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The Mac Weekly - October 2, 2009
Sustainability Plan Sets Ambitious Goals for College's Carbon Emissions
By Robert Hemphill and Hunter Bradley
Carbon neutral by 2025; zero waste by 2020. Those are the over-arching goals of the Macalester Sustainability Plan, signed September 15th by President Brian Rosenberg. By 2010, Macalester plans to approve a telecommuting policy, create a sustainability fund, and hold a sustainability seminar that will draft an annual report on their progress. The document is a culmination of years of student-staff collaboration, strategic planning, and compilation of ideas from over 400 Macalester community members.
Issues addressed in the Sustainability Plan include water use, light pollution, landscaping, and a commitment to ethically sourced, "environmentally preferable" products. Outlined in detail in the document are short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategies to handle these issues. President Rosenberg added Macalester as a signatory to the American College and University's Presidents' Climate Commitment in 2007, setting in motion the change of events that would lead to the plan.
With the college a signatory to the PCC, Macalester committed to several goals. In the short-term, Macalester committed to only purchasing new appliances that were Energy Star certified and subsidizing bus passes. As a provision of the PCC, Macalester had two years to set a target date and "milestones" on the road to becoming carbon neutral. Carbon neutral means that the school will not be a net emitter of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses.
Commitment to sustainability is not new at Macalester. The school was a signatory of the Talloires Declaration in 2000, and 10 clubs and committees have an affiliation with the college's sustainability office.
Two years later, the sustainability plan was finished. Initial work was done by the 2008 environmental studies senior seminar, which completed a greenhouse gas emissions inventory to determine Macalester's yearly carbon emissions. Beginning in fall 2009, the Sustainability Advisory Committee - comprised of students, staff, and faculty - began planning strategically how to not only become carbon neutral but how to implement sustainability into all of campus life and actions. Through the committee, and the broader Planning Team, more than 400 community members discussed and worked toward building the sustainability plan.
One of the first steps taken by the committee was to define sustainability specific to Macalester. According to the sustainability plan, "Sustainability is the continuous effort to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs by working toward a healthy environment, social justice, and a strong economy. At Macalester, sustainability is infused throughout our core values of academic excellence, internationalism, multiculturalism, and service to society."
The sustainability plan specifically details how Macalester intends to become sustainable: the three categories sustainability is broken into are leadership, operations, and education. Under Leadership, Macalester is determined to "demonstrate and encourage innovation and action" beyond Macalester. Were Macalester the only institution to become carbon neutral, climate change would be no slower. According to Suzanne Hansen, the Sustainability Manager, Macalester has gone beyond the requirements of the Presidents' Climate Commitment by addressing sustainability more broadly. She added, "At a recent campus sustainability conference, several other schools showed a keen interest in the approach Macalester took."
Sustainable Operations is where the bulk of carbon neutrality is addressed, through the goal of "designing, implementing, and improving processes," according to the plan. Goals in the sustainability plan include implementing a green building policy, requiring all new buildings to be at least Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Silver, or to meet the more stringent Minnesota B3 Guidelines.
"We hope to capture the savings from energy efficiency to fund other larger projects in the future, such as on-campus energy production," said Hansen. Other projects include addressing water usage, stormwater, and recycling. It is here the Macalester dictates its goal to be Zero Waste by 2020.
The last category for sustainability is through education, in which Macalester aims to "change behavior and raise awareness on campus and in the community," according to the plan. Goals here include changes to classroom operation, such as reducing paper use, incorporating sustainability into the curriculum, and enhancing the Macalester academic experience through research opportunities related to sustainability.
One notable difference from drafts of the sustainability plan and the final version is the omission of goals for a sustainable endowment. Drafts of the plan had called for transparency in the endowment through biannual reports. Information on Macalester's endowment is notoriously vague, but some students were disappointed. "How can we be sustainable if the community doesn't know if we are investing in lumber companies or fossil fuels or if we are investing in renewable energy," said Miwa Oseki-Robbins '12. "Or minority communities, and other responsible options?"
The carbon neutrality date of 2025 is ambitious, but still behind some other institutions, such as Middlebury's goal of neutrality by 2016 or University of Minnesota-Morris's goal of neutrality by 2010.
"This plan demonstrates our commitment to living our values and preparing each generation to confront the challenges they will face in the years ahead," Rosenberg said.