Sustainability Advisory Committee Begins First Steps Towards Reform

Lachlan Johnson

In a bid to increase the influence of the Sustainability Advisory Committee’s (SAC) relevance on campus, ASWC has appointed sophomore Linnaea Weld, sophomore Eliana Schwartz and senior Jenni Doering to formally represent the student body.

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Photo by Anna Von Clemm

In previous years the SAC hasn’t been able to take full advantage of its position as a Presidential Advising Committee, as attendance at its meetings was sporadic due to a lack of formal representation. Campus Sustainability Coordinator Tristan Sewell hopes to find formal representatives from the staff and faculty in the coming year and work with the committee to form a Climate Action Plan to present to the Board of Trustees.

The SAC is charged with providing guidance to the president and administration on ways to make the campus more environmentally friendly, although they have struggled to form ambitious plans in recent years. While many peer colleges have had a staff member committed to campus sustainability for some time now, Sewell was hired this year following ASWC’s call for a permanent sustainability position last spring.

“If you look at our peer institutions –– other small liberal arts colleges across the country –– everyone else already has an energy plan. Oberlin’s going to be carbon neutral by 2020. The fact that we just hired a sustainability coordinator last year is kind of ridiculous,” said Weld.

In order to craft a Climate Action Plan that takes into consideration the entire Whitman community, Sewell aims to convince the faculty and staff to follow ASWC’s lead and appoint three members to formally represent them. Only after representatives are chosen can the Climate Action Plan be written, approved by the committee and make its way through the administration before it is finally adopted by the Board of Trustees.

If successful, this plan would commit the college to make substantial cuts to its environmental impact and allow students to more easily seek administrative support for sustainability projects. Currently, the college’s policy is to only fund projects through a Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund when students can prove it will be financially beneficial within a five-year period, emphasizing potential profit over long-term environmental goals.

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Photo by Anna Von Clemm

“I wanted to understand better the administrative perspective because we’ve hit a lot of administrative barriers in all of the initiatives that I’ve worked on. So I thought being part of a committee like that might help me understand [them] and give me insight that might help me be more successful in student endeavors,” said Schwartz.

While Sewell searches for more representatives, the students appointed by ASWC will work to increase the SAC’s publicity. Although technically open to all students, the SAC has been sparsely attended and is not well connected with the environmental studies department or the many sustainability groups on campus.

The SAC’s visibility on campus has been so low that Schwartz and Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies Bob Carson, who co-founded the committee in 1990, were late to the meeting in November due to uncertainty over its location.

“I’m going to be working to make sure students know about the SAC and can come to meetings, ’cause I think it would be a great place for students who are interested in environmental issues … to come and learn about the state of sustainability on campus and get involved in projects,” said Doering.

Sustainability has been a priority for students for years, with numerous clubs working independently to decrease the campus’ environmental impact. Strengthening the SAC and adopting a Climate Action Plan could increase administrative support for these projects which have been carried out primarily by students.

“I think we can find ways to have a good quality of life and lessen our impact on the earth, and that’s what being sustainable [means],” said Schwartz. “I’m not sure if we can achieve 100 percent sustainable processes on campus, but I think that’s something we can strive for.”