Decker: Green-est College Around?

by Luke Decker | 11/10/13 4:46pm

On Climate Awareness Day in 2009, former College President Jim Yong Kim announced that his expectations for Dartmouth were nothing shy of being the “greenest college in the world” — ironically overlooking the smoke stacks of exhausted Number 6 fuels leaving the heating plant of south campus when he made this statement from his office in Parkhurst Hall. Nobody believed that accomplishing his goal would be an easy feat. In fact, it seemed like there were significantly more student and faculty skeptics than supporters as to whether this vernacular would ever be materialized. Would “going green” really have higher monetary returns than the hundreds of millions of dollars Dartmouth entrusts to hedge funds and investment bankers on Wall Street? Probably not. But with the quick creation of the Dartmouth Sustainability Project, the installment of dual-flush toilets around campus (at the time, only Harvard University had these systems installed in the Ivy League) and the partnering of Dartmouth College and Camelback to afford students reusable water bottles and places to refill them on campus, perhaps Kim was serious. And then he left for the World Bank.

It seems like the progressive five words of “green-est college in the world” have blown away with the winds of turnover in the Dartmouth administration. Without a key figure like President Kim — somebody who championed environmental-mindfulness while at Partners in Health and continues to champion it at the World Bank — the “voice of sustainability” has been left to the student body, one of the few constant powers here in Hanover. But how do we convince Dartmouth to renew Kim’s pledge? How do we get Dartmouth’s head above the drowning water of a culture of commodification where appearing “green” is more important than actually being wholly “green?”

Trotting around the country in a Big Green Bus that runs on 100 percent corn oil does not take away from the tragic reality that Dartmouth still burns Number 6 residual fuel oil, the most environmentally devastating fuel, to heat its campus. Resembling thick, black, tar-like substances, RFOs — especially Number 6 — have high sulfur and heavy metal concentrations. These environmental contaminants are left behind in the unusable residue material that remains after boiling the valuable cuts of the RFOs. While Number 6 has a very high energy content per gallon in comparison to distillate fuel oils and natural gas, the “bang for the buck” effect is not worth the adverse environmental effects. This is especially true at a college that maintains a facade of being green, burns a significant amount of fuel and has the money to invest in a cleaner world.

Last year’s Eco Reps — ten first-years selected by the Sustainability Office to campaign for the environment — made an effort to show former interim president Carol Folt that Dartmouth can be “sustained” with alternatives. Using phrases like “KAF Sustains Me” and the “DOC Sustains Me,” the reps succeeded in implanting the “How can Dartmouth be greener?” question into everyday colloquial conversation. Hundreds of undergraduates contributed in one way or another to the campaign against Number 6. With this changing rhetoric amongst the general student body, other organizations have followed suit. The Dartmouth Outing Club has also started conversations during DOC Trips by distributing reusable Camelback water bottles, teaching freshmen how to recycle and compost after their first meal on campus and promoting a local-borne and meatless diet with their own food supplies throughout the program.

How do we encourage the administration to leech onto the work being undertaken by students everyday and institute the bigger, more costly changes that Dartmouth needs to consider to reduce its footprint? We are severely lagging behind some of our small, regional peers: Middlebury College has made a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2020, and Smith College by 2030.

Perhaps the College can start by investing engineering modifications to the heating plant in order to make it capable of burning more eco-friendly alternative fuels and installing additional solar panels on buildings to offset energy expenditure. Dartmouth can be the “greenest college in the world,” if the new Hanlon-led administration seriously commits itself to the challenge.

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