Vol. CLIII, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Bridges approves funding for sustainability initiatives

George Bridges made an unexpected announcement at the main event of Focus the Nation in January.   The college plans to establish a $100,000 revolving loan fund for sustainability initiatives, and to carve out a spot for the new position of Sustainability Coordinator, to be filled by a current student or recent graduate.

“When he actually announced the fund…it took us all by surprise,” said first-year Gary Wang, a member of Campus Climate Challenge (CCC).

CCC has been actively involved in promoting the use of green energy.

“What the program did last year was it raised the amount of green energy the college was in effect producing from 18 percent to 36 percent… That’s the difference $14,000 made,” Wang said of CCC.

According to Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Peter Harvey, the college is now working to come up with the best way to produce the money needed for Bridges’ new fund.   Harvey said that the trustees have allocated half of the $100,000 from Whitman’s life cycle program, which is mainly directed toward building maintenance.

“The President and I committed to finding an additional $50,000 as we close out the budget year from year-end surpluses,” said Harvey.   “We will launch the new loan fund sometime next year by seeking [sustainability] proposals from students, faculty and staff.”

Bridges’ plan for campus greening also includes the request for departments to stop buying bottled water.   Hoping to decrease the consumption of bottled water campus-wide, Reid Campus Center also raised the price of bottled water by 20 cents, so it equals the price of soda.

“We don’t view these as an expansion of Whitman’s policies or commitment to our environment but rather necessary, additional steps in implementing the policies,” said Bridges in an e-mail.   “The reduction in use of bottled water makes great environmental sense and is relatively easy to implement: a little like turning off the lights when one leaves a room.”

However, some argue that the college is not doing enough to combat global climate change.

“I think we’re being very cautious,” said Bob Carson, professor of geology and environmental studies.

“And I think sometimes you have to be bold.”

Carson called the new $100,000 revolving loan “an excellent idea,” but believes some of the policies should be made mandatory instead of optional.

“Whitman needs to be a leader and I think if bottled water comes here from 1,500 miles away and we have plenty of drinking fountains on campus and some of the best water anywhere coming out of Mill Creek, that we should just say no to bottled water.”

Another point of contention is the fact that Bridges has yet to sign the President’s Climate Commitment, a nationwide push for colleges and universities to become more sustainable.

Carson jokingly compared Whitman’s failure to join the Commitment to the United States’ refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol, adding that he hoped Whitman would soon sign on.

Wang and other student activists are pursuing this goal.   Also high on the CCC’s agenda is the move to purchase an industrial sized wind turbine or place solar panels on college buildings to enhance green energy production.

“We’ve already been in several meetings with President Bridges to try and persuade him to sign [the agreement],” said Wang.   “We’ve also been in contact with the treasurer…to talk about Whitman owning a wind turbine or the solar panel idea.”

Carson applauded the student impetus for environmental progress, both at Whitman and at other schools across the country.

“I just think it’s great that students are getting involved, that Western Washington University and Evergreen and others are first of all trying to get all green electricity and secondly trying to go carbon neutral,” Carson said.

He, too, promoted the idea of Whitman owning a wind turbine, pointing to schools like Carleton, St. Olaf and Macalester as examples of colleges that have taken this step.

“We are constantly studying the programs and ideas emerging across college campuses on sustainability.   With so many campuses considering new ways to conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint, there are plenty of interesting approaches to consider,” Bridges said.

While Bridges expressed enthusiasm about this project and others aimed at going green, he admitted that there is still a need for improvement and cited financial limitations as the “the toughest part of addressing these projects.”

“My sense is that Whitman is making significant progress in many areas but that there is a great deal more to do before we can claim ‘cutting edge’ status,” he said.

“I am thrilled by what we’ve accomplished, but I think it’s a drop in the bucket,” Carson said.   “Sometimes when I’m talking publicly I say, ‘Okay, you’ve bought a Prius, you’re recycling your aluminum cans and you’re composting.   You’ve got to do more.   Everyone’s got to do more.'”

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