Director's Corner: October 2019

Happy autumn, everyone!  As we all know, October brings Mountain Day, mid-terms, crisp fall evenings, and sometimes (sorry to tell you, First Years) our first hints of snow.  October is also Campus Sustainability month and we have been celebrating that here at Williams by engaging the campus community in numerous conversations about sustainability and strategic planning. The sustainability working group has been enjoying those discussions and gathering lots of information about our community’s values and aspirations when it comes to sustainability.  Another thing to look forward to this October is Food Justice Week (& Beyond!), which is an incredible series of conversations, taste testings, and meals planned by ZC interns and staff, with partners across the College to help expand our understanding of sustainable food and to ask our community to define our campus food values.  Please join us in learning more about and sharing your perspectives about both food and the future of sustainability on campus.

As we look ahead to the spring, the climate action goals that the Trustees and President put forth in 2015 are set to come due at the end of this school year.  As a reminder, those goals are:  1) committing to make the investments necessary to achieve a substantial reduction in Williams’ net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020; 2) achieving carbon neutrality by the end of 2020; 3) launching a partnership among students, faculty, and staff to challenge our community to reduce its consumption of fossil fuels; 4) investing the endowment in projects that benefit the environment; 5) and making new investments in our educational mission. A lot of work has been done to get us to where we are now, and there is more work to be done this year.  Here is a link to an update of our emissions reduction work and the FY 2019 emissions report.  We will be sure to send updates on emissions and the other goals throughout the academic year. 

Beyond the 2020 emission reduction goals, we also recognize that as long as the College burns fossil fuels in its central heating plant and people travel on college-related business, carbon offsets will have to be purchased if we want to achieve carbon neutrality.  The Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) has spent the past two years discussing how the College ought to approach carbon offsets.  Their final recommendations are here as is information about the trial-run purchase of carbon offsets that was made in September in order for our community to learn from the experience and consider how to incorporate offsets into our second and larger round of purchases at the end of the fiscal year. While carbon offsets are part of the near-term solution, we want to reduce our reliance on them by continuing to lower our emissions.  With that in mind, the College is in the midst of conducting a Zero Carbon Feasibility Study that will help us understand how we might transition the central heating plant away from fossil fuels. Additionally, CEAC plans to spend the year looking into ways that the College could improve sustainability when it comes to travel and transportation. In related news, Professors Mea Cook and Phoebe Cohen invited climate scientist Kim Cobb for a remote campus visit where she gave a seminar and met with a number of faculty, students, and staff throughout the day via video conference calls.  This inspired us to think about ways we too can reduce air miles and the associated emissions in our work.

In other news, the Zilkha Center hired 22 interns this fall to work on a number of projects pertaining to campus sustainability.  In addition to the Eco-Advisors (who create and implement their own sustainability projects) and Class of ‘66 Environmental Center Tour Guides (who will soon be offering tours for classes and the general public) cohorts, the ZC interns are working on the following projects: sustainable food, the Green Office program, sustainability & strategic planning, communications, community carbon reduction projects, ‘66 Envi Center gardens, zero waste, and Winter Blitz.  Read about our interns on the ZC’s instagram.

Lastly, our former director Amy Johns ‘98 moved on to new adventures this past August after five years on the job and fourteen as a staff at Williams.  We thank Amy again for all the work that she did to advance sustainability on campus. I have been serving as the interim director and will continue in this role until a new permanent director is in place.   The national director search will likely begin within the month. Until then, the ZC’s Interim Assistant Director Caroline Bruno, our interns, and I look forward to working with you to make Williams a more sustainable place.

– Mike Evans, Interim Director of the Zilkha Center