WCMA & Others Begin Drafting their Sustainability Action Plans

Strategic Planning and Departmental DEIA & Sustainability Plans

In 2018, President Mandel announced the start of a college-wide strategic planning process, which included eight working groups, three strategic academic initiatives, and two cross-cutting commitments (diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility (DEIA) and sustainability).  The resulting Strategic Plan includes sustainability goals that are broad and ambitious, which have been further detailed in action-focused plans such as the Zero Waste Action Plan and Climate Action Plan. The strategic plan stipulated that each department would draft both DEIA and sustainability plans at a departmental-level.  Most departments embarked on DEIA plans in 2021, and this past summer and fall, a number of administrative offices have started working on their sustainability action plans. 

Sustainability Action Planning

During the 2022-2023 academic year, the Zilkha Center convened the Sustainability Action Planning Group (SAPG), which included representatives from administrative and academic divisions and student groups.  The SAPG drafted a sustainability vision for the college as well as a template for departments to use as they create their sustainability plans.  The dSAP template was created with the idea that departments could identify positive impacts that they are planning to make and are already making in each of the six sustainability action areas, be reminded of college-wide sustainability goals and existing policies that can be used as resources, and note where additional resources and/or inter-departmental collaboration might be needed to achieve a desired target. 

A number of departments initiated their sustainability planning process including the Communications Office, Office of Information Technology, the Children’s Center Dining, Human Resources, Athletics, the Library, and Facilities/Planning Design & Construction.  The Williams College Museum of Art is the first department to complete their departmental sustainability action plan (dSAP).  The Zilkha Center will review dSAPs and look for synergies and system-wide barriers and opportunities.


WCMA has worked to incorporate sustainability into the way it operates and outlined a number of ways they already do that  regarding energy, waste, procurement, and travel.  Some notable initiatives include instituting the use of moveable temporary exhibit walls that can be reconfigured and reused in the galleries instead of being disposed of after the exhibition. Furthermore, exhibition banners are given to local artists for repurposing, and emissions are carefully considered when partnering with art transport and logistics companies.  

A few highlights of goals that they have set out for themselves include identifying ways to continue to reduce packing materials without compromising the safety of the art, increasing local and plant-rich menus for catered events, and exploring options for tracking emissions associated with exhibition planning in collaboration with outside organizations focusing on sustainability in the arts.

“Preserving and protecting art objects is an inherently resource-heavy undertaking,” reflected Brian Repetto, WCMA’s Chief Preparator. “From climate control systems to transport to the use of archival packing and storage materials.  Our team has tried to rethink how we deploy those resources in every step of the process in order to find ways to cut back and to reuse wherever possible.  With a bit of engineering, a bit of craftsmanship and a lot of creative problem solving, we want to get to a point of (nearly) zero waste while still meeting the needs of the objects under our care.” 

The WCMA team’s sustainability effort extends to the designs and operational planning for the new museum. Notable goals include achieving the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge Core Certification and an Energy Use Intensity Target (energy use per square foot per year) of 70. 

Barbara Palmer, Director of Museum Finance and Operations at WCMA, shared that the focus on the museum’s processes and materials usage by stage as they drafted WCMA’s the dSAP “has been key in bringing everyone on board to improve our current operations and plan the most fully sustainable future museum.” 

We commend the WCMA team for the work that they’ve put into establishing these goals and look forward to helping them achieve these goals.