Earth Day 2016

On April 22, 1970, a political, cultural and educational movement was born to improve the environment, to protect the earth. As tells it, “20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.”

When I was a student at Wesleyan in the 1970s, the Clamshell Alliance was a prominent environmental group fighting against the reckless use of nuclear power. Today at Wesleyan, artists, activists, teachers and students are coming together to stimulate action that can make a significant difference in battling climate change—the most significant hazard facing countless species around the world. From the CFA to the Science Center, students, staff and faculty are working to raise awareness of environmental issues and to develop a coherent path forward. In 2009 we launched the College of the Environment, at which research, policy and creative performance come together on a regular basis. Wesleyan was one of the initial signatories of what is now the Climate Leadership Campus Carbon Commitment (was ACUPCC), through which we aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. We are making progress toward that carbon goal: emissions are down 21% from 2005 levels!

The university is releasing a new Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), a very useful tool to help us cut our campus carbon footprint while also addressing sustainability in our curriculum and all aspects of campus life. It involved over 130 students, faculty, and staff, shepherded by our Sustainability Office. The SAP is a detailed blueprint of our intended goals, objectives, and strategies over the next 5 years.

The SAP is short on rhetoric and long on action items. It really is a big deal, demonstrating Wesleyan’s commitment to making our campus sustainable. The plan covers three categories: what we do institutionally (Administration), what we do academically (Academics), and how we maintain our campus (Operations). The primary focus is on environmental sustainability, but with significant attention to social issues and economic viability.

A big shout-out to Sustainability Director Jen Kleindienst, who has shepherded the plan through all its stages. None of this would have been possible without SAGES, our campus sustainability committee, which developed the plan and is leading implementation.

This is not just a document gesturing toward a long-term future. Many here at Wesleyan are already hard at work: Of our 112 strategies for the 0-2 year range, we have already completed six and have started on 47 others.

The Sustainability Action Plan is an invitation for all of us to make sustainability part of all that we do. You can find a link to the complete document and discover more about how you can participate here. You can email questions and comments to Jen Kleindienst at