The movement towards the adoption of a College environmental policy statement is forging ahead since receiving official endorsement by College Council (CC) on April 10. The policy will be adopted and considered an official College commitment if it is passed by the Strategic Planning Committee. The policy statement does not have to be approved by the Board of Trustees, though some students would like the Board to endorse it as well for greater legitimacy.
Last spring, the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) drafted the statement and recommended it to Helen Ouellette, treasurer and vice president for administration. The policy statement calls for the College to commit itself to “environmental mindfulness and stewardship in all its activities.” It goes on to “[encourage] all individuals engaged in [the College] community to recognize a personal responsibility and a stake in the effects they have on both local and global environments.”
“Our hope is that the environmental policy statement will encourage administrators to examine their department’s practices and seek less environmentally destructive alternatives,” said Carlos Silva ’04, a student representative on the CEAC. “We consider adoption of the statement as not marking the end, but the beginning of a comprehensive examination of the ways that Williams College can be made more sustainable.”
The 87-word statement was crafted around the ideas expressed in Middlebury College’s policy statement. Both statements commit the institution to general ideals â€“ allowing the College and the individual departments to apply use the spirit of the statement to craft policies to address specific problems.
“Adoption of a policy statement would document our commitment, but I don’t think it would make a big difference in how we act, simply because we are already striving to incorporate more and more environmentally friendly practices,” said Ouellette.
The CEAC will also be encouraging the administration to draft a long-term Campus Sustainability Plan that would have the College commit to specific environmental goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Because the policy statement is very general, the Campus Sustainability Plan would begin to identify specific measures the College could take in order to abide by the spirit of the policy statement,” said Silva.
The Town of Williamstown has already put itself at the fore of environmental responsibility by joining the Cities for Climate Protectionâ€”Williamstown, along with Rome, Berlin, New York, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, has committed to voluntarily abiding by the greenhouse gas emissions standards suggested in the Kyoto Protocol.
The Williamstown Elementary School has taken steps towards environmental friendliness by installing photovoltaic solar panels on its roof. “If the elementary school can do it, I am completely confident that Williams can as well,” said Silva.
Williams has not signed the Talloires Declaration, a commitment to more specific environmental goals that was signed by 275 other institutions. The Declaration identifies “[s]tabilization of human population, adoption of environmentally sound industrial and agricultural technologies, reforestation and ecological restoration [as] crucial elements in creating an equitable and sustainable future for all humankind in harmony with nature” and calls on the institutions to “initiate and support mobilization of internal and external resources so that . . . [they can] respond to this urgent challenge.”
The adoption of the environmental policy statement has been pushed by students who see the College as traditionally lagging behind other schools on environmental issues. “Environmental issues are not a standard part of our school’s dialogue,” said Malin Pinsky ’03, the student chair of the CEAC. “I think a lot of us would consider ourselves supporters of the environment, and yet there are very few of us â€“ faculty, staff or students â€“ who actually change the way we act.”
The College has recently taken steps to become more environmentally-friendly, according to Pinsky. The installment of a co-generator at the campus power plant and energy efficient lighting in most areas on campus, the switch to 30 percent post-consumer content recycled paper and the opening of the Eco-CafÃ© are all seen as productive steps toward environmental responsibility.
“Even without an explicit commitment on environmental issues, the College is doing a lot of the right things because most of our students and employees are personally committed to doing things the right way,” said Ouellette.