Carbon Neutral Colgate

David Kusnetz and Shae Frydenlund

Human induced global climate change is a reality. If the vast majority of the world’s top scientists agree that humans are significantly contributing to global warming, then the time for debate is over and the time for action has begun. A respected and progressive college campus, such as our own, can no longer ignore climate change and must take concrete steps to decrease its negative impact on the environment and strive for energy sustainability.

An institution’s overall impact on the environment is known by calculating its ‘carbon footprint,’ which compiles data from energy, resource and transportation needs with respect to the amount of CO2 emitted in each process. Many top universities have begun to or have already succeeded in significantly reducing their carbon footprint, thus reducing their contribution to global climate change and environmental degradation. The success of a university’s effort to become carbon neutral is best gauged by the College Sustainability Report Card, published yearly by the Sustainable Endowments Institute. The report rates the colleges and universities with the 200 largest endowments in the US and Canada on a letter-grade scale based on a university’s effort to encourage sustainability in the categories of administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, transportation, etc. Universities such as Dartmouth, Harvard, Middlebury, Oberlin and Williams have been extremely successful in implementing sustainability projects to reduce or eliminate their carbon footprint and have each earned a rating in the B+ to A range. In this year’s report the average grade was a C, yet Colgate received a rating of D+. While 68 percent of schools improved their overall grade since last year’s report, Colgate did not. This embarrassment, however, is shared by several of our peer institutions that also received below-average scores such as Bucknell, GWU, Lafayette and Lehigh. Additionally, 30 percent of the schools named in the report have committed to carbon neutrality (including Cornell) by signing The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. Signatories to this Commitment pledge to set a timetable for becoming carbon neutral, take short-term actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and integrate sustainability into the curriculum. Colgate, however, is currently not a signatory.

The Administration is sympathetic to making Colgate environmentally sustainable, but the student body must demonstrate that this movement is a priority. The Administration has a history of only making student initiatives a priority if the students make their voice heard and present a coherent and feasible plan. For example, the Administration’s decision to cut the New York Times subscription from the budget was reconsidered only after the student body protested and SGA officials acted and presented a plan. Therefore, we call upon SGA and environmental groups to team up and present a plan for a Carbon Neutral Colgate. Such a plan should include: purchasing wind credits (you may have noticed the dozens of windmills down the road on 12B), expanding the use of Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (which use less than half the energy of a normal light bulb) campus wide, and working with Sodexho to purchase local foods and compost our waste (which significantly reduces CO2 emissions from transportation). The plan should also include a pledge by President Chopp to join the 492 other University Presidents that have already signed The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.

The recent Green Summit and the efforts of environmental groups such as SEA and Campus Ecology are a great start to raising environmental awareness on campus, but more decisive action must be taken. It is high time that we took the lead among our peer small liberal arts schools to be part of the solution, not the problem. Since several of our peer institutions also have embarrassing scores, a Colgate environmental turnaround would inspire them to follow suit, thus making a significant impact to reducing our nation’s carbon footprint. Let us take the lead in the movement to combat global climate change and ensure a clean and sustainable future.