You might have seen the announcement on Williams Today or read the article in The Record that Williams College has received a Gold rating on the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Reporting System (STARS) developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS is a comprehensive, organizational self-assessment that evaluates sustainability in four major domains: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning & Administration.
For the Zilkha Center, the jump from Silver to Gold was cause for both celebration and recommitting ourselves to our vision of being “a leader and catalyst for minimizing the environmental footprint of Williams College in ways that go beyond incremental improvements” and serving “as a model, knowledge hub, and testing ground for sustainability practices and learning that embody the principles of environmental justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Moreover, to us the Gold rating reflects continued investments in sustainability throughout our operations and, very importantly, integrating sustainability into our organizational culture, learning, and decision-making processes. Larger, systemic changes such as the 76 MW Farmington, ME solar photovoltaic facility were possible because of many smaller efforts and because people from various departments and functional units worked together to find opportunities to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and increase our energy resilience. The expansion of compost collection outside of dining halls and the reduction of single-use plastics in dining operations involved many planning meetings, process changes, financial cost estimates and behavioral changes from students, faculty and staff – work that continues because of pandemic-related challenges. These examples illustrate that progress on sustainability is rarely achieved through break-through events, but more often the result of incremental advances that need to be continuously reinforced and adapted to new contexts and evolving systems.
Sustainability awards, therefore, are as much a reflection of what has been accomplished as they are about reaffirming an organization’s sustainability culture that values ambitious, creative and most of all collective sustainability planning and actions. Williams College embodies this kind of ambitious affirmation in the Strategic Plan’s cross-cutting sustainability commitments. Serving as the Zilkha Center’s North Star, we translate the Plan’s goals into actionable strategies that guide our approaches to energy, buildings, waste management, landscaping, and other topics—all areas that STARS evaluates as well. We thus see STARS as a means to reinforce our strategic planning. Specifically, we plan to develop new initiatives that are informed by both in the areas of waste reduction, sustainable food systems, green purchasing, community and employee sustainability engagement and wellbeing. We invite you to be part of them, to share your expertise and enthusiasm for making a positive difference.
-Tanja Srebotnjak, Mike Evans & Christine Seibert