“Slouching towards sustainability:” Current sustainability efforts are commendable—but more can be done

“Slouching towards sustainability:” Current sustainability efforts are commendable—but more can be done

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In 2006, former President of Babson College Leonard A. Schlesinger signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), acknowledging the destructive effect of global warming and committing to reducing the environmental impact of Babson College. Since that time, Babson College has created and implemented a compelling action plan to become climate neutral by 2050.

The plan commits the college to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% in 2015, 50% in 2020, 70% in 2030, and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, compared to a baseline set in 2005. Huge steps have already been made that should be recognized. Babson provides 5% of its electricity through wind power, changed fuel sources from oil to natural gas, drastically decreasing emissions, and efficient construction and lighting has allowed Babson to cut energy use by 7.1%. Due to these measures, Babson has already achieved a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2005 levels.

Other achievements include implementing sustainability into curricula, reducing food waste by 80% on campus, installing hydration stations to encourage reusable water bottle use, installing electric vehicle charging stations, and encouraging more environmentally friendly food practices through a community garden, a community supported agriculture partnership, and the food sustainability organization Food Sol.

Babson also uses the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS), described as “a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to gauge relative progress toward sustainability” by the Sustainability Office. STARS ranking is based upon four categories: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning & Administration. According to the STARS framework, Babson has a Gold ranking, one below the top ranking of Platinum.

“This an all-encompassing effort to cut back our carbon emissions, meaning that we’re looking to improve everything from running charging stations for electric vehicles to sourcing dining hall food from suppliers with good environmental practices. While this is a huge task, and [while] we’re well on our way to reaching our goal, there are some small colleges that have already become carbon neutral, such as Colby College in Maine,” Andrew Lidington, Vice President of Undergraduate Relations for the Babson Energy and Environmental Club, said.

While Babson College has made significant steps towards a sustainable future, the pace of improvement is slowing. Obvious and substantial changes, such as changing fuel sources from oil to natural gas, have significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions quickly and effectively, but as Babson takes more steps towards climate neutrality, greater and greater investment has to be put forth in order to achieve the same result. It is a lot easier to build residence halls and classrooms with strict environmental regulations than it is to install solar panels or wind turbines to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have already taken the easy steps; now it gets hard.

While significant steps have been taken to achieve the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, some sustainability practices have been overlooked. All new buildings on campus such as Park Manor South, West and Central, are ranked LEED Silver by the US Green Building Council. The ranking is based on a variety of sustainable construction practices such as insulation, energy and water efficiency, and materials used. “The heating, cooling and lighting all reach a certain level of efficiency, and only environmentally-friendly construction materials are used. Thus, we’re still improving our long-term environmental impact,” Lidington said.

However, LEED certifications have faced some crit- icism. Numerous reports has debunked the validity of LEED certification in terms of energy savings. At Oberlin College, Professor John Scofield reports that there is “no evidence that LEED certification has collectively lowered either site or source energy for office buildings.”

Still, some opportunities for greater sustainability were missed when building the new Park Manor buildings. These opportunities were probably overlooked because the buildings will be remodeled before the 2050 deadline for climate neutrality.

While the Sustainability Office and Babson Administration have made huge steps towards achieving climate neutrality and creating a more environmentally friendly campus, some measures have yet to be implemented. It is hard to question the intentions of the dedicated and hardworking Sustainability Office. Babson administration should be looking at the costs to our planet and our future college instead of focusing on today’s expenditures.

“I hope this positive momentum continues to grow, and maybe we’ll start to see Babson nationally ranked for both entrepreneurship and sustainability,” Lidington said.

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