Amherst College steps up green practices

College President Biddy Martin recently announced the establishment of the office, initially funded through alumni donations. A national search begins this month for a director expected to be in place by the fall semester.

Amherst is not alone in its efforts to promote sustainability campuswide.

Victoria Rosen, sustainability communications and marketing manager for Sustainable UMass, said the five colleges are part of a growing number of higher education institutions who are recognizing the importance of sustainability on campus.

“I think this is a really exciting time and I definitely think this momentum will continue to grow,” she said.

Hampshire, Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges have sustainability programs or offices that aim to coordinate and encourage sustainability in campus operations, curriculum and culture. Sustainable UMass, a collaboration among staff, faculty and students, oversees sustainability efforts and connects those working toward that goal, from student groups to faculty doing research.

Rosen said the trend is caused by a number of factors, including the practicality of reducing energy costs and waste and the passion of young people. “Students are becoming more and more aware about the subject of sustainability. It’s gotten much more discussion on the national stage,” she said.

College and university campuses are great places for innovative thinking about sustainability, she said. Students can learn about the topic — UMass has over 300 sustainability courses — work with faculty doing research on it, join sustainability student groups and initiate projects to make eveything from dorms to dining commons more environmentally friendly.

“You can find more and more places to step in and create beneficial impacts,” she said.

She expects that institutions around the country will continue to expand sustainability efforts to be campuswide. “I think the key aspect to the work being successful is collaboration. This work is interdepartmental, intergenerational. Teachers are dedicated to bringing it into the classroom and students are doing so much,” Rosen said.

Amherst program

In a statement, Martin described the mission of the new office this way:

“This new structure will keep sustainability at the fore of our institutional consciousness and build critical synergies between sustainability projects, programs and initiatives.”

The initiative was proposed by Jim Brassord, Amherst’s chief of campus operations, as a way of integrating sustainability into the life of the college. “We think this office and the founding direction will help us realize that vision,” Brassord said.

Brassord said Amherst College officials see the new Office of Environmental Sustainability as a way to create more awareness about how the campus can be a sustainability laboratory for students, faculty and staff.

The college, he said, has a long history of sustainable operational measures to reduce energy use, for example, but hasn’t yet fully integrated this across the campus.

Brassord cites Book & Plow Farm, which began a year ago as a partnership with two local farmers using college-owned land. It is being used as a laboratory for students to learn how to grow local food and for the dining commons staff to provide locally grown produce to students. The Office of Environmental Sustainability will be able to take this concept and expand it to other areas of campus life.

“That provides a glimpse of what this office can do,” Brassord said.

Jan Dizard, a professor in American culture and co-chairman of environmental studies at the college, said he and others are excited about what this will mean.

“Having an Office of Sustainability will keep us all focused on the need to improve our practices, in our personal lives, in our teaching and in the goals we set for the Amherst College community,” Dizard said.

The office, which will include an advisory board made up of faculty and alumni with expertise in sustainability initiatives, is expected to create connections through all areas of the campus, from academics and facilities to dining services and student affairs. Brassord said.

“Sustainability is deeply embedded in operational departments,” Brassord said. “This will create a strong connection to the academic portion of the college.”

The office also will have the responsibility for creating a revolving green energy fund to encourage the adoption of energy-saving initiatives proposed by the campus community and will oversee the Book & Plow Farm.

According to the job description, the director is expected to work with other campus officials to develop programs and projects that ensure that the college is a mindful environmental steward, and integrate sustainable values and practices into the college’s planning activities and management of resources.

The office, which will be housed within the facilities department and whose director will report to Brassord, will eventually be moved to the new science building scheduled for completion in 2018.

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