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Wilson Community Waits for the College's Next Step in Quest for Carbon Neutrality

Byline: Carol Zehosky

Posted: March 3, 2011

According to information in the college's Climate Action Plan, since before 2000, Wilson began to develop positive environmental strategies. The longest ongoing program is the Richard Alsina Fulton Center for Sustainable Living (FCSL), which operates the on campus seven-acre Fulton Farm.

During a play's intermission, the performers and audience wait with restless anticipation for the curtain to rise and the play to proceed. It appears that many members of Wilson's community currently have similar feelings of restless anticipation, as they wait for the administration to announce the college's next major environmental sustainability project, a project that will build the college's prior significant environmental work.

Wilson's Climate Action Plan

According to information in the college's Climate Action Plan, since before 2000, Wilson began to develop positive environmental strategies. The longest ongoing program is the Richard Alsina Fulton Center for Sustainable Living (FCSL), which operates the on campus seven-acre Fulton Farm. The program offers the community and the college fresh fruits and vegetables and provides education about sustainable practices in addition to taking steps to provide alternate energy technologies, enhancing the ecological quality of campus ecosystems.

Moving forward to 2007, Wilson College President, Lorna Duphiney Edmundson, became a charter signatory of the American College and University President's Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), committing the college to carbon neutrality by 2040. The college's Climate Action Plan defines carbon neutrality as the, "Reduction of greenhouse gas emission to the greatest extent feasible and then offsetting any remaining emissions so that the net emissions to the atmosphere are zero."

The History of Wilson's LEED Certification

Finally, in March of 2010, the college took a major step towards their ACUPCC commitment when they received the gold award for the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building in Franklin County: The Harry R. Brooks Complex for Science, Mathematics and Technology. LEED certification indicates that a building's design and construction meets exacting standards for environmental sustainability.

Since March 2010, there have not been any announcements about additional new projects or renovations to again move the college towards its goal of 2040, leaving many people wondering what Wilson's next step will be.

Christine Mayer, Program Manager for the Richard Alsina Fulton Center for Sustainable Living, and Foundations of Environmental Sustainability (ENV 105) teacher, says, "There are many things going on. The faculty is involved in research projects that will give a clear picture of the long-term work that the college needs to do, so it can efficiently move forward. Wilson is currently establishing a sustainability curriculum that includes environmental, cultural and economic objectives. The college has made progress in the areas of dining services, with trayless dining, building operations; replacement equipment is Energy Star rated, and the community service done by our students."

Sustainability in Wilson's Classrooms

As a service-learning component, Mayer and members of the ENV 105 class did a survey in cooperation with The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Mayer submitted it to Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club. The magazine publishes a "Cool School" list that rates American colleges and universities according to their environmental practices. When the results became public, Wilson ranked 157 on the list of 162 schools and fellow ACUPCC member, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania placed second on the list.

Reviewing a few areas of comparison shows Dickinson increased their wind power purchases to 100 percent of their electricity consumption, entirely offsetting the electricity portion of their greenhouse gas emissions. Wilson mainly uses electricity generated from coal and natural gas, which contributed to a Wilson rating of 2.1 in the energy supply category compared to Dickinson's 7.6.

Wilson Compared to Dickinson College

Another area of comparison is LEED certified buildings. Dickinson has three buildings and two new LEED renovation projects, while Wilson currently has one gold LEED certified building. In a March 2010 press release, Wilson College President Edmundson said "Pursuing LEED certification added $500,000 to the $25 million cost of the Brooks Complex, but the extra cost will be more than offset by savings in energy and maintenance costs, as well as by additional gifts from donors committed to environmental sustainability." According to their Green Report Card for 2011, Dickinson has the financial advantage with about $321 million dollars in endowments with $4.2 million dollars of its investments specifically targeted for long term- social, environmental and economic value.

The Critics of Sustainability

For all their progress on environmental issues, Wilson, Dickinson and other colleges have their critics just like actors and plays. Some of those critics seem to think that the environmental sustainability on campus is limited to a narrow geographic area and group of people. For example, James Proctor, in an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education says, "We have effectively defined sustainability in higher education as campus sustainability. It focuses on and often stops at the boundaries of our college campuses… It should reach beyond campus boundaries, simply because the people, objects and ideas that go into a college community cross those boundaries all the time."

Environmental Studies at Wilson

Assoc. Prof. Edward Wells, Chair of the Department of Environmental Studies at Wilson College, expresses a similar concern. "While LEED buildings, electric cars and recycling help Wilson to become carbon neutral, there are a few points to remember. The electricity used to run the LEED building and electric cars come from coal, and a part of our recycled material ends up in landfills. We need to develop energy sources such as solar and wind that reduce our carbon footprint without transferring our emissions to another place."

To help address this awareness problem in the spring 2011 semester, Wells and Prof. Wood will co-teach Alternative Energy Futures (ENV 270). Wells says, "This course is designed to separate the fact from the myth about renewable energy. Not everyone may be aware that coal, our major source of electricity on campus, has the highest carbon emissions of any fossil fuel. Everyone needs more education before we can move forward and become carbon neutral."

The Need for Education and Planning

Education is necessary to understanding the impact of environmental decisions to Wilson's campus and the community. This is one reason that Wilson's commitment to integrating environmental awareness in the curriculum is important; it exposes every student to environmental issues allowing them to develop an awareness of the impact of their carbon footprint. The Energy and You series of workshops is another strategy Wilson uses to educate not only students, but also the surrounding community.

Currently education and planning appears to be happening on Wilson's campus. This could translate to a very receptive and appreciative audience when the curtain goes up on Wilson's next major step in its goal towards carbon neutrality. issues allowing them to develop an awareness of the impact of their carbon footprint. The "Energy and You" series of workshops is another strategy Wilson uses to educate not only students, but also the surrounding community.

Last Updated: October 14, 2011

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