Community Climate Fund: Local carbon reduction projects

I just can’t seem to stay away from Amherst (really, the Pioneer Valley more broadly), and it’s not the wider range of restaurants and good coffee that are drawing me there.

I’m recently taken my second work-related trip to the Pioneer Valley in as many weeks. Williams, Amherst, Smith, Hampshire (and sometimes UMass Amherst) are working on several joint projects – we’re hoping to amplify our impact, and we help keep each other sane and on track.

One project is related to renewable energy purchasing. (Read more about it here.)

We’re also working collaboratively on a project we’re calling the “Community Climate Fund” – where our institutions will sponsor carbon reduction projects in the local community.  Williams is working hard to reduce its own energy use and increase its use of renewable energy, but there’s a limit to how much we can reduce emissions in any given year (we’re mostly limited by the fact that our buildings are occupied year round, and serious work on insulation and windows can’t be done while a building is occupied). With that in mind, we’re looking for ways to decrease emissions elsewhere and take credit for the reduced carbon.

As a group, Williams, Amherst, Smith, and Hampshire have hired a local environmental non-profit (Center for EcoTechnology) to help us design a program where the colleges would help pay for energy efficiency improvements in local non-profits, schools, and businesses. The local organizations would benefit from lower energy costs (and increased comfort), and Williams or one of our peers would count the emissions reductions for our own goals. We haven’t yet implemented a project – one of the crucial lessons we’ve learned is that even if Williams is willing to highly subsidize an efficiency project, local organizations may just not have the money to do it. so we’ve started to investigate providing zero interest financing in addition to a subsidy. We’re hopeful that our first community project will happen in the next several months.

The collaborative approach has been critical in setting standards for what we consider to be appropriate reduction projects – we want to be funding projects that wouldn’t have happened without our help (“additional”) and we want to have solid ways of measuring the impact of a project. By working together, our different institutions keep each other intellectually rigorous about our approach.    

– Amy Johns, Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives

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2020 UPDATE: For more information about the Community Climate Fund, visit the CCF webpage.