Dye Makes Pledge: Climate Neutrality
President Nancy Dye pledged her support this week for an environmental policy that commits Oberlin College to developing a comprehensive plan aimed at achieving a climate neutral campus as soon as possible.
“Oberlin [is] the first of its peer institutions to sign [this policy],” said Morgan Pitts, College senior and member of the Environmental Policy Implementation Group. “This is an important statistic for Oberlin…[one that keeps] in line with a continuing progressive history.”
This policy, the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, is the result of collaborative work between the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Second Nature and ecoAmerica. It is grounded in the belief that higher education has the opportunity to play a distinct national leadership role in moving toward environmental sustainability.
The initiative states: “The Commitment recognizes the unique responsibility that colleges and universities have to serve as role models for their communities and in training the people who will develop the social, economic and technological solutions to reverse global warming.”
The Presidents Commitment project has set as its goal the participation pledge of at least 200 college and university presidents by June 2007.
The first step is to enlist ten to 20 presidents and chancellors who represent institutions that are currently at the forefront of sustainability in the higher education sector to sign the commitment, thus leading the effort to encourage colleagues to sign. This select group will form the Presidents Leadership Group. Oberlin was targeted to join this group.
EPIG introduced the policy to Student Senate on Sunday who, after tweaking some of the wording, voted in favor 9-0-3 and brought it before Dye on Wednesday.
After their meeting, Dye signed a brief letter to the project manager of the Presidents Commitment, Anthony D. Cortese of Second Nature, committing to “work to get broad involvement and support in [Oberlin] for achieving the goals of the [initiative].” She also agreed to attend the June 2007 meeting and to promote the initiative to colleagues at other institutions.
President Dye’s penned support makes Oberlin one of the first ten charter members of this initiative.
“I think Nancy [Dye] deserves significant credit for this bold initiative,” said environmental studies Professor John Petersen, “and Oberlin students [as well], for keeping the issue of climate neutrality in the spotlight.”
College presidents who sign this initiative commit their institutions to following a timeline and taking certain steps toward making their campus climate neutral; that is, achieving a net result of zero emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases on campus.
The first step is to reduce emissions as much as possible through conservation, and then turn to production of renewable energy and purchasing carbon offsets, Renewable Energy Certificates or “green tags” to reach neutrality.
Purchasing carbon offsets involves investing in wind turbines, solar energy farms or reforestation projects, for example, and earning carbon credits which work to essentially negate an equivalent amount of carbon emissions on campus. This way, global net emissions do not increase.
Lighting, ventilation and cooling, space heating, water heating, and plug loads such as refrigeration and office equipment are prime areas of focus in the fight to save energy and reduce emissions.
“Oberlin has already taken many of the necessary steps of the [Presidents Commitment],” said College senior and EPIG member Andrew deCoriolis. “The problem is there hasn’t been much top-down support from the administration…[so by adopting this commitment] we’ll finally get some credit for the things we’re doing well.”
DeCoriolis noted that Oberlin purchases about 50% of its electricity from green energy sources, which exceeds the President Commitment’s 15% requirement. Oberlin’s new purchasing committee is also developing a purchasing code that includes purchasing ENERGY STAR certified products, and Oberlin has a policy that allocates a percentage of the student activity fee to subsidize public transportation, two more goals of the Presidents Commitment, said deCoriolis.
“Oberlin is undoubtedly a leader when it comes to environmental sustainability,” said student senator, EPIG member and College senior Erin Morey. “We’ve accomplished a lot as a college – with LEED certification, the Light Bulb Brigade and car sharing, [for example] – and we all should be proud of this.”
However proud of the steps Oberlin has taken toward environmental sustainability, EPIG members expressed dissatisfaction with the piecemeal efforts around campus.
EPIG member and College junior David Huck identified The Environmental Policy, written by the Environmental Advisory Policy Committee (appointed in 2002 by Dye) and adopted by the College in March 2004.
This policy states that its long-term goal is to “substantially reduce energy use and will achieve ‘carbon neutrality.’
Huck noted that there is no timeline attached to this policy.
The College also took carbon-conscious strides last semester by adopting LEED silver, green building standards, but these commitments have yet to be fulfilled.
Pitts added that staff members in the Facilities building and in ResEd are also leaning toward energy efficiency, as do the Oberlin Recyclers and the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association.
“The College, students and faculty are all working on this problem in disparate ways,” said student senator and College junior Colin Koffel. “Dedicating ourselves to climate neutrality [will help] focus our energy and time and [will help] Oberlin better articulate its dedication to the environment.”
Morey agreed, noting that peer institutions have recently been surpassing Oberlin in terms of sustainability and that by adopting the Presidents Commitment Oberlin can regain its leadership position.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century,” said Morey, “and Oberlin most definitely has a duty to respond to this.”
Huck agreed, “We need to move beyond abstract, to a comprehensive action plan.” This is what the Presidents Commitment pledges to do.