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Living Green

CAS prof melds personal, professional passions


This week we bring you “BU Goes Green,” a series about efforts by students, faculty, and staff to make the University a greener place. Our series features green initiatives from composting to bees to living off the grid. Read more about BU Going Green.

“Julian is talking a lot about carbon footprints,” says Nathan Phillips. “He has an intuitive sense of things that are good for the environment and bad.”

Julian, it turns out, just turned five. And while his understanding of what is good for the environment may be intuitive, it is not entirely surprising in a child who rides to school in a bike trailer pulled by his dad, who then pedals on another seven miles to his largely-functioning-off-the-energy-grid office.

Nathan Phillips, a College of Arts & Sciences associate professor of geography and environment, is a somewhat reluctant poster boy for green living.

“I don’t claim to be fully free of all energy sources in the office at all times,” he says. His office’s heating and cooling are of course regulated building-wide.

But Phillips, who is also director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, is a model for those who aspire to a lifestyle that takes less and gives more back to the Earth. Even though he and his wife have two school-age children, they downsized their automobile stable from two cars to one, joined Zipcar, and made a commitment to bike to bikable destinations. The family grows herbs, tomatoes, raspberries, and Concord grapes in raised beds and tosses organic waste in a compost bin in the backyard.

Someday, Phillips says, he hopes to install solar panels, a solar hot water heater, and a rainfall collection system in their home to meet their non–drinking water needs, like watering the garden or washing clothes.

“One of the issues in society at large is that we mistakenly conflate simplicity with convenience or ease,” he says. “Sometimes we make choices that in the short term are convenient or easy, but that complicate our lives quite a bit.”

When in his almost off-the-grid office, Phillips can usually be found sitting in the light of his south-facing windows. A set of solar panels mounted in the windows powers his laptop, telephone, and two small desk lamps. He is, he says apologetically, at the mercy of the building-controlled heating and cooling systems.

So do all these efforts make a real difference when it comes to environmental impact? “I think it does,” he says. “It may not matter for the rest of society, but it means something to me.”

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter @lesliefriday. Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.


5 Comments on Living Green

  • Susan Chaityn Lebovits on 09.14.2010 at 4:40 pm

    Living Green

    Thank you Robin and Leslie for such a terrific story. And thank you, Nathan, for sharing your story.

  • George on 09.15.2010 at 6:29 am

    It’s good to see children getting involved with “being green”. Hopefully they’ll remember what they’re taught and action it when they’re older.

  • anemia on 09.17.2010 at 11:57 am

    Fresh Air

    I have a son 1 years old and I’m gonna teach him how to be green from NOW. If only everyone had the same respects as us we’d be breathing such cleaner air.


  • Abby Cote on 07.13.2012 at 9:36 am

    Huzzah! Prof. Phillips is great a inspiration :)

  • Colin Foreman on 12.12.2017 at 4:56 pm

    This story is awe-inspiring, its precisely what I want to aspire to someday, turn my own home into its own energy farm.

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