Expand our sustainability commitments

Sustainability report

The group’s scope includes:

  • Future sustainability goals
  • Curriculum and co-curriculum
  • Resource use and behaviors
  • Buildings and landscape
  • Communication and accountability

Group Members

Allie Campbell ’21, Student
Mike Evans, Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives
Dukes Love, Office of the Provost and Department of Economics
Laura Martin, Environmental Studies Program and Department of History
Katherine Myers ’85, Office of College Relations

Working Group charge (draft)

Williams has a long history of leadership in sustainability and the environment. Most recently, in 2015 the board and the president committed the college to an aggressive series of goals aimed at reducing our emissions, integrating sustainability throughout the institution, and investing in the core educational mission of the college. We are on track to meet these goals by the end of 2020. We have allocated two new tenure-track lines in sustainability-related fields, applied rigorous sustainability standards for our building projects, invested in renewable energy projects on and off campus, and allocated part of the endowment in impact investments aimed at reducing the world’s carbon footprint.

While we have made impressive progress in sustainability in recent years, work remains to be done. Our pace of building has meant that some of our reductions in emissions from increased efficiency and investments in renewable projects have been offset by increased emissions through embodied carbon in construction and new square footage. We have continued to invest in campus education about sustainability, but we continue to see opportunities for more sustainable travel, food, waste, and water practices. And most importantly, we need to ask what it means to define ourselves as a leader in the area of sustainability and what that implies for our strategic priorities.

The campus planning process provides an opportunity to define principles and strategies for integrating sustainability in our operations, scholarship, teaching, and community. While sustainability will be woven throughout the planning process, the working group will focus on the following key areas:

  • Defining our commitment to sustainability following the completion of the 2020 goals;
  • Integrating sustainability throughout the curriculum and co-curriculum;
  • Improving communication, transparency, and accountability of our sustainability efforts;
  • Developing strategies for sustainable food, waste, and travel;
  • Creating sustainability goals for campus buildings and spaces.

This working group should consider the following questions:

  • What will our sustainability goals look like for the next 5-10 years? What strategies will allow the college to face the true, social cost of emissions? Should we consider reducing our reliance on offsets as a means to achieving carbon neutrality?
  • How can we connect some of the sustainability work at the college to the education on campus? How can we more effectively communicate the work that we’re doing in this area and hold ourselves accountable for our successes and failures?
  • What is our strategy for providing sustainable and locally-sourced food to our students? How can we encourage our community to incorporate sustainability in their decisions and everyday lives? How can we reduce food and water waste, while still meeting the needs of our students? How can we balance the need for students, faculty, and staff to travel with our interest in reducing emissions?
  • What are our sustainability goals for new and renovated buildings on campus? What building standards will provide the right incentives to build in ways that support our sustainability goals and a healthy environment for our students, faculty, and staff?

Each working group will collaborate with the Office of the President on a list of resources needed for its work, including internal data sets and models from peer institutions. In addition, each working group is charged with:

  • Developing an open and inclusive process for gathering input from all sectors of the campus;
  • Developing a communications strategy throughout the fall and early spring of 2019-20;
  • Coordinating with other relevant working groups and the Coordinating Committee as necessary;
  • Recognizing that resources are limited and thinking carefully about ways to achieve programmatic change without necessarily increasing total spending;
  • Operating with the understanding that new initiatives may replace existing ones and thus an inventory of possible reductions/eliminations should be developed.