Upcoming Climate Action Plan Promotes Campus Sustainability

Kamna Shastri, Staff Writer

Imagine a wind turbine, its blades slowly turning as it stands between the science building, Harper Joy Theater, and Penrose Library. Picture a campus shimmering with the reflections of solar panels, retrofitted for rooftops. Think of going to the dining hall and leaving with a reusable to-go box in your hands, or of seeing our parking lots full of electric vehicle charging stations.

While some of these possibilities lie in the future of Whitman’s effort for a sustainable campus community, some are already on their way to coming to fruition within the coming year or so.
Various sustainability goals for the year can’t truly be understood without thinking first about the definition of sustainability.

Sustainability is a three-fold concept–it requires equal parts economic development, social equity, and environmental preservation. All three of these components work together to create a dynamic system that can both stay resilient and sustainably adapt to change.

This idea is supported by the Campus Sustainability Coordinator Tristan Sewell. He distinguishes between resilience and adaptation–where resilience means standing still as changes (in climate, in political atmosphere etc.) take place and to adaptation means being dynamic enough to go with the flow.

“When we talk about goals for sustainability it is really important to acknowledge that there is no finish line. We have to worry about [whether] we are sustainable tomorrow, and the day after that, and fifteen years down the road. It’s an ongoing challenge” said Sewell.
Various efforts around campus, led by students, faculty, and administration alike, are pushing forward on sustainable goals for the college that allows for Whitman’s adaptation in the face of climate change.
Campus Climate Coalition Goals
Among student led club Campus Climate Coalition (CCC)’s sustainability goals for this year is a plan to build a wind turbine between the science building and Penrose Library. The funds are present and it’s just a matter of construction before the turbine goes up. The turbine will not produce any electricity due to financial specifics, but it will allow students an opportunity to interact with a model for renewable energy.
“The real purpose of the turbine is to serve as an educational model for taking classroom learning and applying it to a real life situation,” wrote CCC president Mitchell Cutter in an e-mail.
In addition to the turbine, CCC has a few other ventures on the books for the year. The first is a continuation of Divest Whitman, where the campaign hopes to limit the amount of investment in fossil fuels to below 1%. The second is a resurrection of campus composting for dining halls, residence halls, and off-campus housing. The third is to implement a ‘reusable food container’ system for the dining halls and Reid with the hope of curbing paper based waste.

Climate Action Plan
The college has been working on drafting a Climate Action Plan (CAP), a document that many colleges already have, which details operational and behavioral changes that the college can adopt in the face of climate change. Comprised of Whitman students, faculty, and staff, and spearheaded by Tristan Sewell and the Co-Chair of the Sustainability Working Group trustee Jim Moore, Whitman’s CAP is currently in a draft stage, available on the website for review and feedback. Starting this week, meetings will begin to finalize the plan and iron out all the wrinkles so that the prescriptions are clear enough for future implementation.
The CAP’s objective is to lead to the college to net 0 greenhouse gas emissions. It is mainly focused on bringing down fossil fuel energy consumption at many levels on campus, from transportation, to utilities, to the commodities used on campus.
Submetering System
One of the CAP’s provisions is a submetering system, which was suggested by Sewell. The system would allow for a tracking device to be attached to several buildings on campus. The device would measure electricity usage, domestic water usage, steam usage and natural gas usage over 5 minute increments of time. All of this information would then be organized on a digital display that will be installed in Olin summer of 2016. Eventually the system would expand to residence halls, where friendly competition might spur students to engage together to decrease energy usage.
Renewable Energy
The CAP also suggests using the agricultural land owned by Whitman to erect solar panels that can directly supply the college with energy. Besides using land, there could also be a larger presence of solar panels on campus. Wind energy credits could also be something to consider, especially because the college leases land to power companies that own turbines. However, this specific approach has many complications and challenges that make solar power a little more viable.
Transportation Efficiency
The CAP also calls for more ride shares and incentives to use bikes over cars, especially for those who live on campus. In addition there is a provision to ramp up the bike-share program previously run from the library. There is also room for providing more electric vehicle charging stations and zip cars on campus.
Waste Management
Campus recycling will be a continued effort along with an overall aim to decrease how much the college sends to landfills. This includes instating a compost system for the dining halls and increasing use of local produce. One goal that overlaps with the CCC’s goals for the year is the use of a reusable container system in the dining halls.
Community Outreach
The goal here is to add a sustainability component to orientation and get students and parents thinking about sustainability even before convocation. This also entails connecting various student organizations to allow for broader and stronger engagement.

Other components of this sections include providing sustainability workshops for faculty and staff, and creating volunteer sustainability leadership positions across departments to enhance sustainability education.
Sewell says that the CAP is much like a map that can help the college reach is sustainability destination rather than groping in the dark without a guide.
“We need to have our goals laid out and our driving central tenets before we can do the small things. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. I want us to know where we are going,” he said.

Senior Eliana Schwartz served as a student representative on the Working Group for Sustainability, a group designed to contribute to the planning of the CAP.

Schwartz sees the CAP’s impacts happening on two levels: on a symbolic level it affirms Whitman’s “commitment to lessening its impact on the environment.”

The second, more concrete level “will likely not be evident until a few years down the road, and depends upon the administration’s willingness to embrace the initial costs and demands of the various objectives outlined in the CAP” she said in an e-mail.
Regardless of the future reach of the CAP, Schwartz is optimistic about the document as a step forward.
“I have already been able to observe the power of the statement this document makes. I imagine the impacts of the symbolism of the CAP will only increase as the process continues,” she said.

Whose voices count?
While the goals of the CAP and various student organizations such as the CCC will all contribute to a growing awareness and implementation of sustainable operations on campus, they call for student involvement and engagement.

“The biggest challenge I see us facing is lack of interest from students,” said Cutter. “We can campaign and market our ideas all we want, but if students don’t support us and take responsibility for making our college more environmentally friendly, what we do just doesn’t work.”

Schwartz shares a similar opinion.

“I believe Whitman students have a unique opportunity to effect change in this community. Involvement in this issue shows the administration that we care and compels them to take action as well.”

Student activism is also important to Sewell as well.

“I think with social change, behavior change, a lot of…pressure can come from students. There are some circles where student voices speak louder than mine.”
At the same time he notes that administration does hold decision making power especially in areas such as the school and building operations as well as endowment and financial matters. In such situations, Sewell’s voice might carry farther than students.
“I’ve come to realize where I speak louder and students speak louder…recognizing that, while supporting the parallel work, is crucial,” say Sewell.
In collaboration it’s the balancing act of student voices and action, and administrative voices and decisions that will bring sustainability to the forefront on campus.
Sewell says that while the CAP may seem very administrative and dry, it couldn’t have happened without students–especially the Divest Whitman campaign. The CAP came as a reaction to a rallying cry for divestment, and while the college may not have divested, a road map was quickly created to steer Whitman on a path towards better environmental choices.
The CAP creators are currently inviting Feedback it moves from draft to final copy. You can find the CAP and the college’s myriad sustainability efforts here. For more information on Campus Climate Coalition, contact Mitchell Cutter.