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Currents: moving toward a greener future

A New Age: Colby-Sawyer Moves Toward a Greener Future

By Amber Cronin '11

In a world concerned with carbon footprints, climate neutrality and global warming, many colleges and universities around the country are “going green.” Here at Colby-Sawyer, with the help of Green ROUTES, the President's Climate Commitment, and Students for a Greener Campus, plans are beginning to move forward to create a more sustainable campus.

What is sustainability, and how can we achieve it?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The big question is, how can sustainability be achieved?

The key to making necessary changes is starting small by changing habits. President of Students for a Greener Campus Andrew Francis '11 says that for Colby-Sawyer to become sustainable, it needs to make “a lot of small changes that will hopefully snowball into something bigger.” His suggestions include actions as simple as turning off the lights when leaving a room, recycling and using a reusable bottle filled with tap water instead of drinking imported spring water in disposable bottles - small changes that can get the process rolling.

Colby-Sawyer President Tom Galligan agrees that one of the college's biggest obstacles for converting to a more sustainable campus is culture. “I think people do care, but we need to go beyond caring and embrace the idea of sustainability more, all of us, so that it becomes more a part of our identity, so that when you think of Colby-Sawyer you think, 'That's a green place.'”


In the 2006-2007 academic year, nine Colby-Sawyer juniors and seniors in the Community-Based Research Project course chose Colby-Sawyer as the focus for their community project and developed Project Green ROUTES (Redirecting Our CampUs Towards Environmental Sustainability). the group worked with faculty members John Callewaert, former director of the Institute for Community and Environment; Laura Alexander, assistant professor of Natural Sciences; and Ben Steele, chair of the Natural Sciences Department, and in collaboration with Leon-C. Malan, then chair of the Business Administration Department, and students in his fall class Organizations and Their Environment.

Green ROUTES established four objectives: To reduce the college's environmental footprint; minimize waste; reduce the need and usage of gas, electricity, paper and food; and to improve the quality and efficiency of buildings on campus. After months spent conducting a Campus Sustainability Assessment, the group made several recommendations to the college in the categories of green design, heat and electricity, paper and water use, investments, trash disposal and grounds.

In addition to the recommendations, Green ROUTES also came up with a new working definition for sustainability that pertains to Colby-Sawyer. The definition calls for the college to “live within nature's limits” and to make decisions that integrate “environmental, social and economic opportunities across campus and within the broader community.”

Regarding implementing the group's recommendations, President Galligan says we are still in the research phase with some of them. Several of the changes suggested by Green ROUTES, however, are already in place. For example, every time the school replaces a toilet, they install a new low-flow toilet to conserve water. This year, each student at orientation received a compact fluorescent light bulb, and there is a movement toward more recycling as well as double-sided printing.

The recommendations by Green ROUTES range from increasing recycling and creating a “Sustainability Day” to investigating the prospects of solar and wind energy. While implementing the recommendations will be expensive, the estimated return over time, according to the 2006 Green ROUTES report, is $247,000 per year.

The final recommendation that Green ROUTES made was to incorporate sustainability into the college's mission statement to “clearly demonstrate institutional commitment to sustainability.”

This year, students in the Community-Based Research Project class will continue with Green ROUTES and has again selected Colby-Sawyer as its community client. The group will review the progress made toward sustainability since the 2006-2007 group released its recommendations. The current group will make more recommendations to the college and work on implementing the recommendations of the original group.

The President's Climate Commitment

The American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment is a “high-visibility effort to address global warming by garnering institutional commitments to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions, and to accelerate the research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth's climate.”

President Galligan signed the compact in 2007, committing Colby-Sawyer to create a plan to move toward climate neutrality. Accordingly, by the year 2009 Colby-Sawyer must be in the process of developing a solid plan to move in that direction. The plan must include a target date for achieving climate neutrality; interim goals; actions to make sustainability a part of the school's curriculum; actions for expanding research and other efforts; and mechanisms for tracking the school's progress.

“I decided to sign it because it seems to me that it was the right thing to do. I for one think that we've got serious climate change issues, and I am not going to close my eyes to the fact that people - while we may argue about how much people have caused it - people can certainly make it better,” said President Galligan.

As of the beginning of this academic year, Colby-Sawyer is still in the research phase of implementing plans to move toward complete sustainability. “We are still really in the process of gathering information, and we are also in the process of articulating policy,” said Galligan. “Part of what they ask is 'Do you have a policy on this, that and the other thing,' and what we have at Colby-Sawyer in terms of sustainability is what you could call guidelines or efforts, but not policies. We've got to have policies.”

