Colleges and Universities Discuss Plans and Challenges for Going Green

July 30, 2012

Colleges and universities throughout Massachusetts are working hard to go greener. Although many institutions have established sustainability plans, set goals, and outlined strategies for the future, others are still relatively new to the sustainability scene.

Each year, the Wellesley College Office of Sustainability convenes neighboring colleges to share progress and challenges, in an effort to help schools learn from each other as they develop their sustainability plans. This year’s event, held on Friday, July 13, brought together 70 representatives from 29 institutions.

Natalia Ospina '13, a sustainability intern in Wellesley College’s Office of Sustainability, reported on the College’s four main areas of focus: landscape, water, energy, waste.

“The college’s entire landscape is self-sustaining," Ospina said. "We’re working on making water portable so that we’re less wasteful; more of what we use and drink needs to be ground water. We’re also trying to use more sources of renewable energy such as solar panels; we’ve bought 5 percent renewable energy from the town of Wellesley. For some waste-fighting initiatives, we're installing motion sensor lights and composting on a small scale [at the residence below] health services.”

At Olin College, students lead the way in developing and promoting green campus initiatives.

“We’re organizing an energy saving competition between dorms to see which can use the least amount; there’s promise for lots of progress,” said Stephanie Northway, a student at Olin. “Coming to the conference today has definitely made me realize that our plan [should be] to make a plan. Most of our program is geared toward raising awareness; more emphasis needs to be put on sustainability.”

Olin students have already set up monitors throughout campus with displays that show people the amount of resources they’re using and, in the future, students hope to implement composting programs in campus dorms and kitchens.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has carbon neutrality as one of the main goals it is trying to achieve by 2050, reported Samantha Willis, a recent graduate and now employee of the University of Massachusetts (UMass). “We’ve recently installed a central heating plant that has reduced our emissions by 30 percent.”

Challenges to sustainability progress on some campuses include lack of funding, awareness, and adequate support from the administration. According to the representatives, many problems stem from authoritative issues and disorganization. Most schools have difficulty balancing what needs to be done and what people are interested in doing.

Some schools have used the committee strategy to amplify their awareness efforts. Networking and collaboration between campuses has also proven to be effective. Lasell College has implemented an action plan written by students for students that works around what they are capable of accomplishing. Lasell’s Sustainability Society helps “create the vision.”

After the morning roundtable sessions were complete, participants enjoyed a sustainable lunch comprising mostly organic and locally grown food choices. Some members also participated in a nature walk around the Wellesley campus or visited the historic Nehoiden golf course.

“It’s always nice to come here and find out that all schools are dealing with the same issues that we are,” said Sarah Hebert who, like Willis, is a recent graduate and is now an employee at UMass. “There’s not always one way to do something… coming here helps expose us to new ideas.”

--Nour Azzouz '15 and Claudina Yang '14