Ecological Initiatives

Fri, 2013-01-04 02:24 am


In a series of meetings I have had last year with the larger Grinnell family — including open office hours, lunches with faculty and administrators, and conversations with students — the single most popular question has been some variation of “What is the College doing about environmental and sustainability issues?”

There are several reasons for such a high interest: Sustainability is consistent with the College’s long history of social responsibility. Environmental responsibility saves the College money. Sustainability is increasingly a subject of our inquiry-based curriculum.

Also, the College has been emphasizing sustainability for some time now; almost all campus buildings constructed since 2003 are or will be LEED-certified as resource-efficient. We now recycle or compost more than half our campus waste. We reduced our boiler plant’s water consumption by 40 percent in 2009 by installing a water filtration system. We have worked to serve more locally grown food in our dining hall. And we have a host of courses in the sciences and social sciences that address sustainability.

There have been many people on campus doing a lot of good work on sustainability, and we have plucked most of the low-hanging fruit — the big gains in resource efficiency. Now it is time to coordinate and expand these efforts and to take on some really big initiatives.

Here is where we are headed:

I am signing the American College and University Presidents’Climate Commitment to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible and to take immediate, specific steps toward doing so. I am very comfortable signing the presidents’ commitment because there is no question in my mind that this campus is committed to the goal — because it is good citizenship, it is consistent with our values, and because many of the activities we are committed to in this area may actually save the college money in the long run.

We are establishing a Climate Steering Committee that will coordinate the efforts of everyone involved in promoting sustainability on this campus. In my mind, this committee replaces and broadens the long-standing EcoCampus Committee of faculty, staff, and student representatives who meet to address campus environmental issues.

We have launched an environment and sustainability section on the College’s Web site to keep everyone informed of new sustainability developments and to act as a clearinghouse for links to the organizations, committees, and curricular developments related to sustainability.

We are planning to construct a three-turbine, 15.6 million kilowatt-hour wind farm north of campus that will cost about $10 million, generate 80 percent of the College’s electrical consumption, and reduce our carbon impact by half. This is the culmination of a wind-energy project begun by a student in 1996, and it will likely take another two years or more to complete. The details of property easements, financial models, and the relationship with our local utility company and the national power grid are currently being worked out, and they are complicated. But we have a vision and a plan that is well along. We are very excited about making it a reality.

The above points are only the current headlines in an ongoing sustainability effort that ultimately affects every aspect of our lives as a College family. We will be offering more courses and cocurricular learning opportunities in sustainability, creating new initiatives aimed at resource efficiency, and refining and expanding those that are already in place. I encourage you to take a look at our sustainability Web site, mentioned above, to stay current with all that we are doing, and to join me in thanking the many members of our community who have led and continue to lead us toward a sustainable future.