Greenhouse gas audit demonstrates Whitman still green, but open to improvement

Rachel Alexander

Credit: Carrie Sloane

Greenhouse gas emissions are up at Whitman, according to the third annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions Audit, though more thorough calculations may explain the difference. Members of the audit team reported their findings from the audit and provided suggestions for projects to reduce emissions at a public presentation on Wednesday, April 27.

The audit team found that Whitman’s net emissions for fiscal year 2010 were 11,772.8 metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent, or 7.73 MTeCO2 per student. These findings are an increase from last year’s audit, which recorded total emissions of 8403.9 MTeCO2.

“We think this is reflective of a more accurate audit,” said sophomore Clare Sobetski, who was a member of the audit team.

In past years, the audit team has had trouble obtaining accurate data, particularly about travel financed by the college. Sustainability Coordinator Ari Frink said that this year, data was easier to collect.

“It went really smoothly, all things considered,” he said. “This is the most accurate information we’ve had.”

Like many environmental initiatives at Whitman, the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Audit is a student-run project. In past years, the student audit team has focused on measuring the college’s carbon emissions and preparing a report. This year’s team went beyond data gathering and had each member work on a small project to improve campus sustainability. Projects included a bike-share program, a Green the Teams initiative focused on varsity athletics and a move-out madness project which aims to reduce waste during move-out week.

“I’m very hopeful that we will implement some of [these projects] in the fall,” said President Bridges, who attended the audit team’s presentation. “You have my support.”

Student environmental projects like the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Audit have contributed to improving Whitman’s standing as a green college — even if reported emissions levels are up. The Princeton Review recently selected Whitman for inclusion in its Guide to Green Colleges for the second year in a row. Schools are selected for inclusion based on a 10-question survey which includes information about local and organic food purchases, waste diversion rate, energy consumption and the presence of environmental studies classes and sustainability committees.

Sean Gehrke, chair of the Sustainability Advisory Committee, said he was happy to see Whitman included in the guide again.

“It’s nice to see that we were recognized through information that was already out there,” he said.

Gehrke and Frink said Whitman’s sustainability efforts have particularly increased in the past five years, with the creation of the Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund and the position of Sustainability Coordinator.

Sustainability Coordinator Nat Clarke added that students have been a key factor in all of these improvements.

“It if wasn’t for the dedication of the students to take on these issues, a lot of it wouldn’t have gotten done,” he said. Clarke added that Whitman’s reputation for environmental awareness is a pull factor for many prospective students.

First-year Jenni Doering, who is a Green Leader for her section in Prentiss Hall, said that Whitman’s environmental record was a factor influencing her decision to come here. After getting to Whitman, she was surprised to discover that there was no composting program on campus.

“It’s not quite as environmental activism oriented as I thought before I came,” she said.

In spite of this, Doering said Whitman does a pretty good job on environmental issues. She sees the lack of some sustainability programs and the suggestions from the audit as an opportunity for her and other concerned students.

“It allows us to have the experience of setting those things up,” she said.