Climate Action Plan Task Force Begins Discussions
Issue   |   Wed, 05/06/2015 - 00:33

The Office of Environmental Sustainability held an informational meeting on April 28 about an initiative to develop a Climate Action Plan for the college. Director of Sustainability Laura Draucker is leading a task force of students, faculty and staff in developing the plan. It aims to set comprehensive plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the college and create strategies to achieve them.

The Climate Action Plan outlines several guiding principles, including the reduction of emissions, maximization of the plan’s impact outside the college and financial sustainability. The plan awaits approval by senior staff and the board of trustees.

According to Peter Woolverton ’17, a member of the task force, this plan will impact many aspects of campus life and college operations. The Climate Action Plan includes “devising a plan that improves the school’s infrastructure to markedly reduce our carbon emissions ... working with on-campus environmental groups to further reduce emissions by raising awareness and changing student behavior … [and] integrating climate change ideas and innovation into Amherst’s curriculum,” Woolverton said.

Early stages of planning have already begun, including the design for a greenhouse gas reduction “wedge chart” that shows what type of projects “we can implement and what their reduction potentials will be,” Draucker said.

“We won’t be able to do everything at once, so we will also have to prioritize and set timelines for the implementation of different projects,” she added. The task force aims to draft these wedge charts over the summer and create detailed goals and plans in the fall of 2015.

The Office of Environmental Sustainability and the task force have not yet identified specific projects to achieve the goals of the Climate Action Plan.

“While it is too early to say what projects will be part of our initial plan, to make a real impact, we will definitely need to consider some big changes,” Draucker said. “I knew that setting baselines and tracking progress on key indicators would be a first step.”

Through the plan, the task force has acknowledged that because Amherst College is only one institution, its plans to reduce emissions would have limited global impact. Therefore, projects will be created in a way that encourages other institutions to adopt Amherst’s mission to minimize emissions.

Amherst College is not alone in its attempt to devise new plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Schools in the Five College Consortium have already discussed ways to collaborate on developing plans. Both Hampshire and UMass have already created their own plans, and the Amherst College task force has reached out to those groups for guidance.

The projects will balance reduction of greenhouse gas emissions with financial viability. “Some of the projects identified will save us money over the long term by saving energy, others may not have such a clear financial payback,” Draucker said. “We will be investigating unique ways we can finance this work as part of the plan development process, and are lucky to have Kevin Weinman, CFO, as an active member of the task force.”

While some parts of the plan revolve around changes to facilities and other college operations, others depend on student involvement and interest. Woolverton and Alena Marovitz ’17, another member of the task force, became involved in planning and working with Draucker due to their personal interest in environmental sustainability.

“Student buy-in plays a large role,” Marovitz said. “In order for the campus to see direct change, students need to be conscious of their own impacts on the environment … I hope that students will come to me with their questions, concerns and feedback about the Climate Action Plan process.”

Woolverton also sees student input as a key factor in the success of the Climate Action Plan.

“The task force held its first open meeting for students last Tuesday,” Woolverton said. “It was an opportunity for students to learn about the task force and present their own ideas. We will have many more meetings like this next year. It’s important to remember that there are only 13 members of the task force, so we need input from the student body at large to build the most effective plan possible.”