Exploring Sustainability at Historic New England 

Apr 4, 2024

Historic New England’s marketing intern happens to study environmental science, so we asked her for her impressions of our approach to sustainability — read on to find out what she had to say.

I am a journalism and environmental science student at Northeastern University currently completing a co-op with Historic New England’s marketing team. Since I began working here in January, I’ve been observing our efforts to address climate change and sustainability. What follows are my thoughts on our existing initiatives, why they’re important, and some areas where we might want to expand our work in the future. 

Casey Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, has a site-specific climate action plan geared toward minimizing water and energy waste and reaching carbon neutrality.

Climate Action Planning 

In 2023, Historic New England outlined four goals to implement sustainable preservation practices into its foundation by 2050 with its Climate Action Plan. In my environmental science courses, I’ve learned that it’s crucial to have initiatives like these, not only to outline precisely how Historic New England is taking action, but also to hold the organization accountable with specific, timely objectives that hone in on carbon neutrality and climate resiliency. With work focused on reducing water and energy use already underway at Casey Farm, one of our most-visited sites, and other site-specific initiatives in the planning stages, I hope to see every Historic New England property eventually reduce its carbon footprint and energy consumption.

Organization-wide sustainability efforts

To effectively reduce our carbon footprint, it’s vital for green methods to be tied into all of our work. It shows that sustainability is not just an afterthought and that we understand it to be integral to the success of all of our initiatives. So it’s promising to see that Historic New England is thinking about its environmental impact across its programs in the New England Plan, the organization’s five year strategic agenda, where sustainability is listed alongside more traditional focus areas like policy and outreach. It’s also important for any organization to have a staff member who’s responsible for enacting productive changes regarding its impact on the planet. At Historic New England, our Sustainability Coordinator, Joie Grandbois, analyzes our effect on the environment and works with our teams and partners to ensure we adhere to our Climate Action Plan. And when disasters like coastal flooding strike our communities, having a knowledgeable voice like Joie’s publicly highlights how we are addressing the challenges historic sites face due to climate change. 

Photo by Susan Young via Bangor Daily News

Engaging communities

One focus of the Climate Action Plan is “engaging communities.” Historic New England hosts virtual events on climate resiliency for the public to learn about our properties’ shift toward being more eco-friendly. Though informing our members or visitors about how we minimize our environmental impact at our houses and farms is productive, promoting sustainable practices outside of our properties is another important way to get our communities involved. When working on press releases and other advertisements, for example, the marketing team highlights public transportation, especially with the Haverhill Center for Preservation and Collections and its proximity to the MBTA’s commuter rail and Amtrak stop. Further promoting public transportation to access our sites is another way Historic New England can think about its larger impact by helping to minimize emissions from our visitors.

The MBTA commuter rail crosses the Merrimack River in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Photo by Christopher R. Mazza.

Landscaping for climate change

In the past few years, Historic New England has addressed the implications of climate change on its property care team, such as having to alter buildings and drainage systems so our houses are better protected against more frequent and intense rain. In addition to this, I would like to see a larger conversation about how property maintenance affects the environment through our existing landscaping practices. Though many of our properties have beautiful, manicured lawns true to what their original owners would have walked through a century or more ago, we should be aware of how this may harm the ecosystems around us. Whether it’s incorporating more native plant species or reducing harmful chemicals used in lawn care, there are ways that this organization can continue to think about its environmental impact.

Flowers blossom outside the Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Looking forward

Historic New England’s existing work toward more sustainable preservation practices is encouraging. I look forward to seeing how our sustainability initiatives grow and evolve, and I hope we can be an example of how preserving history doesn’t compromise the future.

Written by Lauren Salemo, Marketing and Communications Intern