Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC)

Prof. Dan Lynch, Chair, CEAC

Williams College has a role to play in fighting climate change through reducing its own contribution to global warming and the threat it poses to human wellbeing and to the natural environment. To this end, CEAC recommended the College be aggressive in pursuing policies that reduce emissions, prioritize energy efficiency and promote conservation. Implementing aggressive steps to impact emissions, waste and sustainability will require all of us to consider how we live and work on the campus: Do we need to recalibrate our priorities when making decisions about the College infrastructure and operations? Are there behavioral changes that will have significant impacts on emissions, waste and sustainability? How do we educate/inform the college community to facilitate such changes? This year the committee broke into subcommittees that looked at emissions reduction, waste reduction and sustainable food, and the full committee considered the importance of changing the culture and increasing awareness.

The emissions reduction subcommittee generated a set of recommendations regarding College policies and practices. A partial list of their recommendations include: a) setting longer-term emissions reductions goals beyond 2020 with specific targets/time horizons; b) pricing emissions into all future renovations and construction; c) critically evaluating the need for any project that increases the net building footprint (sq. ft.) on campus, and identifying underutilized space; and d) weighing the environmental costs against the historical and cultural value of buildings on campus when considering whether to renovate or replace the structures. The subcommittee also conducted a set of events intended to engage the campus community in the project of fighting climate change: #SustainabilitySaturday Instagram feed, Sustainability Data Hacks, and a panel discussion about the College’s climate policy.

The waste reduction subcommittee considered ways to expand the substantial ongoing efforts to minimize waste on campus. A partial list of their recommendations include: a) testing/evaluating changes in Dining Services such as decreasing the varieties of some offerings and centralizing some meal offerings to reduce waste; b) installing “compostable materials” bins in every restroom/bathroom on campus; c) minimizing bottled water availability and discouraging use of K-cups/Keurig coffee makers; and d) maximizing appropriate waste/recyclable/compostable disposal by having clear, explanatory and consistent signage on different receptacles across campus (and having students in the dining halls for the first few weeks of each academic year to assist students in forming habits).

This sustainable food subcommittee recommendations include focusing sustainable food purchasing in one dining hall in order to serve more meals that have all sustainable food while providing a stronger educational message.

Regarding behavior/culture on campus, CEAC agreed that students should leave Williams carrying with them an intellectual understanding of the threat imposed by climate change and the challenges in fighting it, but the members also agreed it is important for students to leave with a sense of personal responsibility to do “the small things” in the course of their daily activities that will improve the environment. In other words, the pedagogical experience of the students and the behavior/culture on campus are two complementary facets of their educations. Changes in culture and behavior will involve changes in our priorities and vice versa. Raising awareness of “environmentally positive” steps by the College and encouraging “buy-in” by the community are important in inculcating these cultural changes.