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Sustainability at Williams – Great News! January 25, 2007

Posted by ficial in environment.

Recently the Sustainable Endowments Institute released a report on the green status and endowment practices of 100 leading colleges and universities. Williams was one of the four schools to receive the highest score. In many ways that’s great – we’re working hard and I think we’re doing a lot of things right, especially in our endowment management and our food services. However, from the inside I think we have a long ways to go over all, and I’m not convinced we yet deserve that top grade. In a couple of years, maybe, but for now it feels like we’re still ramping up on many green issues and don’t have much to actually show at the moment.

I suspect that the report grades on a curve. Which is to say it’s not so much that Williams is doing so well (on an absolute scale the grade would to me indicate that we were already fully sustainable by almost every measure), but that it’s doing so much better than many other institutions. That’s frightening. Leading instititions have the resources and the long-term view such that sustainability really should be a priority, but clearly that’s not the case. For the most part.

But the good news is that we seem to be on our way to actually earning that generous grade. Just yesterday the board unanimously passed this important, perhaps even momentous, resolution:

“WHEREAS, The President and Trustees of Williams College believe that the
principles and practices of environmental sustainability in general, and
greenhouse gas emissions reductions specifically, are institutional


As recommended by the President’s Staff acting on the report of the Climate
Action Committee, Williams College hereby adopts as a goal the reduction of
its greenhouse gas emissions by ten percent below the College’s 1990-91
emissions level by the year 2020.”

This was the result of the hard work of the Climate Action Committee, which President Shapiro established last year just before Earth Week (in no small part as response to a student lead petition). Just last week the Climate Action Committee reported their results and recommendations to the board. The initial petition called for a 10% reduction by 2010 and the 20% reduction by 2015, though it didn’t specify that baseline. The goals recommended by the committee and adopted by the board are at least roughly in line with that.

However, that’s not the best part of this resolution. The really good stuff is at the end of the first paragraph, where sustainability is made an institutional priority. This is huge. In the past we’ve gotten good stuff done because committed individuals worked hard and often against the flow. They could justify some project on the roundabout grounds that sustainability is an important part of a modern liberal arts education, but that only goes so far. It’s hard, for example, to justify installing wind turbines to provide power for the college solely on the grounds that it’s educational. Now, sustainability is an official college priority, up there with diversity and accessibility.

Of course there’s still a lot of work to do, but now it’s not only possible, it’s encouraged. The board could have gotten away with just the carbon emission reductions, but they didn’t. They made a bold move to do the right thing for the long term, and it makes me proud to work here and be an alum, more so than anything else the college has done since I arrived as a freshman in 1991.



1. EphBlog - January 25, 2007

EphCOI Version 2

The SoA is talking in Portland about on-line communities. Comments: 1) Williams needs EphCOI: Williams-connected Communities of Interest. If on-line communities involving alumni (and students/faculty/staff/parents) are ever going to work, it will only …

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