Along with the goals to “through action on campus and in the immediate community, reduce emissions to 35% below 1990 levels by 2020 and purchase sufficient carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2020,” the Board of Trustees also committed in 2015 to investing “in projects that reduce carbon emissions in our local region.” In 2017, the college began exploring ways to integrate local projects into the school emission goals. Williams along with its peer institutions Amherst, Smith, and Hampshire hired the Center for EcoTechnology, a local environmental organization, to help design a fund through which the institutions could invest in carbon reduction projects and identify potential projects in the local community.
The college initially explored the possibility of developing these projects as local offsets but found various challenges. The main challenge was demonstrating the additionality (that the project would not have happened without someone purchasing carbon offsets) of many of these projects. Another challenge for projects that were additional was the costs of third-party verification, which for smaller scale, complex projects such as the ones being explored were prohibitively high. A report from the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) Working Group on Carbon Offsets outlines these challenges more extensively and other concerns regarding local offsets. Ultimately the College opted to not count these projects as offsets but decided to invest in them nonetheless – as it did not want the qualifications and formality of developing offsets to get in the way of doing projects that benefited the community and the college.
In developing criteria for the types of projects, the most important elements were that the projects serve the surrounding community, especially underserved populations, and that they could provide experiential learning opportunities for students, faculty, and staff. Ultimately this resulted in a mix of project types that support different strategies to carbon reduction. Through the Community Climate Fund, the college has invested over $80,000 in four projects: Building Materials Recovery, Healthy Homes, Heating System Upgrades, and Solar Wall.
The investment in building materials recovery goes toward direct costs of collecting and transporting recovered materials to EcoBuilding Bargains (EBB) in Springfield, MA, a non-profit retail store that sells used and surplus building materials. Diverting these materials reduces greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacturing of new materials that may have otherwise been purchased and emissions from the energy cost of proper disposal of the material into the waste stream.
The Healthy Home projects are investments to improve the condition of homes and address symptom triggers for patients referred by the Berkshire Health System. The projects will include undertaking energy efficiency measures not covered by existing energy efficiency incentive programs and the removal of “roadblocks” to installing energy efficiency improvements (such as excessive moisture and mold). Along with carbon reduction from decreased energy use, these projects help enhance indoor air quality.
The Heating System Upgrade projects similarly focus on households. The Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC) currently has an initiative to provide weatherization services, heating system replacement, and fuel assistance to low-income households in Berkshire County. They have a waiting list of almost 100 low-income households who need updated heating systems. The project investment will go towards energy-efficient heating systems for these households.
Finally, the Solar Wall project helps fund the installation of the SolarWall technology, a passive solar system that integrates into a building’s existing HVAC. It reduces energy usage and subsequently greenhouse gas emissions by warming up the outdoor “intake” air before it goes through the HVAC system. The technology was installed at the Child Care Center of the Berkshires (CCB) in North Adams, MA, an organization providing daycare services for families across the north Berkshire area.
The Community Climate Fund aligns with Williams’ commitment to mitigating climate change and making a positive impact on our local community. Going forward, we anticipate continuing to fund local carbon reduction projects, and the sustainability working group included this as a recommendation in their strategic plan draft. The Zilkha Center and the Center for EcoTechnology are currently in conversation with faculty members exploring ways to incorporate the Community Climate Fund into the curriculum in the 2020-2021 academic year. As this project continues, the college plans to further refine and formalize the process for identifying and vetting projects.
Written by Austin Huang ‘22, Community Carbon Reduction Projects Intern, Spring 2019
Individual Projects Spec Sheets