Task Force gives mixed reviews on sustainability

 Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

BY AVA BLUM-CARR ’21

Colleges and universities worldwide are on the front lines of climate research and education, and the Sustainability Task Force is calling upon Mount Holyoke to join them. Comprised of both students and faculty, the Task Force was created last year to advance sustainability on campus. An exhaustive report that the task force released earlier this month outlines a multifaceted approach to sustainability which they are urging Mount Holyoke College to adopt. 

“We all share a responsibility to seek solutions to prevent future devastating consequences and to work toward a greener and more equitable world,” states the report summary.

The draft report pinpoints four key areas of improvement: education and awareness, food purchasing and dining operations, grounds and campus field research and infrastructure. The incorporation of these new initiatives in all four fields will help establish a culture of sustainability at Mount Holyoke andlay the foundation for a new generation of environmentally conscious leaders, the report says. The report adds that Mount Holyoke’s carbon footprint can be greatly reduced by applying the principles of sustainability to campus operations.

Mount Holyoke’s existing sustainability policies and programs were then compared to peer institutions. The report compared Mount Holyoke to colleges and universities with similar sizes, endowments and liberal arts curricula, such asOberlin College, Wesleyan University and Wellesley College.

In education and awareness, Mount Holyoke falls short of many other colleges. The report shows that a mere 6.9 percent of courses offered focus on or include sustainability, which places Mount Holyoke at the rank of 17 out of 19 peer institutions. However, Miller Worley Associate Professor of environmental studies Catherine Corson, and Associate Director of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment Nancy Apple, say that colleges define sustainability differently.

“Mount Holyoke College chose to report courses that contribute to our interdisciplinary environmental studies curriculum, to which almost a third of departments on campus contribute,” Corson and Apple wrote in a joint statement on Tuesday. 

The draft report urges Mount Holyoke to adopt a three-pronged goal for their future of sustainability education. Making Mount Holyoke a destination for students interested inenvironmental sustainability is key, the report says, as is ensuring that more faculty, staff and students engage in sustainability efforts on campus. Curriculum should also offer an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues and their intersection with other social justice fields. 

The evaluation of campus infrastructure concentrated on buildings, energy usage and transportation. Mount Holyoke has already committed to multiple sustainable building practices, which include a promise that the College will renovate its buildings using environmentally responsible principles and carry out energy modeling on all new construction. Among its peer institutions, Mount Holyoke is one of the lowest energy users per square foot of building.

However, the College’s fleet of transportation vehicles does not currently include any alternative fuel vehicles, once again placing it last amongpeer institutions. Among them, Mount Holyoke and Wellesley are the only colleges who have failed to make a public commitment to becoming carbon-neutral in the future. 

The draft report calls for Mount Holyoke to commit to achieving carbon neutrality by 2037, and proposes that the college become a leader in retrofitting — adding sustainable features to — historic buildings. 

As for dining services on campus, only 15 percent of food and beverage expenditures come from local or sustainable sources, which ranks Mount Holyoke 15th out of 19 institutions. Increasing campus support for participation in local agriculture is one of the goals presented in the draft report, as well as reducing food and packaging waste. 

According to Corson and Apple,  the most important factor in bringing the goals of the Task Force to fruition is the involvement of the Mount Holyoke community. 

“The draft recommendations have been produced through an exciting bottom-up process in which task force members collectively developed goals,” said Corson and Apple. They noted that increased participation and input from the student body will help these plans develop.

The suggestions of the draft report may seem insurmountable when viewed all together, but the Task Force believes wholeheartedly that Mount Holyoke has the potential to become a leader in sustainability. The College is one of the most diverse liberal arts institutions in the country, writes the Task Force, and it is well-equipped to reckon with the ecological, social, political and economic intersections of climate change. 

 

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