One of the first things a visitor to MUSE School’s bucolic elementary school campus notices is the five sunflowers. Not actual, living sunflowers but enormous, towering works of art that double as solar collectors to power the school.
They were designed and donated by film director James Cameron (of “Titanic” fame), whose wife Suzy Amis Cameron co-founded the school with her sister Rebecca. The sunflowers, which offset between 75 and 90 percent of the school’s daily energy use, embody one of MUSE’s five pillars – sustainability.
“The design was intended to create a functional art piece. The tracking base moves the flower head the way a real flower will grow toward the sun,” Cameron explained.
Sustainability is more than a buzzword at MUSE. The school’s founders, its staff, and even it students see living responsibly on the earth as a way of forging deep connections with communities local, national, and global, radiating out from the school in concentric circles.
In addition to the sunflowers, MUSE has expansive vegetable gardens, which supply 30 to 40 percent of the school’s food. Middle and high school director Dennis Campbell said MUSE is the only 100 percent “plant-based” school in the U.S. He described plant-based as “beyond vegan” in its adherence to eating only food that comes from plants.
MUSE does not require its students or families to be vegan or vegetarian, but does ask each family to sign a pledge committing to eating one plant-based meal a day. “We document the environmental impact of our one-meal-a-day program,” Campbell said. The biggest impact is on water and land consumption.
According to the MUSE website, a typical American diet requires 10 times more land to sustain than a plant-based diet. And by eating one plant-based meal per day, the average American reduces his or her water footprint by 55,613 gallons per year.
Students aren’t allowed to bring in any outside food or drink. But healthy snacks like raw nuts and dried and fresh fruit are available in every room of the school throughout the day.
See this MUSE report on food, energy, and water consumption for more detailed information.