In 2020, Colby-Sawyer reached an exciting and important milestone along its sustainability journey. The college reduced its annual carbon footprint by 70% compared to its initial 2008 baseline, which is a reduction of more than 5,400 MTCO2e (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this amount is the same as the annual CO2 emissions from 650 homes’ energy usage or the greenhouse gas emissions of 1,174 passenger vehicles driven over a year.
Because of the college’s long-standing focus on experiential learning, the origin and continued evolution of sustainability at Colby-Sawyer has been student centered. Achieving this latest goal required significant collaboration and leadership from many students, faculty, staff and community partners. The process began in earnest in 2007 when students recommended that Colby-Sawyer become a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, in which the college pledged to be 100% carbon-neutral by 2050.
Student research helped build the foundation for both the original 2010 GreenROUTES Climate Action Plan, as well as its 2019 addendum, the Blueprint for Resilience and Innovation (https://bit.ly/ColbySawyer-SustainabilityBlueprint). Like many organizations, the college followed a carbon reduction hierarchy to systematically address conservation of resources, increases in efficiencies, installation of renewable energy systems and investment in offsets. A few highlights are mentioned below but details regarding these many initiatives can be found in the Blueprint and on the college’s website at colby-sawyer.edu/sustainability.
Since 2010, the college has run on green energy through the purchase of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) for 100% of its electricity consumption. In 2012, a campus-wide energy efficiency project, including upgrades to lighting, building envelopes and HVAC systems, resulted in $163,000 of annual cost-avoided savings. The addition of a fifth rooftop solar array on the new Davidow Center for Art + Design in 2017 brought the total number of photovoltaic panels on campus to 745, which together generate roughly 380,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.
At Colby-Sawyer, we encourage our students to make a difference and discover their potential to build a better world. And, as an educational institution, it is our responsibility to model the values that we hope our students and community will embody. Campus stakeholders continue to explore ways to journey further down the path toward carbon neutrality, enhance the resilience of both the college and the region and contribute to a more sustainable future.
Jennifer White is the Director of Sustainability & Innovation and Assistant Professor in the School of Arts & Sciences at Colby-Sawyer College.