College to Establish Office of Environmental Sustainability
Issue   |   Wed, 05/07/2014 - 04:34

Next fall, the college will open a new Office of Environmental Sustainability. In an email to the campus community last week, President Biddy Martin announced that Amherst will soon begin a nationwide search for the office’s director.

The office, which was proposed by Chief of Campus Operations Jim Brassord, will focus on coordinating campus sustainability initiatives and on further incorporating sustainability issues into research and teaching. Martin said the college plans to begin searching for a director this month and will open the office in the fall.

“In launching the OES, we are recognizing the critical importance of establishing a highly placed and visible organization to guide and coordinate institutional sustainability efforts,” Martin wrote in her email.

Brassord said he got the idea for the OES when he realized that many sustainability initiatives were going unnoticed by the college community.

“My departments have a long history of operational initiatives in the sustainability realm — whether it’s energy conservation, locally sourcing food or minimizing environmental impact through our actions,” Brassord said. “However, I began to realize that all of the college’s good efforts on these fronts were not as impactful to the institution as they could be.”

Professor Jan Dizard, co-chair of environmental studies, said that he and Brassord had been talking about developing the OES for several years before the project became a reality.

“Over the past couple of years, there’s been a concerted effort on the part of the folks in development to seek out alumni with an interest in sustainability who might begin to bankroll this undertaking,” Dizard said. “That finally bore fruit, and so there is now money to start this sustainability initiative.”

Now that the college has raised enough money to establish the office, Amherst has put out a job posting for a director of sustainability. In her email, Martin said that the director will report to Jim Brassord and is expected to work closely with Campus Operations.

The OES will be housed with Campus Operations in the Facilities Buildings for the next four years. After that, the office will move to the new science center, which is scheduled to be completed some time in 2018.

Among the job responsibilities listed for the new director are launching new sustainability programs, partnering with environmental studies faculty and overseeing the Book and Plow Farm.

One of these sustainability initiatives will be the creation of a new Revolving Green Energy Fund.

“The concept of the Revolving Green Energy Fund is such that there is an account that can be applied towards capital projects that have an inherent environmental and economic benefit to the college,” Brassord explained. “The implementation of those projects will result in an ongoing continuing savings. The savings is then redirected back into this account, so it becomes a self-perpetuating account.”

Brassord said he hoped that students, faculty and staff would propose projects to the OES that could then be paid for by the Revolving Green Energy Fund. He said that the Facilities Department has already been working on sustainability projects such as lighting retrofits, upgrading building controls and enhancing insulation.

“I’m sure there are a number of other projects that the campus community can imagine that can have similar benefit,” Brassord said. “There are things that the Facilities Department may not be aware of that the community might be able to bring forth.”

Other new sustainability projects will be related to making students more aware of sustainability issues.

“The idea is that if we get to young people here at Amherst, they’ll take it with them when they graduate,” Dizard said. “And when they get into positions of influence, whatever their profession, they will be more alert and more mindful of the need to more carefully use resources and dispose of them.”

Brassord said that the office might consider initiatives such as energy conservation competitions between dorms as a way to promote sustainability on campus. Such competitions may have some similarities to the recent Green Games, a sustainability competition between first-year dorms.

“I talked to a couple of students who were involved in that,” Brassord said. “I think that’s a great example of where there is a desire by students to participate more actively in the greening of the campus.”

In addition to speaking with students, Brassord has also been speaking with faculty as he and others look to integrate the OES’s projects into the environmental studies curriculum.

“I worked closely with some of the environmental studies faculty to craft the proposal and the structure for the Office of Environmental Sustainability, and there was strong and enthusiastic support for the office,” Brassord said.

He said he can imagine the OES working with the department to organize lectures, panels and other events related to sustainability issues.

Dizard also said he looks forward to helping his department work in partnership with the OES.

“We would envision working with whomever gets this position to seek advice and suggestions about how sustainability can be woven into courses that seem appropriate,” Dizard said.

Several Amherst professors already incorporate sustainability into courses they teach. Dizard cited Kate Sims’ course on natural resource economics and Ethan Temeles’ course on sustainable agriculture as examples.

The new office will also work to support environmental studies faculty as it oversees the college’s Book and Plow Farm, where some professors already conduct research and teaching.

Geology professor Anna Martini, the other co-chair of environmental studies, said that she worked with a student intern this summer to conduct geochemical investigation at the farm.

“We’ve also taken students from both the Environmental Studies Senior Seminar and Hydrogeology out to the farm site,” Martini said. “For the first, we spoke of sustainable agricultural practices with our farmers, Pete and Tobin, and for the other course we ran a laboratory at the site to search for groundwater supplies. I expect to do the same next spring.”

Brassord said that in overseeing the Book and Plow Farm, the OES will also work to increase engagement with the farm by the broader community, not just those in environmental studies courses. With the Book and Plow Farm, as with other OES initiatives, Brassord said that the college hopes to make sustainability a more central component of campus culture.