Yet, a lot of the individual actions suggested in response to climate change just don’t seem worth it compared to whatever’s being sacrificed. Though I fully respect folks who live with sustainable principles, I’m personally most interested in a different kind of work at Lakeside. We’ve got students who are destined to lead in many aspects of tomorrow’s world. So what if we could train into their brains a wee little voice, a mini-climatic lens? If you ignore how invasive that sounds, wouldn’t it be marvelous? We only need a few Lakesiders to eventually have influence over large-scale decisions for such efforts to be worth it.

JB: What was the response like to your assembly?

SS: The initial response was quite promising; around fifty people completed the Google Form I sent-out. Various faculty members reached out, too, offering wonderful support. I’m endlessly grateful for the feedback I’ve received. It’s this ongoing community engagement that’s been most exciting for me in terms of continuing this work.

JB: What has been done thus far towards the sustainability initiative?

SS: We’ve gotten started on a ton of different projects since last year. We’ve put together a website, written up some blog posts, read some books, and discussed a bunch of crazy ideas for the future. But my primary focus recently has been on working with faculty to try and create a long-term, climate-informed presence, whether that be a single hire or group of individuals, at Lakeside to influence decisions made by the school. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more specifics as this continues to take shape!

JB: Interesting! How might recent changes in the upper echelons of the administration affect your goals?

SS: New leadership equals new beginnings! I’m very excited to note that folks from our new administration have expressed an openness to accepting student input. I’m hoping for many chances to engage this year to create a lasting impact at Lakeside.

JB: What are some of your concrete goals or intentions for the future months and/or even year of the initiative? 

SS: I’ve got a list that’s absurdly long and growing, and I’m tempted to barrage you. But my temptations (for cake, usually) often lead me to the wrong places. Here’s the big idea: I’ve always imagined this as a three-pronged attack involving opportunities for climate-related actions around campus, a strong pipeline of climate-related information created by and for Lakesiders, and ongoing efforts for changes to climate-related decision-making at Lakeside. This year, I hope to make progress on all three goals in the form of one, unified platform for opportunities and knowledge. This platform would be managed by a body that offers a climatic lens for Lakeside decision-making year-over-year. I’ve got some of the pieces of that puzzle and I’m just working on bringing them together!

JB: A lot of people have complained of knowing nothing about the project and a lack of communication. Are you aware of these concerns, and if so, what are you doing to address them?

SS: I’d be super curious to dig into those reports! I decided not to send weird and frequent recruitment-style emails to folks who didn’t express a desire to receive them by filling out the Google Form! 

If you’re someone invested in Lakeside’s sustainability future, please find me and let’s talk! And if you’re curious but are more of a wait-and-see kind of person, I’m glad to share that I’ve got some exciting plans for the coming months, for which I need your passion.

Over the summer, I put together a Discord server for the project with twenty people but soon enough, it became clear that I was saying more to the community than them. Even as new people joined, I found that the norm of not responding or engaging we’d somehow built ended up kind of deactivating people, which just became too disheartening to watch.

I get it; when folks are unpaid volunteers, their work depends entirely on their passion, and passion can be fickle. I’ve never done something quite like this before, so that was a valuable lesson to learn first-hand. Instead of building more on a shaky foundation, I thought it was time to pull back and deeply reconsider my approach.

JB: I look forward to whatever that novel approach is. Any parting words?

SS: There’s going to be swings and misses. But I promise you: there’ll be some aces in the hole too. Wait. That’s not right. Sorry, did you say this was going in the paper?


This interview has been edited for clarity.