Williamson: Not Green Enough

by Katie Williamson | 5/27/15 9:36pm

As my last chapter at the College comes to a close, I’m thinking about sustainability differently than I was four years ago. It’s natural to assume a liberal arts college in the New Hampshire woods would score high on any “green” meter. After all, the College was a pioneer in university recycling and energy efficiency — the College power plant was one of the country’s first to use cogeneration. Yet Dartmouth is now lagging behind. The College created the sustainability coordinator position in 2005, but the institutionally-funded sustainability office launched in 2010. There is still a lot of work to do.

Let’s look at some recent numbers. The College generates 7.9 million British Thermal Units (BTU) of clean, renewable energy, while Middlebury College generates over 12,000 million BTUs, and Cornell University generates 14,000 million BTUs. The College diverts 45.7 percent of its waste from the landfill — the respective percentages for Cornell and Middlebury are 72 and roughly 60.

Dartmouth Dining Services spends about 77 percent of its budget on non-sustainably produced animal products. Meanwhile, the same numbers for Cornell, Middlebury and Princeton are 34, 31 and 13, respectively. The College scores 20 percent on the campus as a laboratory metric, which judges campus resource management, diversity and affordability, health and investments. Cornell and Middlebury scored 100 percent.

Clearly, these numbers could be better, even if Dartmouth has challenges specific to its location. These statistics matter because as an Ivy League school, we should be at the forefront of modeling sustainability. Furthermore, as a school surrounded by a bounty of natural resources, we should take advantage of the opportunity to experiment and explore better options.

In some areas, we’re already making progress. The College has a robust energy efficiency program, and we have reduced our annual consumption of No. 6 fuel oil from 4.5 million gallons as I finished my first year to 3.7 million gallons as I graduate. The College is actively researching ways to diversify its energy portfolio and shift away from solely burning our current fuel. The sustainability office provides experiential learning opportunities for students to do real projects with a real impact. While these initiatives are making a difference, we have a lot more work to do across the board to be a truly green campus.

Support from students, faculty and staff for initiatives like these and related experiential learning opportunities are invaluable to their success. Sustainability goes beyond the basic things people think of, such as composting or turning off your dorm room lights. Despite its crunchy stereotypes, sustainability’s real meaning extends into broader realms, from health to social justice to mindfulness. Most majors and minors intersect with sustainability in some way. Sustainability is about how we treat ourselves, others and the environment. From the annual sustainability and social justice dinner and Dartmouth On Purpose events, to senior consultancy projects with Dick’s House and the Tucker Foundation’s West Virginia alternative spring break trip, programs across campus touch upon issues of sustainability. Diverse perspectives are critical to improving sustainability, including the metrics I cited above.

Some of us who are passionate about sustainability might own some flannel, shop at thrift stores or eat vegetarian. Some of us don’t. Regardless, we are connected through deeper interests and actions than these. We’re eager to learn on and off campus through designing and testing projects. The Dartmouth Organic Farm began as a student initiative to connect with the environment and provide educational opportunities. Today, it’s not only a place to learn in and out of class, but also a popular social space with a beautiful setting. Another student idea, Farm Fresh Friday, is a social event that brings local food to Webster Avenue. Students are experimenting with change — we deserve a campus that spearheads these efforts as well.

It is time for the entire Dartmouth community to ask itself — and its administrators — to step up. Let’s set and meet bolder goals. Sustainability needs more leaders in every corner of campus — in residential life, Greek houses, the Hopkins Center, DDS, athletic teams and in every department and academic program. This should be a campus-wide priority that collaborates — not competes — with other initiatives.

I recognize that the sustainability community could be more inclusive, but it also suffers from labels that misrepresent its values and prevent students from getting involved. For instance, I believe V-February, Pride Week and this spring’s #BlackLivesMatter course are as much about sustainability as Earth Week. All social movements ultimately have a stake in sustainability — in sustaining human wellbeing. Unequal power balances and oppression challenge the stability of our community. But let’s not just “sustain” — let’s thrive and improve. Because it’s only through a united effort with strong administrative leadership, faculty support and student energy that Dartmouth will truly become “green.”