Sustainability Beyond 2020

Shortly after arriving as President eleven years ago, I signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (now the Climate Leadership Campus Carbon Commitment), committing the Wesleyan campus to carbon neutrality by 2050. Our sustainability efforts are being guided (through 2021) by our Sustainability Action Plan (SAP). You can find a report on our progress in that regard over the past two years in the first SAP Progress Report. Below I give some highlights of steps we’ve taken recently toward our sustainability goals and steps beyond the scope of our current plan that we plan to make going forward.  We have a long way to go to get to that goal of carbon neutrality, and we will get there only if we quicken our pace. Because sustainability is central to Wesleyan’s planning, I’m framing these remarks using the three overarching goals of our most recent planning document, Beyond 2020. Those goals are: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values.

Sustainability and Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience

The College of the Environment (COE), characterized by Wesleyan’s distinctive interdisciplinary ethos, continues to be a powerful locus of research, teaching, and practices that explore the connections between environmental work and social and political issues. This year, the Robert F. Schumann Foundation completed its funding of the Robert F. Schumann Institute, which is extending the reach of the COE across campus and the greater Middletown community by collaborating with other centers, colleges and departments within Wesleyan. These collaborations are providing joint and enhanced environmental programming, curricula and research across the campus – particularly in the areas of global studies; civic engagement; arts, environmental justice and sustainability; and food security and agriculture.

The Sustainability Office, in collaboration with the Center for Pedagogical Innovation, hosted the Sustainability Across the Curriculum program (SATC) in October 2016 and January 2018. The program was led by Prof. Suzanne O’Connell and has resulted in thirteen faculty participants amending 13 courses so as to incorporate sustainability as a learning objective. That’s terrific, and there is more to be done here. The Sustainability Office and Prof. O’Connell have convened interested faculty to discuss changes to SATC so as to enliven and grow its efforts to equip students across the disciplines with tools to help them connect their learning to global environmental, social, and economic challenges. Prof. Anthony Hatch will be taking the faculty helm of this program for 2019-2020, and we expect to see more and more courses every year with integrated sustainability content. We are also developing a sustainability and environmental justice course cluster to help students identify these courses and provide recognition for faculty working in this important area. Some of these courses will be First-Year Seminars, a new target for SATC. We hope to reintroduce sustainability into First Year Matters (perhaps by restarting Feet to the Fire). And we will conduct a student sustainability literacy assessment and follow-up assessment to determine what students are learning about sustainability during their time at Wesleyan.

Sustainability and Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution

Wesleyan must contribute to a sustainable world not just by doing what it does so well – teaching and research – but also by being a model of sustainability itself. In 2013, Wesleyan received a silver rating from AASHE STARS (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System), a sustainability rating for colleges and universities, and that rating was re-certified in 2016. The Sustainability Office employs 20-25 students each semester working on student involvement in recycling, composting, energy conservation, and engagement with social and political issues bearing on environmental concerns. Our citywide recycling signage project (for which we received a grant in 2017) is creating unified signage connecting campus and Middletown community in the recycling effort. This year, Ingrid Eck ’19, intern at the Sustainability Office, prepared and submitted the City of Middletown’s Sustainable CT Bronze certification, and we expect to continue our support of the City’s sustainability efforts through our paid student internships. As our current Sustainability Action Plan guides us only through 2021, it will soon be time to think about the next plan, which must place more emphasis upon reaching carbon neutrality, integrating sustainability into the curriculum, and building a campus culture rooted in sustainability.

Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values

We continue to address what it means for Wesleyan to be a sustainable campus: in the administration (with respect to planning, engagement, health and well-being), in academics (curriculum and academic operations), and in operations (buildings, grounds, dining, energy, purchasing, transportation, waste, and water). And we’ve focused on sustainability in developing plans for new construction over the next decade, notably in Film, PAC and Science. Part and parcel of these efforts is our new Wesleyan University Building Sustainability Policy. This policy was developed by the Sustainability Office and Green Building subcommittee, working under the auspices of the Facilities Planning Committee and Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship (SAGES. It outlines guidelines and operating procedures for reducing Wesleyan’s carbon footprint, yielding cost savings through reduced operating costs, providing healthy work environments for students, employees, and visitors, and assessing life cycle costs. This policy was adopted in concert with the Purchasing Sustainability Guidelines and Energy Conservation Policy. We also just developed a Grounds Sustainability Policy to be reviewed annually as we integrate sustainability in the maintenance of our campus landscape.

Going forward, we plan to integrate sustainability education into the Residential Life curriculum: Res Life and Sustainability Office student staff will work together on informing students about such things as recycling, composting, and energy conservation. As we integrate sustainability into upcoming new construction and major renovation projects, we will strive to get as close as possible to net zero energy certification, incorporating principles of Living Building Challenge and making these changes visible through educational signage. We expect to continue our annual investments in comprehensive energy projects, now entering their 12th year, to address lighting, mechanical equipment, windows, and insulation so as to decrease energy consumption. Finally, with the help of consultants, we will develop a framework, list of actions, phasing, estimated cost and proposed dates to achieve carbon neutrality for the core campus by or before the established 2050 target date. But we can’t just think about projects in the long term. We must also identify, design and implement near-term projects in moving us closer to our sustainability goals – including, for example, piloting a hot water heating loop, as using hot water rather than steam will better enable Wesleyan to switch to solar, geothermal, fuel cell, or other renewable technologies in the future.

Yes, 2050 is a long way away, but there is so much to do before then. The environmental challenges facing the world are monumental, and they are bound up with social and economic issues difficult to resolve. Our university – though its research, its teaching, its outreach and in modeling sustainability itself – is in a position to make an outsize impact. And that’s what we’ll do.