Strategic Planning Update May 2021

By Mike Evans & Tanja Srebotnjak

At the end of April, President Mandel shared the near-final draft of the college’s strategic plan.  As you may have seen, the plan provides a high level summary of the commitments proposed in the strategic planning report of the Working Group on Sustainability that was completed at the end of the last academic year.

From this strategic vision, the Zilkha Center is working with stakeholders across campus to draft a more detailed Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) that creates specific intermediate and long-term targets, outlines strategies for reaching those targets, and builds in flexibility so that the plan can be adjusted in order to take advantage of technological innovations, changing legislation, and other opportunities that could improve our sustainability decision-making between now and 2035.  

Two areas of the Sustainability Action Plan where significant progress has been made this spring are the Climate Action Plan (CAP) and the Zero Waste Action Plan (ZWAP).  

The Climate Action Plan covers a wide range of goals centering on minimizing the college’s climate and other environmental impacts.  These include:

  • Reducing emissions from campus combustion of fossil fuels in our central plant and other boilers, 
  • Improving the energy demand and energy efficiency of our campus building stock, 
  • Continuing to invest in on-campus solar PV,  
  • Designing landscaping and managing it in ways that reduces environmental impacts,
  • Reducing emissions from air travel, the campus vehicle fleet, and commuting,
  • Reducing emissions from procurement and waste disposal.

In early 2021, the Climate Action Planning Group was formed to develop a CAP that identifies ambitious goals and specific strategies for lowering emissions in both the short run (the next decade) and the long run (the next two decades).  The early work of this group has focused on creating a plan to strategically optimize energy use and GHG emission reductions focusing on building energy retrofits and decarbonization possibilities for the central heating plant and to develop measurable goals and strategies for achieving those goals, interim targets, and clear accountability and reporting protocols.  The group consists of members of Facilities Operations, Planning Design & Construction (PDC), Dining Services, the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee, Finance & Administration and is facilitated by the Zilkha Center.  Jason Moran, a Senior Project Manager in PDC has taken “decarbonization” on as one of his main projects and he and others in the group have been meeting with other institutions pursuing decarbonization who are at various stages of the process in order to learn more about their institutions’ approaches, decision-making, and lessons learned along the way.  

In the next month, the college will open an RFP in order to hire a firm to create a detailed Energy and Carbon Master Plan (ECMP), which will build off the foundational low-temperature hot water study commissioned in 2019 by the college.  The ECMP is expected to be completed within 12-18 months and will serve as the engineering and construction blueprint for the campus energy transition.  

Another climate action issue that has been a focus is air travel. The Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) has spent the year exploring how the college could reduce GHG emissions from air travel.  While the pandemic has been incredibly challenging, it has also provided us all with opportunities to become familiar with alternatives to travel for our regular in-person meetings and conferences outside of the region. While there is a desire to get back to more in person meetings, there is also a hope expressed by many on campus that some of the in-person engagements for which we used to travel will be possible to conduct virtually in the future.  After surveying the campus and discussing the options with various campus stakeholders, CEAC is now working on finalizing an air travel policy proposal intended to reduce air travel GHG emissions, which will be shared at the end of the semester.  

The Zero Waste Action Plan has been a multi-year effort that began in the fall of 2019 with a campus wide waste conducted by Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN) in collaboration with the Zilkha Center.  During the last academic year, PLAN staff worked with Zilkha Center Zero Waste Interns Lauren Lynch ’23 and Coco Rhum ’23 to assess the college’s current approach to waste, materials management, and purchasing – a departure from and a step beyond the previous waste reduction and diversion approach.  The waste assessment informed the campus-wide strategic planning sustainability conversations especially as they relate to the responsible consumption section.  As the sustainability working group identified in their recommendations, the college needs to improve measurement of what we are doing – in order to a) set baselines so that we can b) set realistic, bold goals.  The Zero Waste assessment is part of that crucial baseline setting. 

This year, the ZWAP work has moved on to visioning and action planning with campus stakeholders from a wide range of areas of campus including Facilities Operations, Dining, PDC, the Sciences, the Art Department, WCMA, Center for Theatre and Dance, the Libraries, CLiA, Goodrich Coffee Bar, Williams Environmental Council, OIT, and Athletics, among others.  Lauren Lynch ‘23 has continued her work as a Zero Waste Intern for a second year and she has been joined by Rika Nakato ‘24 who have both continued working closely with Post Landfill Action Network on the second phase of this project. Highlights from the ZWAP include recommendations for:

  • A central surplus and aggregation facility & digital asset management platform/online catalog –  in order to optimize reuse
  • Standardized bins and signage – to increase legibility of our waste systems and match waste color-coding with national and global standards
  • A continuing commitment to reusable to-go ware and composting
  • Strategically centralizing parts of campus procurement that are currently decentralized in order to realize cost savings, optimize resource sharing, and increase the percentage of environmentally preferred products 

The Zero Waste Action Plan will be completed by the end of the calendar year along with the other parts of the Sustainability Action Plan, less the Climate Action Plan, which will be submitted to leadership in June.

As the above progress details, the college is on the verge of some major changes in the way we use energy, travel, and use and dispose of things. None of these objectives is achievable without your engagement and support. We invite you to share your comments and ideas with us at [email protected].