menu
William and Mary
search

Students lobby College to go Green

Students discuss carbon neutrality with Vice President Sam Sadler. Photo by Alex Haglund - The Flat HatFor the second time in the past year, the College’s administration will receive a proposal aimed at making the school more environmentally friendly.

Three students at the College currently taking Professor Maria Ivanova’s graduate seminar on climate change will present their proposal to College President Gene Nichol and Vice President for Administration Anna Martin tomorrow morning after presenting to Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler Monday. They will encourage Nichol to pledge to make the College carbon neutral by signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

The proposal, researched and written under Ivanova’s guidance by senior David Sievers and public policy graduate students Massey Whorley and Kristen McCann, builds upon a proposal delivered to College administrators by Professor Timmons Roberts’ spring 2006 environmental sociology class.

Whorley, who took Roberts’ class last spring as a senior, said that the new proposal addresses the issue from more than just a cost and benefit analysis, which is what Roberts’ class prepared.

“They attacked it purely from [the angle of] ‘This makes business sense. You invest here, you get these returns, it pays off,’” he said. “It didn’t exactly sink in. We have incorporated the cost-benefit analysis, but we also take a more ethically based approach. ... This is less about what we should do, and more about what we have to do.”

Carbon neutrality, Ivanova said, is not a new trend.

“The Queen is coming Friday, and the Queen has officially announced that her whole trip to the United States is carbon neutral. She has also committed to making her offices in the Palace carbon neutral by 2012, so it’s a pretty serious commitment. We think it would be a very appropriate time for the president to also commit and sign the PCC before or on Friday.”

The proposal suggests achieving carbon neutrality through efforts other than carbon credits, and the focus of the proposal is cutting back on emissions. “Our general approach is that we’re going to make every effort to reduce emissions, improve efficiency and, eventually, purchase clean energy and clean electricity,” Whorley said. “Offsets are pretty much our last option. They are probably the easiest thing to do, but they don’t cut to the core of the issue.”

The PCC has three sections that lay out how colleges and universities can achieve carbon neutrality. The first is organizational. The student proposal advocates the creation of an Office of Sustainability to oversee environmentally friendly development on campus. Section two recommends tangible projects that include both individuals and the College as a whole. Section three deals with creating a timetable.

One of the problems that Ivanova’s students cannot address fully is how to get students involved. “What we don’t really know is what students would like to see in the curriculum or in college life to respond to environmental issues,” Ivanova said. “Let’s face it, William and Mary is absolutely not on the cutting edge of campus sustainability or environmental offerings in the curriculum. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get there. That’s where groups like SEAC are so helpful.”

Whorley said taking action is not as hard as people think. “It’s about changing behavior and about changing attitudes,” he said. Whorley, who Ivanova jokingly called a “born-again environmentalist,” may be the prime example. “When I started this class in August, I didn’t know anything about the environment,” he said. “Now, I bike to school every time I can.”

Ivanova and her students are optimistic about their proposal, especially after their meeting with Sadler. “He [Sadler] saw right through to the main purpose of our endeavor. The economic case has been made, and miraculously, it doesn’t stick because people are not just rational actors. People act in what they believe is right. He said, ‘You are going to institutionalize environmental responsibility and sustainability into the mission of the College,’ and that’s exactly how we approached it.”

Nichol has until June 1 to sign the PCC to become a charter member, and the group is becoming crowded. “Everyday there are more signatories,” Sievers said. “The question is are we going to be pulled into this kicking or are we going to be setting the standard?”

While the proposal is aimed at getting the College committed to carbon neutrality, the group hopes the College will also take up a leadership role to encourage schools that do not have the resources of a Yale University or Cornell University to take up the cause as well.

Sievers pointed out that for the younger generation, the environment is an issue with wide support. “It’s not a partisan issue for most of our generation. Last year, there was a CBS/MTV poll that showed that 81 percent of people our age wanted immediate action on climate change.”

But the effort must start locally.

“We can be the bridge between local and global, red and blue,” Ivanova said.

“And green and gold,” Sievers added.