The college is committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. The college first set an emissions goal in 2007, and we were well on track to reach that goal – 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. Because of this, and strong pressure from the college community, in September 2015, President Falk and the Trustees committed to further address climate change.
The goals outlined by the Board of Trustees in 2015 are two fold:
- Through action on campus and in the immediate community, reduce emissions to 35% below 1990 levels by 2020.
- Purchase sufficient carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2020.
There are only two real ways of reducing emissions: reduce energy use, and use energy from renewable, non-emitting sources. Williams has been pursuing both strategies.
Here was the initial visualization of the College’s carbon reduction strategy laid out in 2015:
Energy Conservation and Efficiency on Campus
Williams’ emissions come largely from heating, cooling, lighting and ventilating our campus buildings. The College has been investing actively in energy conservation and efficiency in campus buildings since 2007, and will continue to do so – about $1,000,000 every year. That money will be focused going forward on improving building envelopes – air sealing, insulating, weatherizing, and replacing windows. That sort of work is disruptive, so the pace at which it can be done is limited by the logistics of the campus.
The other significant contributor to Williams’ emissions is travel – primarily air travel. The Zilkha Center is organizing an ad-hoc working group that will be exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact (more broadly than just emissions) of travel (to and around campus) and parking on campus. The group will consider recommendations from a parking study done in 2009, as well as any new recommendations.
Williams is committed to producing and/or procuring 100% renewable, non-emitting electricity by 2020, which will contribute significantly to reaching our emissions goals. We will continue to install solar photovoltaic panels on campus. Solar panels will be installed this fall on the Williams Inn, the College Bookstore, the South Science Center, Horn Hall, the Center for Developmental Economics, and the Library Shelving Facility. The College is exploring possibly solar canopies over several parking lots. Rooftop solar will likely never account for more than 10-15% of annual campus electricity use.
In 2018, Williams, Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, and Smith colleges partnered with a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, a leading clean energy company, to construct a utility-scale solar power facility that annually will create enough electricity to power about 5,000 New England homes. The colleges in the New England College Renewable Partnership (NECRP) will be able to purchase 46,000 megawatt hours of their collective electrical needs with electricity created at a new solar power facility that is being built in Farmington, Maine. Williams will be purchasing 18,000 megawatt hours. This zero-carbon electricity will reduce carbon emissions from campus electricity use. Read more in the press release.
The following is from the the 2019 Campus Environmental Advisory Committee’s Carbon Offsets report:
The college’s stated commitment requires the purchase of carbon offsets, at least in the short term, to meet our goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2020. Carbon offsets have the potential to generate meaningful reductions in the college’s carbon footprint without compromising its commitment to directly reducing emissions…. Offsets are a short-term solution to our carbon pollution problem. The only question is how short-term. As it develops its offsets portfolio, we urge the College to explicitly factor offsets into its long-term strategic planning, and to maintain an ongoing public dialogue about the time horizon of its offset investments. In the meantime, we should be on guard for any signs of moral licensing, especially when it comes to decisions with long-term implications for campus energy use.
In September 2019, the College made a “trial-run purchase” of carbon offsets, the remainder of its 2020 carbon offset purchase will be made at the end of 2020. This staged approach of offsets purchasing is intended to give our community an opportunity to research the projects that we invested in and to learn more about the offset market in order to inform our next round of purchasing. To read more about the College’s approach to carbon offsets and the trial-run purchase, please visit the Williams carbon offset page.
Local Carbon Reduction Projects
In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions on campus, Williams is investigating the possibility of investing in similar projects in the local community. We will continue to pursue projects on campus, but at some point it may well make more sense to fund lower-cost and higher-yield projects off campus than increasingly expensive projects on campus as we work our way through our portfolio of projects.
We have hired CET, an environmental non-profit based in Pittsfield and Northampton, to assess the feasibility of such an approach. We’ve asked them to focus on weatherization, energy conservation, and renewable energy projects that benefit local low-income residents, non-profits, and educational institutions. Our hope is to have multiple positive impacts – reducing emissions while also reducing energy costs for people and organizations under financial stress.
Limiting Impacts of New Construction
In conjunction with actively working to reduce emissions, the College has committed to not increasing emissions through new construction. Each building project going forward is required to not increase emissions – for renovation or renovation/addition projects, the final building(s) must not use more energy or cause more emissions than the currently existing building(s). For completely new square footage, the building must be net-zero emissions.
Video created by Zilkha Center intern Jamal Meneide ’19 during the summer of 2018.