Falk details initiatives for confronting climate change

September 14, 2016 by Wendy Hernandez, Contributing Writer

On Sept. 8, President of the College Adam Falk sent a campus-wide email detailing the College’s most recent initiatives to combat climate change.

This followed Falk’s announcement last September that he and the Board of Trustees were launching several initiatives to address climate change. The College’s building spree will be accompanied by a renewed commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, and the new residential building, Horn Hall, is an example of what Falk calls “sustainable design and building practices.”

The College has paid close attention to lighting, weatherization, insulation and plumbing for each project. Facilities has replaced incandescent bulbs and fluorescent bulbs  with LEDs. To weatherize buildings, windows and doors are now weather-stripped. Air-tight insulations prevent excess use of heating and cooling and low-flow plumbing uses high pressures to produce a flow of water at least as strong as regular plumbing systems.

This fall, the College will install  solar panels on both Hollander Hall and Schapiro Hall. New student housing at the Center for Development Economics (CDE) will feature solar panels and geothermal wells to provide natural heating and cooling.

“We’re seeing higher energy use and lower energy production than we’d expected, so we’re examining data and trying new strategies to bridge the gap,” Falk said in the email.

There are efforts underway for a new science center, with plans to use half the energy per square foot of the existing Bronfman Science Center and for the South Building of the project to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The latter entails a rating of 80 points or higher by the non-profit United States Green Building Council. Points are awarded based on criteria such as environmental responsibility and efficient resource use.

By investing in renewable solar and wind energy, the College seeks to engage greater Williamstown in sustainability dialogue. A small solar project at the Williamstown Youth Center will be followed by a 1.9-megawatt solar installation on the town’s capped landfill. The College is also collaborating with Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and the Pittsfield-based Center for EcoTechnology to launch a pilot program that will target local non-profits and education institutions. It will focus on saving energy by replacing boilers, installing basic weatherization and improving insulation.

Reports of campus emissions provide one measure of progress. Although a finalized report will not be available until later this fall, current data shows that emissions for 2015-16 fell sharply. This is partly a result of a warmer than normal winter, efficiency gains made in previous years and reductions in energy use of the most energy-demanding buildings on campus.

The College is opting  for local projects like impact investment to combat climate change. This allows for the College to simultaneously give back to the community and make emission reductions.

Other on-campus efforts to combat climate change include the partnership between the Zilkha Center and Davis Center, which invites students to consider the seemingly disparate connections between climate change, race, colonialism and class.

Off campus, a Teach It Forward campaign in Washington, D.C. invited alumni to participate in the conversation.

The Board’s Investment Committee also amended the college’s Statement of Investment Policy to include concessions for impact investing. The first impact investment will likely be made this fall. The Retirement Plan Governance Committee’s call for a low carbon investment fund, the TIAA-CREF Social Choice Low Carbon Equity Fund, for retirees and employees may now be realized. Similarly, major gift donors can now opt for their gift to the endowment to be invested in a fossil fuel-free fund. Meanwhile, donors to the Alumni Fund and Parents Fund may opt for their contributions to support current campus and curricular investments in sustainability.

The Williams Reads program also selected a novel relevant to the campus initiative this year: Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. This marks only the beginning of year-long programming and experiential learning tailored to Confronting Climate Change, the 2016-17 theme of inquiry. On Sept. 12, Elizabeth Kolbert hosted a panel and lecture at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.  This year’s Convocation ceremony will honor five alumni with Bicentennial medals for their strides in fields related to sustainability and the environment.

Maxine Burkett ’98, a professor of climate and environmental law at the University of Hawaii, will deliver the address. Van Jones, author and CNN contributor, will discuss “Green Jobs, Not Jails” in September. Burkett will speak again in October, as will alumnus Mark Tercek ’79, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, will host a discussion in April.

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Tom Foolery September 14, 2016 at 3:11 pm

“We’re seeing higher energy use and lower energy production than we’d expected” says Falk. Well duh, these projects are always short on actual delivery of results and long on self righteous morality about saving the planet. Better insulation is the best way to reduce energy costs so let’s just call these solar projects what they are-economically unjustifiable. If you want to put the endowment at risk for them fine. If you want to create a fund for Gaea worshipers to invest in, fine, but don’t wrap yourself in economic rationale while you are doing it. Sadly, there is not a single voice expressing a dissenting view in this year’s environmental agenda. Not even an economic pause to question a more market oriented approach to the issue. The biggest losers here are the students who are being indoctrinated rather than being trained to think critically. So much for higher education among the elite schools.

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