About the Zilkha Center


Williams College will make reductions in its environmental footprint in ways that are beyond incremental improvement.  It will serve as a model, knowledge hub, and testing ground for sustainable practice and the integration of social, economic, and environmental sustainability. The campus community will be engaged, empowered, knowledgeable and possess the skills to implement sustainable practices.


Zilkha logo_square

The Zilkha Center pursues sustainability at Williams in collaboration with many other departments and individuals on campus and further afield.  We provide connections between those diverse groups; design and advocate for operational change; research, implement and share best practices.  We incorporate education, knowledge sharing and opportunities for action in all that we do.  We consider our work in the broader context – the world, our region, and our local communities.  We actively seek out collaborations with peer institutions and partners to magnify our impact.  And we continually review our efforts through internal reflection and collaborative partnerships, always seeking new methods and setting new goals that will keep us moving toward our vision. We provide inspiration and support to other campus community members implementing sustainable projects and practices.  As experts we inform the College’s efforts to set ambitious and achievable goals.  We monitor the College’s progress and report on its successes and failures.

In order to do this successfully, we recognize we must understand and value the intersections of sustainability with social justice, environmental justice, equity and inclusion.  We strive to make our work accessible to a wide range of people: those who are committed environmentalists, those who have felt unwelcome in the mainstream sustainability movement, and everybody in between.     


In the late fall of 2005, President Schapiro received a petition signed by nearly 1500 faculty, staff and students asking Williams to set greenhouse gas emissions goals. In 2006, he created the Climate Action Committee and charged it “to recommend by the end of this calendar year a goal for the reduction of College greenhouse gas emissions and ways to attain it.” The CAC recommended setting a target of 10% below 1990-1991 levels by 2020, and recommended that Williams hire a director of sustainability responsible for developing and coordinating the implementation of a comprehensive strategic plan for emissions reductions and other issues related to sustainability. In January of 2007, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to adopt goal of reducing Williams’ emissions to 10% below 1990 by 2020*, and to establish sustainability as an institutional priority.

As a result of the goal, in the fall of 2007, the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives was established with a generous donation from Selim Zilkha, Class of 1946. The Zilkha family, whose donation helped establish the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, owns a business in the biomass industry. This fact does not affect any Center initiatives or programming.

* This goal has since been changed to further reduce the college’s emissions.

Video created for First Days by intern Chris Stefanik ’16 during the summer of 2015.