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 students, who will go on to become engaged citizens, change makers, and thoughtful contributors to a more sustainable world in 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 on campus.
As faculty, staff, and students, we educate ourselves about 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 to enhance a culture of accountability and transparency.
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.
We like to think about sustainability in broad and powerful terms. By focusing on sustainability we aim to contribute to positive environmental, economic and social impacts. This means we focus our energy on:
- human and ecological health and mitigating negative environmental impacts
- secure livelihoods, a sustainable economy, equalizing access to resources, and other stabilizing financial impacts
- social justice, equity, diversity, cooperation, democracy, transparency and other positive social impacts
These specific tenets are modified from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) STARS report (which is the basis for most green college rating systems).
When one thinks about sustainability through this lens, 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.
While the College has formally committed to goals in carbon emission reduction and carbon neutrality, we also support many approaches to integrate sustainability throughout our operations and education as is outlined below.
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. To ensure we reach our emissions goals, we purchase renewable energy from a solar farm in collaboration with four other colleges.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.
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 encourage students to minimize consumption and reuse and reduce before recycling. We pursue initiatives to back up this campus-wide encouragement and provide ways to avoid waste from going into landfills.
Buildings and Grounds
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 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. We adhere to our recommended policy on LEED certification, and abide by the Green Building Guidelines.
Food and Water
A number of partners 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.
Williams participates in STARS – sustainability tracking assessment and rating system - designed by the Association for the Advancement in Higher Education (AASHE). This comprehensive self-rating system allows Williams to evaluate progress toward its sustainability goals over time as well as benchmark against peer institutions. For more information, visit the STARS website. In 2011, 2016 and 2019, we were awarded silver ratings. To see the published report, 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 Technical Manual.
Annual Emissions Reports
Each fiscal year, Williams assesses their progress in reducing carbon emissions by conducting a report on total campus emissions. The data is made into a public report, which can be accessed and viewed any time here.