Budget cuts not slated to affect Zilkha sustainability initiatives

From energy-saving strategies and alternative energy sourcing to sustainable food efforts and educational opportunities, the College continues to make significant strides in sustainability despite funding cuts – including a 15 percent overall budget cut at the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. “Reducing our funds won’t reduce our impact on sustainability,” said Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center. “We’ll just do it in a different fashion.”

Funding for sustainability efforts at the College have come from a variety of areas, including outside foundations such as the Luce and Thoreau Foundations. Unique among most other departments, the Zilkha Center will be hiring for a new position this coming year, funded by a grant from the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation. The new sustainable food program manager will work with the Zilkha Center, Dining Services and Center for Environmental Studies (CES) and other personnel on campus to develop programs related to sustainable food practices on campus.

“We are fortunate to have developed a number of funding sources to support our work in all these areas,” said Steve Klass, vice president for Operations. “At the same time, it’s important to note that, as our work across a number of energy-saving initiatives evolves, funding for these practices … can come from multiple places, not just the Zilkha Center budget. In fact, the more institutionalized sustainability becomes, the less distinct the lines between internal departmental funding sources will become.” Boyd emphasized that much of the Zilkha Center’s work is done in collaboration with other departments.

According to Boyd, however, budget reductions in other departments may actually increase sustainability on campus. “As we have a little less money in our operating budgets, we find ways to be more efficient,” she said. “This is usually better for the environment. We are building new relationships and partnerships with groups across the campus. We are asking ourselves ‘can we do this better?’ much more often. I think this is a great opportunity for us all to reflect on what is important to ourselves, to our education, to our campus.”

Boyd added that the delay of the Stetson-Sawyer project – one of the biggest projects affected by budget cuts – is actually helpful in the sustainability sense. “We are not increasing energy consumption due to adding building square footage,” she said. 

One of the most prominent recent attempts to both reduce spending and increase sustainability is the shutdown of select buildings during winter break. Over a period of a week and a half, the College decreased temperatures and turned off equipment in many campus buildings, saving nearly $90,000 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 287 metric tonnes, over 1 percent of the College’s annual total.
“We would not have done that had there not been concerted effort to save money,” Boyd said. Boyd noted that a similar effort over spring break closed down Griffin and several other buildings in order to reduce operational costs.

Boyd cited efforts to save on paper in light of budget cuts as another measure that will increase the College’s sustainability. The Zilkha Center has developed sustainable communications guidelines in collaboration with Alumni Relations and Development, Public Affairs, Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), Admissions and the Registrar’s Office to reduce the environmental impacts of paper publications. “We are increasing online distribution of electronic media, improving the quality of paper used and decreasing the mailing lists to be more effective,” Boyd said. 

Some of the budget cuts will affect travel and conferences, alongside fewer housing energy audits and upgrades for the faculty and staff houses. Boyd explained that the Zilkha Center is “unlike other departments, where they have long established programs every year.” “Since this is a new department, we don’t have an established set of programs. Some of our work and programming is designed to support initiatives of other departments,” she said, adding that it is difficult to specify the impact of budget decreases. In the same way, Klass suggested the larger areas of interest that will be cut rather than specific projects. “Since we are still very early in our sustainability planning across campus, some of the money in the Zilkha Center budget is earmarked in broad general areas rather than dedicated toward specific projects,” Klass said. “These earmarks are generally where we have found the mandatory reductions for the [fiscal year 2009-2010] operating budget because, when looked at broadly along with Facilities sustainability funding, there’s more perceived fungibility in these collective pools of money.” He explained that this approach will allow the College to “focus on specific projects while sustaining our long-term planning horizons,” while still meeting the College’s goals for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

While some areas of spending will be reduced, both Boyd and Klass remain optimistic that the remaining investments will lead to improvements in sustainability as well as reductions in operating expenses. “Each initiative has its own payback schedule, and while some are quicker than others, these are all worthwhile investments,” Klass said. “As we learn more and engage more of the Williams community in these initiatives, the more effective we become in targeting our resources.”