To the Williams Community,

I am very pleased to announce the next important step in our effort to make College operations environmentally sustainable — the launching of a center to lead those initiatives, funded by a wonderfully generous gift of $5 million from Selim Zilkha, Class of 1946. full text

So starts a letter to the campus from president Morty. What does $5 million mean for the campus?

The Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives will work with students, faculty, and staff to incorporate principles of sustainability into the fabric of campus life — in learning, in our purchasing and operations, in capital projects, and in the daily routines of us all. It will lead the development and management of a strategic plan for sustainability to include energy management and greenhouse gas emissions reductions, waste management, environment-friendly development and purchasing, and student involvement and education. This work will complement the already strong academic programs of our longstanding Center for Environmental Studies.

The money goes to the endowment, which means we can spend about 5% annually – $250,000. Presumably this money is not to be used for actual upgrades, renovations or physical improvements, but instead fund staff and programs.

Implications: The college needs to hire more people to work in this office. The hiring cap, which has prevented any number of departments from expanding, will not apply here. If we’re talking about staff, $250,000 works out to a lot of people, especially if some of those people are low-paid student interns.

‘Learning, purchasing and operations, [and] capital projects’ are really important. Will this mean we can offer more course that teach students how to be successful leaders in a world that is dealing with climate change? Purchasing and operations will surely result in campus policy, and we can help in writing that policy. Roosevelt institution anyone? Capital projects means working with the trustees, big donors, and mostly the long-term planning committees like the CPR. This office will certainly be represented on those.

‘Development and management of a strategic plan for sustainability.’ Yes, and its long overdue if you ask me.

Without this office, we’re already doing pretty well. We’ve made good strides in dining services operations, energy use in dorms and our construction practices. We should count these as successes, but with success we must expand the scope of our goals. A gigantic contribution to Williams’ carbon footprint is the air-travel that is done by classes, students on vacation or going/coming home, and all the travel required to operate a board of directors, send people to national conferences, etc. If we want to make headlines (the school doesn’t, the students do), then we should begin to address these much more challenging goals.

Or are we only going to set targets that are low but achievable? No, lets encourage this office to have as broad a scope as possible.

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