In the ‘green’

This year’s Commencement ceremonies will be greener than ever. We are reducing the number of water bottles and amount of waste, increasing recycling and offering local foods. We have reinvigorated our year-end collection drive, designed to find new purpose for the things we don’t want anymore. It’s called “Give It Up.” This year’s class gift will support a green fund to be used for environmental initiatives.

This “green” ending represents just one part of a “green” beginning for the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, formed in December 2007 through the generous support of alum Selim Zilkha ’46 and his family. The Center’s goal is to work with students, faculty and staff to incorporate the principles of sustainability into the fabric of campus life.

As a result of the trustees’ adopting aggressive greenhouse gas emissions targets in January 2007 and our desire to institutionalize the principles of sustainability, many across campus have embraced these goals in their daily work. The efforts of the Center complement the already strong programs of our longstanding Center for Environmental Studies (CES).

As we celebrate our graduates, it is also an opportune time to celebrate our sustainability successes, along with some of the many people who have helped make them happen. Almost every operating department on campus has been engaged – WCMA, Dining Services, Admissions, Alumni Relations and Development, Facilities, Athletics, Library, dining services, Information Technology, the President’s Office. We have tackled issues associated with greening our publications to environmental art, from low-flow showers to operating hours; in the classroom, in the boardroom, on our playing fields, at our dining tables – we are exploring, questioning and making improvements.

New construction projects will be greener. The new academic buildings and Stetson-Sawyer renovation and the Weston Field athletic complex are expected to be LEED certified. A 27-kilowatt photovoltaic system planned for the off-site library shelving facility and supported by a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative will help reduce our carbon footprint.

We are conserving energy through lighting improvements and building retrofits. An energy assessment of our buildings, completed this year, identified numerous energy conservation measures. Many will be implemented next year, funded by a substantial increase in the Center’s budget. We are ensuring that future development minimally affects our environmental footprint by adopting an environmental impact assessment protocol for all maintenance and renovation projects.

Greenhouse gas emissions associated with heating have been dramatically reduced as natural gas replaced residual oil in our campus heating plant. The staff at the heating plant worked to change operational practices to make this happen. Real time electricity data is now available on our Web site. The ability to monitor our electrical consumption enables both our campus community and facilities personnel to manage energy consumption, and will eventually enable us to set energy targets for each building. Next year we will be working on developing a steam monitoring system.

In the classroom, CES’s environmental planning class investigated issues related to parking, recycling and composting. A new course on sustainable campuses used Williams as the foundation for intellectual discovery. The student projects explored energy and resource management at Williams, and we are looking forward to using their work to inform future plans.

Driscoll dining implemented trayless dining to reduce food waste and save water and energy. A water-dispensing system in Paresky was installed to encourage refilling of water bottles. We are instituting sustainable event policies to guide our internal and external catering. The Association for the Advancement in Sustainability in Higher Education recently noted Williams’ sustainable food initiatives as being among the best.

The Zilkha Center’s student interns have worked particularly hard to make sustainability happen: Molly Hunter ’09 spearheaded sustainable food initiatives; Meredith Annex ’11 investigated transportation options in and around campus; Nanny Gephart ’09 assisted with a green communications initiative and JJ Augenbraun ’11 developed an office environmental auditing protocol and conducted a survey about dormitory heating. There will be more opportunities to be involved with the Center next year.

While the threat of global climate change remains real, I am inspired by the dedication, creativity and enthusiasm our community brings to this issue.

We are thankful for the efforts of campus groups like the Record, which has publicized and encouraged discussion on many of the sustainability issues on campus this year, from trayless dining to low-flow showerheads to Recyclemania. And we have been impressed by the leadership of Morgan Goodwin ’08 and others involved with the Thursday Night Group for their efforts on and off the campus.

Inevitably, implementing change is not without its challenges. As we strive to minimize our environmental footprint, we need to foster an environment of open dialogue so that we can balance our use of resources with the needs of the community. I look forward to working with all of you when you return next year. To those graduating, I wish you all the best in the future and trust you will continue to live “green” as you leave the Purple Valley.

Stephanie Boyd is the acting director of the Zilkha Center and lives in Williamstown.