Conference commends the College

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October 14, 2011

12:55 AM

The College of William and Mary made its mark at the annual Conference for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Oct. 9–12.

Chosen to represent the College at this national event, Max Cunningham ’13, Sarah Hanke MMP ’10 and Lauren Edmonds ’11 attempted to show how far the College has come in its efforts to become an innovative and successful green school.

The Committee on Sustainability, formed in the fall of 2008, is responsible for navigating the College into a sustainable and eco-friendly place.

“The conference went very well,” Cunningham said in an email. “My presentation on a school-specific carbon offset program was well-received and led to a lively discussion of what it means to offset and how the current model of offsetting might be changing.”

The on-campus Carbon Offset program, started by Cunningham and former professor John Swaddle, was nominated for an AASHE award.

“The idea is that the opportunity exists to improve the energy efficiency of infrastructure on campus but that the funding to do so might not be immediately available (with all of the talk regarding financial difficulty, this should not be hard to imagine),” Cunningham said. “In my mind, offsetting on the college level does two basic things. First, it has a direct effect on the funding available to improve energy efficiency. This should be fairly obvious. I think the second benefit is that it raises awareness of sustainability issues and how sustainability might work moving into the 21st century.”

This program seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions wherever possible on campus and has proved to significantly reduce emissions, putting the College on the sustainability map as one of the first institutions of higher learning to focus on such an issue.

“Offsetting doesn’t necessarily change anything in dramatic fashion,” Cunningham said. “It works by individuals contributing to improving the efficiency of a system already in place. If individuals can actually participate in that process in a meaningful way, perhaps those individuals will start to see more clearly how they fit into the broader picture of sustainability.”

Hanke serves as a Sustainability Fellow for the College. She discussed the William and Mary Dining Services Sustainability Intern Program and the rapid progress the College has made with the program.

“[The Dining Services Sustainability Intern Program] helped Dining Services get a lot of sustainability related projects done in just three years,” Hanke said in an email. “I talked about our composting program, going trayless, the herb garden, the reusable to-go containers, and the cryovac machine and what role the interns played in each of those initiatives.”

Hanke stressed the importance of sustainable features of College Dining Services because of its indispensability to campus life.

“Dining Services becoming more sustainable is really important to the campus as a whole,” Hanke said. “Many students have a meal plan, so sustainability initiatives in Dining Services reach a wide audience. Dining Services also has the potential to impact our local economy by purchasing more food from local farmers, a goal we are working towards.”

The cost-effectiveness and leadership opportunities of the dining intern program were two features Hanke praised.

“Sometimes being sustainable costs more than business as usual, so being innovative can help to accomplish goals without spending a ton of money,” Hanke said. “Students are also great at being innovative and creative, and I think that’s part of what makes our intern program work so well. Besides the energy savings, I think the biggest benefit is the chance to educate students and give them leadership opportunities in sustainability related fields.”

Edmonds also presented her thesis at the conference, entitled “An Evaluation of Effective Structures for Campus Sustainability Programs at Institutions of Higher Education,” which she wrote while she was a College student.

“The conference was a great learning experience,” Hanke said in an email. “W&M was well-represented and we also learned a lot from other schools.”

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