Macalester appoints sustainability manager

By Amy Lieberman

It looks like the grass might soon be getting greener on this side, too. In mid-January, Macalester hired its first sustainability manager, Suzanne Savanick Hansen, in hopes of coordinating different environmental sustainability efforts across campus.

“Enough things are starting to happen, and they are scattered on all different people’s desks. We got to the point that we needed to have this,” Vice President of Administration and Finance David Wheaton said.

Macalester is only one of the several colleges, including Dartmouth and Bowdoin, to recently appoint sustainability managers. Wheaton said that the University of Minnesota is also considering including the position on its faculty roster.

Wheaton said that one of Hansen’s responsibilities are simply to “make connections with people,” which she has already begun by teaching the Environmental Studies senior seminar with assistant professor Chris Wells. The senior seminar will assess the college’s level of greenhouse emissions.

The seminar’s project fits within the goals of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, which Rosenberg and 414 other college and university presidents signed last year.

Hansen said that she will also be working to “make Macalester more of a leader in sustainable efforts.

“I’m trying to figure out where we came from, what projects we already have going on and what we will want to do. We have real needs. I want to get a sustainable website up, as a way to link all of these projects going on.”

In November, the Sustainable Endowments Institute gave Macalester a “B” on its college sustainability 2008 report card, an increase from the “C” Macalester received on its 2007 report card. Macalester scored lowest in the “Green Building” and the “Transportation” categories, which might change with the pending completion of the environmentally friendly Macalester Athletic and Recreation Center and the Institute for Global Citizenship, as well as the college’s plan to subsidize student bus passes.

Still, Wheaton said, the college’s focus isn’t on the report card or any other national ranking.

“I’m not so keen on that,” Wheaton said. “It gets a lot of visibility, but it is not useful as the way we test out own success.”

Hansen’s appointment follows Macalester’s ongoing drive of sustainability efforts, which campus sustainability activist Timothy Den Herder-Thomas’09 said has been on the upswing for the past two years.

“There’s been a consistent rise in terms of support from the administration,” Den Herder-Thomas said. “People weren’t acting as ambitiously two years ago.”

Den Herder-Thomas described the college’s sustainability drive as a “win-win situation” in that Macalester’s financial standing as well as its sustainability record could benefit.

Wheaton, however, said that he does not know yet whether the college will reap financial benefits from sustainability efforts.

In the meantime, Hansen will continue to mold what she described as her initial “three to six month plan” at Macalester. But thanks to the level of student environmental activism Hansen said she has witnessed on campus, she might have some help along the way.

“I haven’t seen something this significant in terms of student involvement,” Hansen said. “It’s one of the things that shows the commitment Macalester has made. We’re not starting from ground zero and having to convince people. We’re already starting ahead.