Forty to reach zero. Or, put another way, Kalamazoo College plans to be climate neutral by the year 2050.
Some two years after President Wilson-Oyelaran signed the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), the Board of Trustees has set the midpoint of the 21st century as the target date for the College to eliminate its net emissions of greenhouse gasses.
It's an ambitious and important goal, and few aspects of life at "K" remain untouched and more will be transformed in the upcoming years as the College community works to meet interim goals. Reaching carbon neutrality encompasses a wide variety of strategies from behavioral changes and conservation initiatives to energy retrofits of buildings.
In October, the Board of Trustees approved recommendations to achieve a 25 percent reduction in annual carbon emissions by 2020, based on the emissions generated during the fiscal year 2007-2008. After 2020, the College will develop new strategies for achieving the remaining reduction, based on new technologies now being developed.
The Sustainability Task Force, chaired by Richard Yehle '68 and composed of trustees, faculty, staff, and students, has developed a Climate Action Plan, publicly filed with ACUPCC this month. The plan, which was endorsed by the Board of Trustees, includes funding for sustainability projects, energy efficiency standards for new construction and major renovations, and limited use of offsets to achieve carbon neutrality.
The Board of Trustees authorized the use of an annual revolving fund to complete energy conservation projects in campus buildings over the next 10 years. The revolving fund will rely on future energy savings and existing discounts and rebates from Consumers Energy. Revolving fund expenditures are expected to increase annually (as energy savings accumulate) to $200,000 in 2015 and remain at that level through 2020.
The Board also approved incremental increases to construction budgets in order to achieve the Plan's efficiency standard for building projects. For major projects this increase will represent funds up to 3 percent of the budget and will be used to include additional energy efficient technologies and systems in the new or renovated facilities.
Marcquel Pickett '08 was a senior when Wilson-Oyelaran signed the commitment. He remained at "K" after graduation as sustainability coordinator, overseeing new environmental initiatives and programs under Director of Facilities Management Paul Manstrom.
"The Presidents' Climate Commitment set the tone and gave students and faculty who wanted to incorporate sustainability into the life of Kalamazoo College a solid platform to do just that," said Pickett.
The Department of Facilities Management has completed several energy retrofits, replacing lighting in the Markin Racquet Center, the Dow Science Center, and Biggby Coffee in the Upjohn Library. Other improvements include the transition to green cleaning methods, expanded recycling operations, and an Energy Star purchasing policy.
Even the residence halls look different. Students now use Energy Star washers and dryers to do their laundry and signs remind students to turn off the lights in common areas. The lifestyle changes extend beyond the residence halls and into other aspects of campus life. Collaboration among different sectors of the college has been essential to the introduction of new sustainability measures.
Last year, in order to conserve energy and reduce water use, Student Development approached EnvOrg, the student environmental group, with the idea of removing trays from the cafeteria. EnvOrg agreed to take on the campaign and collected data, designed procedures, and educated students. Cafeteria staff and management worked together, and the campaign successfully eliminated trays from the cafeteria.
"The tray-less campaign was a near-perfect example of collaboration between different parts of the college on an issue of sustainability." said Rob Foley '09, a student organizer for the campaign.
Sustainability also influences nearly every sector of a student's education. Professors have developed new senior seminars focused on the topic. The architectural firm Tower-Pinkster has established a sustainability scholarship for students, and faculty members have received grants for environmental research. Twenty-three students are currently pursuing concentrations in sustainability, and six students are completing senior projects in that area.
Annie Weir '10 exemplifies the greening of the College. She received the Tower-Pinkster Sustainability Scholarship this year and will complete a concentration in environmental studies. She is writing her SIP on environmental economics and completed an externship with the Department of Energy working with the Office of Biomass.
Professor Kim Cummings' "How to Change the World" course incorporates innovations in environmental education. He started the course in the winter of 2007 to train students to become environmental leaders. Each year the class adopts a project to improve sustainable practices at the college.
The class lobbied other students to conserve energy with its "8 in '08" campaign, which achieved a successful reduction in residence hall energy use by 8 percent. The college then used the energy savings from that campaign to purchase 8 percent of campus energy from renewable sources, said Cummings.
Last year, Professor Cummings' class tackled emissions generated by commuters, educating students and faculty about public transportation options and initiating a ride-share program on the Internet.
The Climate Action Plan includes a section that calls for changes in the way that the College manages storm-water run-off and potable water conservation. Both relate to campus landscaping and green space.
"K" has been prominent in several categories in the annual Recyclemania Competition, a nationwide effort to improve recycling and minimize waste generation.
Kalamazoo alums are already applying their education against global warming on an international scale. Aubrey Parker '08 was one of two "K" alums who traveled to Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December. She traveled with nine other engineering students from the University of Michigan, where she is studying chemical engineering. She worked as a journalist during the conference, blogging for the Detroit Free Press.
"Kalamazoo teaches you to go in and evaluate the situation from all angles, not just from one specialty," Parker said. After the conference, an NPR affiliate in San Francisco interviewed Parker for one of its pieces about Copenhagen, praising her for innovative journalism.
This month Parker will bring the lessons of Copenhagen back to campus when she speaks at an event EnvOrg has planned. She also belongs to the Sustainability Guild, a group that connects alumni, students, faculty and staff around environmental issues.
The Kalamazoo College Climate Action Plan can be found at the Orange Black and Green website or on the ACUPCC site.