Sustainability Principles and Goals

Williams is committed to protecting and enhancing the natural and built environment in which we learn, work, and live, and to supporting the global effort to advance environmental sustainability. These efforts rely on the involvement of all members of the campus community. To succeed, initiatives must be not only environmentally responsible but also socially fair and economically sound.

The College’s greatest contribution is through educating our students, who will go on to become environmental stewards through their many roles. We do this through our teaching, research, and co-curricular offerings, and by demonstrating and embracing sustainable practices in the development and operations of our campus. As faculty, staff, and students, we educate ourselves about important issues related to sustainability and pass on our learning to the larger communities of which we are all part. We eagerly share ideas with and learn from our neighbors and colleagues and seek consortial arrangements that can develop and broaden such practices. We work to contribute to the development of environmental standards and report on our progress.

  • Sustainability is difficult to define.  Definitions often include something like Sustainability is meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of tomorrow.  Or meeting the needs of future generations.  Definitions sometimes include the metaphorical three-legged chair to illustrate the three dimensions of sustainability that it takes to create a high quality of life - environmental, economic, and social/cultural. When one of those dimensions - or legs - is absent or weak, it is not sustainable and society is unstable.

    For their STARS report (which is the basis for most green college rating systems), the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) outlines the following questions that they use for their rating system that we like to utilize to think about sustainability in broad and powerful terms.

    To what extent does achievement of the credit contribute to positive environmental, economic and social impacts?
    a. To what extent does achievement of the credit contribute to human and ecological health and mitigate negative environmental impacts?
    b. To what extent does achievement of the credit contribute to secure livelihoods, a sustainable economy and other positive financial impacts?
    c. To what extent does achievement of the credit contribute to social justice, equity, diversity, cooperation, democracy and other positive social impacts?

    When one thinks about sustainability through the lens of these terms, one can see that everyone is, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny" and can understand the importance of advocating and striving for sustainability.

  • Energy and Emissions

    We reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by increasing energy efficiency and selecting cleaner and renewable energy sources. We reduce energy use by constructing only the facilities we need and by building, renovating, maintaining, and operating them to use energy efficiently throughout their life. As campus community members, we seek to reduce energy use in our daily lives, in our work, and in our travel and to be mindful of the impacts of our choices.  Williams adheres to the 2015 emissions goals put in place under President Adam Falk.

    Natural Resources

    We reduce our effects on water systems by minimizing use and by managing storm-water runoff. When materials are required, we select sustainably harvested sources to preserve natural resources. We protect the local habitat by limiting the physical growth of the college. We work to develop built landscapes in ways that support natural ecological functions by protecting existing ecosystems and regenerating ecological capacity where it has been lost. We provide opportunities for members of the community to interact with and appreciate the environment.

    Procurement, Consumption, and Waste

    We reduce, reuse, and recycle materials. We work to understand and decrease the environmental impacts of the use, production, transportation and disposal of items we purchase. We select vendors committed to sustainable practices throughout the life cycle of their products, and we prefer to buy locally. We build and maintain buildings that provide safe, comfortable and healthy environments for students, faculty and staff through effective use of day-lighting, ventilation, and connections with the natural environment. We work to improve our understanding of toxic materials used on campus and to reduce their presence in labs, art studios, and building and maintenance materials as well as in cleaning, landscaping, and pest-control.

    Buildings and Construction

    Food and Water

    A number of partners (Zilkha Center, CEAC's Sustainable Food & Agriculture Planning Committee, student groups) work collaboratively with Williams College Dining Services to improve the sustainability of the food served on campus. Model relationships established by Dining Services with Peace Valley Farm, High Lawn Farm, and the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center demonstrate the potential for student dining at Williams to be strongly rooted in regional agriculture. At Williams, each meal is an educational opportunity. Dining Services seeks to prepare students with the information they need to make informed and responsible food choices.

  • STARS Assessment

    Williams participates in STARS – sustainability tracking assessment and rating system -  designed by Association for the Advancement in Higher Education (AASHE)  This self-rating system allows Williams to evaluate progress toward its sustainability goals as well as benchmark against peer institutions.  For more information, visit the STARS website.  In 2011 and 2016, we were awarded silver ratings.  To see the published reports, visit the Williams College page on the STARS website. For more information about the breadth of sustainability that STARS measures and that Williams measures itself against when completing that report, check out the STARS table of credits.

    Annual Emissions Reports

    Each fiscal year, Williams assesses their progress in each of our sustainability areas. The data is made into a public report, which archives of can be accessed and viewed anytime here.