Colby-Sawyer's Plans

Colby-Sawyer will continue implementing the recommendations of the 2006 Green ROUTES report, but for right now, the college is considering several small changes that can build momentum to propel the campus to eventual climate neutrality.

“I would love to see us increase our recycling efforts,” said President Galligan. Francis and the Students for a Greener Campus group agree - the group is in the process, in conjunction with the president, of getting recycling bins on each floor of every residence hall. “In a perfect world, if you had it [recycling] in every room, people might recycle more,” said Galligan.

Additionally, Galligan encourages campus community members to print less or double sided to conserve both energy and paper. Galligan, who teaches one course each semester, plans to have his students turn assignments in online, and he will grade them online.

“It would be great if we could at least examine the possibility of some alternative fuel. We use propane and it works, but maybe with some of our buildings we could move to a more green power source down the road,” said Galligan. “We had a student who worked with the town energy committee last year, and what we're still talking to the town about is wind power. We think two wind turbines, the 300-foot ones, would provide, if the wind was right, power for the college and the town, which would be great. They're really expensive, but they are sustainable and would pay for themselves over time.”

There is a laundry list of other recommendations to be implemented in the future, but one at the forefront is the possibility of funding a sustainability coordinator position. Steele thinks that funding and implementing the position is the first step in the right direction.

“A sustainability coordinator would push these things, keep the issue in people's minds, and make a case for them. That might really be the first step. The students made recommendations to the president, but didn't really follow up with them,” he said.

As with any transition, the main obstacle for the college in implementing these very important changes is funding. “Almost all of these initiatives will save money in the long run, but the problem is coming up with the money in the beginning,” said Steele.

“While going green is the right thing to do, initially it may be more expensive,” said President Galligan. “That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, but we are always worrying about where we spend our money.”

One seemingly small but significant change was converting 350 65-watt incandescent bulbs to 13-watt compact fluorescent bulbs. This generated a 75 percent reduction in energy and saved more than $9,000 in the first year alone. A bigger initiative began in 2006, when new windows were installed in Burpee and Colby Halls. In 2007, Abbey Hall, Austin Hall, Best Hall, Colgate Hall, London House, McKean Hall, Page Hall, the President's House, Shepard Hall and Ware Campus Center had new windows.

How long will it take us to become climate neutral?

With all the changes needed, it feels as though it will take forever for the campus to achieve its ultimate goal, a completely sustainable, climate-neutral campus. President Galligan said he does not know how long it will take us. “I don't want to speculate,” he said, “until we get some of the homework done on that.”

On the other hand, Professor Steele says, “It really depends a lot on people's behavior. What would really make a big difference would be convincing people to carpool.” In fact, a November 2008 Green ROUTES survey estimates that faculty and staff commute 1.52 million miles a year, consuming over 60,000 gallons of gas and contributing 456 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.“The college can do some big things like putting in the wind generator. I would guess that if the college put in a concerted effort it would take maybe five years, but it's hard to say how successful we will be at that. You walk around campus in the evening and there are lots of lights left on in the classrooms, just simple things like that would make a huge difference.”

On Nov. 6, Green ROUTES, SGA and other students groups interested in a green campus organized a reprise of the successful “Lights Out” event. This initiative focused campus awareness on energy consumption and the consequences of our actions. Stargazing, a candlelight dinner, and a Darkest Dorm competition all helped students be aware of their individual energy consumption.

What can you do to help?

Getting involved in moving Colby-Sawyer toward its sustainability goal is as easy as shutting off a light that's not needed, or taking a coffee mug to the dining hall for your morning joe to go instead of using a styrofoam cup that will end up in the rubbish. Students who are really interested in recycling and doing their part to make the changes necessary, should consider getting involved with Students for a Greener Campus, which focuses on promoting sustainability and meets every other Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in Ivey 102. If you are unable to make the meetings contact Francis at, for more information.

The main problem facing students regarding sustainability, according to Francis, is they do not really know what is going on or what they can do to help. “If you are not an Environmental Studies major, you don't know about all of the issues,” he said.

Simple changes can make our campus a more sustainable environment. In order to make these changes, the college must start small and the changes need to start with the students. As President Galligan said, the first change we must make is cultural; students need to incorporate sustainability into their lifestyle. If students and faculty are able to make these changes, Colby-Sawyer College will be well on its way to a sustainable future.