Living Green

CAS prof melds personal, professional passions

“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; follow her on Twitter @lesliefriday. Robin Berghaus can be reached at

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