The Sustainability Advisory Group and Environmental Stewardship (SAGES) published The Green Report last May, a review of the University’s environmental sustainability, which placed the University on a path to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.
Carbon neutrality means having zero net greenhouse gas emissions, according to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which President Michael Roth signed last year. The Green Report followed a string of University initiatives to make the campus more environmentally friendly, including the creation of SAGES in April of 2007.
According to Bill Nelligan, SAGES Chair and Director of Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability, SAGES began formulating The Green Report prior to Roth’s signing of the ACUPCC. He explained that the Report will help SAGES progress with their agenda.
“We needed that document in place to start working on our climate action plan,” Nelligan said.
In late 2006 members of the Environmental Organizer’s Network (EON) came to Nelligan and the administration to propose that the University replace the former recycling committee with a more inclusive sustainability committee.
In response, the administration founded SAGES, which is comprised of faculty, staff and student members working towards a greater Campus Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions—all goals that are directly reflected in The Green Report.
In mid-December, SAGES will issue an initial draft of the greenhouse gas report for the University—the second requirement in signing the ACUPCC. This report is another step towards complying with the University’s commitment to become carbon neutral.
“[When the greenhouse gas report is completed], that’s our benchmark for how close we’re getting to carbon neutrality,” Nelligan said.
The December report will be posted online for the ACUPCC by Jan. 15, 2009. Over the course of the next year, SAGES will refine the report so that by November 2009 there will be a set and thorough plan to become entirely carbon neutral.
“When it’s complete—the inventory—it’s going to be monumental,” said EON member Julien Burns ’10. “Because it means we can now quantify the reductions that are possible.”
The Green Report addressed the issue of greenhouse gases from human activities, as well as carbon output and ways to decrease the University’s emissions. The December greenhouse gas report will effectively quantifies these emissions and assesses reduction endeavors using carbon sequestration. Funding for the project is still not established.
“I think those goals are a starting point that establishes our principles,” Burns said. “The Action Plan will spell out more specific goals and how we will achieve them.“
While SAGES focuses on institutional reform, there is also an interest in cultural change at the University. Nelligan explained that the biggest obstacle for the University will not be cutting down emissions, but rather altering the campus culture so that students can effectively respond to the changing environment.
Burns echoed these sentiments.
“The most important thing is creating campus wide awareness,” Burns said. “Now things are starting to happen without the committee having to make them happen.”
The Green Report also pressed for the University to institute more courses concerning environmental studies and suggested that sustainability teaching and awareness should extend beyond the sciences. The “Feet to the Fire” project, for instance, which ends in 2010, serves to integrate the topic of climate change into campus activities, courses and artistic endeavors.
“I like that there were collaborations between artists and professors in seemingly unrelated disciplines,” said Alex Provo ’10, a member of EON and SAGES.
Although last May’s Green Report and the follow-up report that will come in December can be seen as a step in the right direction, members of SAGES acknowledged that sustainability and the path toward carbon neutrality are definitely works in progress.
“My hope would be that we can integrate sustainability instead of imposing it,” Provo said. “It would be nice to make sustainability a viable choice.”