Late in 2005 President Schapiro received a petition signed by nearly 1,500 faculty, staff and students asking Williams to set greenhouse gas emissions goals. In 2006, he created the Climate Action Committee (CAC) 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 the goal of reducing Williams’ emissions to 10% below the 1990-1991 fiscal year by 2020 and to establish sustainability as an institutional priority.

In conjunction with this commitment, the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives was established in the fall of 2007 with a generous donation from Selim Zilkha, Class of 1946. Its first director was appointed in 2007. The college also got on track to achieve its first carbon emission reduction goal and replaced it with the more ambitious one of 35% below 1990 levels by 2020. Although it subsequently missed this target, the college continues to pursue climate action across all three scopes and other sustainability initiatives and has developed a Climate Action Plan.

Over time the Zilkha Center team has grown to three staff members.

Our current programs and initiatives are informed by the college’s 2021 Strategic Plan and include the following strategic priority areas:

  • Education and research
  • Climate action
  • Landscaping, buildings and land use
  • Responsible consumption
  • Community, diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Accountability and transparency

Student education and engagement have been a key thread throughout the Center’s work. We continue to develop and offer interesting and meaningful internship opportunities in the academic year and summer months that advance student learning and support campus sustainability.