Sustainability Column: Admin Ignores Own Policies

Revée Needham

Does the Colgate Administration even care about sustainability or is it all a marketing ploy to attract students to the institution?

To understand the deceit within the administration with regards to our building practices, I’ll first need to begin by explaining the sustainability practices at Colgate. The University will be carbon neutral by 2019 per our Climate Action Plan. This means we are committed to purchasing carbon offsets for all the carbon that we emit on campus and for university travel. To minimize the carbon offsets we need to purchase, there are various ways to reduce Colgate’s carbon footprint such as using renewable energy and renovating buildings to be more energy efficient.

The Office of Sustainability and the Sustainability Council created a set of Green Building Standards to formalize this policy. These standards were carefully compiled, explained to Colgate staff and adopted by the campus to be implemented by every department. Within these standards is the stipulation that “All major projects shall achieve at minimum a LEED Silver rating for all new construction and major renovations under the latest adopted LEED standard” (p. 7 of the 2014 Green Building Standards). LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a widely-respected certification that gives a recommended checklist and subsequent rating for energy-efficient buildings. The rating ranges from the lowest score of Certified, to Silver, Gold and the highest rating of Platinum. Colgate’s commitment to LEED Silver buildings is not revolutionary by any means: we could and should raise those standards to match the caliber of this institution. However, certain staff members within this institution simply do not care about LEED certification and sustainable practices, thus making the implementation of LEED practices more difficult.

Stillman Hall has been under construction for the past year and will be reopening in the fall. With all the renovations, Stillman Hall will not be LEED certified. Why is this a big deal? This not only blatantly goes against the approved Campus Master Plan and Campus Strategic Plan, but undermines the values we hold as an institution. Colgate boasts on its tours, information sessions and website (under the Distinctly Colgate section) about all the sustainable practices of this institution. But, this written and verbal commitment means little in the face of the actual practices that took place in Stillman Hall’s renovation. To be clear, I am not blaming the Office of Sustainability, but rather the apathy of many University staff members, notably Facilities, Capital Construction and the Office of Finance and Administration.

While it is too late to implement green building practices in Stillman Hall, it’s not too late to ensure that the new residence halls are held to a higher standard. LEED Silver is simply mediocre –– with a carbon neutrality date so soon, why are we not aiming for LEED Platinum buildings with net zero energy? The design process is already underway for the residence halls and renewable energy hasn’t even been considered as an option. Additional “costs” to changing the design features are miniscule in comparison to the benefits to be gained. Upfront building costs are only one to two percent of lifetime costs, mainly from energy costs. Thus, net zero energy buildings quickly pay for themselves even if price was the only consideration. Furthermore, actual green building practices can serve as a learning and teaching tool for the community.

While costs and construction time matter, I’d argue upholding the commitments we made matter more. Raising the bar for green buildings would not make Colgate cutting edge or a sustainability leader, but would inch us closer to our carbon neutrality goal and catch up to our peer institutions. UMass Amherst just opened a net zero energy building. Middlebury College reached carbon neutrality in 2016 and has three LEED Platinum and one LEED Gold building. Hamilton College has two LEED Gold and one LEED Silver buildings. Colgate currently has only two LEED buildings: Trudy Fitness Center is Gold certified and Lathrop Hall is Silver certified.

If this bothers you as much as it bothers me, do something about it. Encourage your SGA senators to pass a resolution and tell others about this egregious mistake. Nothing will change unless we as a community show our support for sustainable practices, including green buildings on campus.