Whitman’s sustainability report card grade increases to a “B”

William Witwer

Whitman College is taking steps to walk the walk when it comes to a culture of sustainability. The Sustainable Endowment Institute has just come out with its annual College Sustainability Report Card (CSRC), which ranks colleges on sustainable practices, and Whitman got a B. The year before, it was a B minus.

“Whitman has been progressing towards a higher grade for some time now, as our campus makes choices like conducting and streamlining the greenhouse gas audit which shows us areas and departments for where we can improve,” said senior Ari Frink, one of Whitman’s two sustainability coordinators, in an e-mail.

According to Sean Gehrke, chair of the Sustainability Advisory Committee, the greenhouse gas audit report revealed that the school has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent since 2008, a statistic that probably contributed to the increased grade. Gehrke also said that efforts to increase sustainability are getting more recognition because of enhanced CSRC quantitative methodology, but that efforts have remained as high as they have always been. In other words, the change in grade is a more accurate picture of environmental practices here, rather than a significant change at Whitman.

“The surveys that our grade was based upon were completed months ago, so despite its recent release, our current report card is more like last semester’s grades,” said senior Nat Clarke, the other sustainability coordinator, in an e-mail. “While I don’t think it’s valuable to dwell on an outside assessment to judge our progress, it’s encouraging that our grade has been increasing steadily every year from a C- in 2008 to our current B.”

Frink and Clarke emphasized that Whitman can do more. Frink mentioned in particular that President George Bridges has not yet signed the President’s Climate Commitment, a public pledge colleges can make to combat climate change.

According to Clarke, several student initiatives have been proposed which are designed to make improvements in waste reduction, energy efficiency, sustainable purchasing, transportation and sustainability policy. These proposed initiatives include increased composting, the creation of a carpool website and the establishment of a full-time sustainability coordinator.

“I would say that there is always more that we can accomplish, but the impetus for improvement will come from a desire to simply make ourselves greener, not because we want to improve our grade on the CSRC,” said Gehrke. “While we are honored that our grade improved and value the CSRC for allowing us to be evaluated, it is energizing to know that the campus community is supportive of our pursuit of these practices simply because it is the right thing to do.”