Earth to Oberlin: Laurels for Being Green
Ever since Oberlin’s Board of Trustees mandated in 2004 that Oberlin become “a responsible steward of the environment,” the city and the College have worked together on several projects to sustain our local and global environment. Our dedication to the natural world was evident when former Oberlin president Nancy Dye became one of the first to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2006. This and other steps are what led online environmental magazine Grist to rank Oberlin fifth in the nation in its article “15 Green Colleges and Universities.” However, some, like Sustainability Coordinator Nathan Engstrom, believe Oberlin needs to push itself further.
“It was great that we were one of the first colleges in the country to sign the Climate Commitment, but well over 300 colleges and universities have now signed,” noted Engstrom. “What’s going to be compelling is who lives up to the commitment first and who makes the most meaningful and broad institutional changes.”
Proving that Oberlin’s name on the commitment is more than an empty promise, the College’s recent strides toward a final goal of climate neutrality garnered the Clean Energy Community of the Year award from Green Energy Ohio, presented to both the town and College at the July 8 National SOLAR 2007 Conference at the Cleveland Convention Center.
Engstrom believes that the whole Oberlin community impressed the committee with the town-gown collaboration on the Green Energy Purchase Agreement, the Sustainable Reserve Fund and the Wind Power Initiative.
He said, “These three things in particular show not only a great deal of cooperation between the city and the College, but also our mutual commitment towards sustainability. And it didn’t hurt that the College has the largest solar PV installation in the state.”
Oberlin Professors John Scofield of the physics and astronomy departments and John Petersen of the environmental studies department also participated in the conference. Scofield presented information on Oberlin’s Wind Initiative, which aspires to install a wind turbine nearby to help power the College; Petersen sat on a panel discussing the educational value of solar projects, where he touted the benefits of our Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies.
Engstrom hopes the momentum from summer’s excitement will carry over into the school year and has many ideas about how Oberlin can prove itself yet again.
“This year we’ll wrap up our greenhouse gas inventory and create a Climate Action Plan outlining how Oberlin will become climate neutral and when,” he said. “This plan, in combination with a proposal for sustainability and climate neutrality-related fundraising opportunities, will spell out in detail what changes and investments the College could make to truly become a visionary leader in campus sustainability.”
Engstrom cited new College president Marvin Krislov as “the biggest unknown” in how Oberlin will progress environmentally and wonders where he will stand in terms of making sustainability and climate neutrality a priority.
The future looks bright for sustainability at Oberlin. The College made last spring’s commencement week and this fall’s orientation “green weeks” by doing such things as providing biodegradable cutlery. The Conservatory’s new Phyllis Litoff Jazz Studies Building is well on its way to exceeding the LEED Silver commitment. However, Engstrom warns against excessive optimism.
“It won’t be hard to create a vision of a sustainable, climate-neutral campus on paper, but we’ll need the active support of the president, his senior staff and the Board of Trustees to implement it,” explained Engstrom. “The ideas are there, but we need clear directions from the top that this is a campus-wide priority, as well as the support of everyone on campus to make it all happen.”