The Integrated Life of Ted Borer

When it comes to sustainability, Ted Borer isn’t messing around.

Ted works as the Energy Plant Manager at Princeton University, where he has helped make the University far more efficient and sustainable. Because of this, the University was even able to retain power throughout Hurricane Sandy while many of its neighbors found themselves in the dark. Ted’s professional work deserves attention, and you can even see a student-made video about him here. What really caught my attention about Ted, though, was when I heard about his home life.

Ted has been commuting to work by bike for years, has a big garden, has implemented solar at home, and even has his own chicken coop (in suburbia, mind you). This seemed like a guy that The EcoTheo Review needed to meet. And so, earlier this spring, I met up with Ted and his wife, Nancy Lehman, as well as two of their four children, Noah and Priscilla.

A Whole and Consistent Life

Living a whole and consistent life is very important to me

That’s what Ted told me, and a tour of the Lehman-Borer home confirmed it.

For starters, the Lehman-Borers have a garden fit to make most other gardeners green with envy (that’s a pun, kids). They have a collapsible and reusable greenhouse which allows them to grow produce most of the year round—even through this last winter’s brutal cold. (They designed the greenhouse themselves, and it cost less than $250). There are solar panels and a space-age water heater which Nancy explained (though my history-major brain struggled to grasp how it worked… suffice it to say that the water heater was impressive). Admittedly, the Lehman-Borers are still attached to the grid. Much of the time, though, they don’t need it.

There’s a beautiful, wood-burning stove that brings the family together in the winter (and neighbors, too, it turns out, when the municipal power goes fails). When the power does go out, the Borers’ backup generator has had enough energy to run a line to the neighbors’ for some emergency use. Ted’s power outage “be preparedness” is starting to seem like a trend. A coincidence that he helps out with his son’s Boy Scout Troop? I think not.

And then there are the chickens

A “bouquet of hens and a bouquet of eggs,” as Ted puts it—seven chickens which bring in eggs for the morning. Why put up with the fuss? I wondered. “We really wanted the kids to see and participate in this cycle,” Ted says.  “You get the idea. The eggs in the kitchen, the kitchen scraps in to the chicken, and then the chicken poo into the compost that then goes into the garden and then that goes back into the kitchen.” The circle of life, baby.

Oh, and of course I can’t forget to mention that there’s a chicken webcam. “The Coop-Cam” Ted calls it.

I asked the Lehman-Borer kids what they thought of all this. I was expecting eye-rolling and talk of drudgery, but they are actually pretty into it. “Filling the food and water every other day is work but the rest of it is pretty fun,” Noah says. Priscilla is equally upbeat: “I think of it as something I have to do but I also really enjoy doing.”

Ted waxes a bit more poetic. “It’s an excuse to get up before I leave for work,” he says. “I come out here with my coffee. I can feel the day. I can feel the temperature…That’s my weather report.”

The Lehman-Borers aren’t done yet, either. As Nancy put it, “We’re always looking for the next piece.” That next piece will likely include more berries for the garden, rain barrels, and more native plants for the yard (which, as a plus, will cut down on mowing, as well).

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or millionaire

What’s so amazing to me, about all this, is that the Lehman-Borers are adamant that you don’t have to be rocket scientists or millionaires to have this kind of life. Ted puts it this way:  “I hope to show people that it’s not just possible (to live sustainably) but that it’s possible at a net financial benefit. I want to show people that it’s not poor financial stewardship towards good environmental stewardship. The two actually go hand in hand. To me that’s a really, really important agenda.” The Lehman-Borers are proving it. While they admit that many of their investments wouldn’t have paid off if they were to stay in their home for only a year or two, over time they will be saving a significant amount of money.

This head-smart approach infiltrates Ted’s life both at work and at home. The narrative is a welcome alternative to the doom and gloom financial collapse that is so often purported when imagining a switch to “green” technologies.

The Lehman-Borers are also active at their local Presbyterian church. I wondered how faith entered into their decision to try and live more sustainably. Ted’s response is worth quoting at length:

I think most or not all of these things you could do if you were just motivated by mercenary reasons to save money, but some of it is also just for pleasure. It’s really a lot of joy. To be really honest I think this is completely consistent with my faith… I definitely find that this is consistent with and feels like taking care of Creation. I don’t want to overstate it, you know? Part of it is to save money. Part of it is because to me it is so obvious, either at work or here… it seems really clear to me that we have done a lot to mess up the environment and I think it is incumbent on any of us who can see that to try and work in the other direction, and ideally to teach in the other direction. That’s a big part of what I want to do.