Macalester to lead nation-wide environmental movement

By Emily Howland

This March, three months after President Brian Rosenberg received a letter from the Presidents Climate Commitment, he signed an agreement to become a national leader in environmental sustainability on college campuses.

The Presidents Climate Commitment is a band of colleges and universities across the country that “pledge to take a leadership role on one of the defining challenges of the 21st century: global warming,” according to the letter Rosenberg received in December.The effort is sponsored by American University and is coordinated by three national environmental organizations: Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), ecoAmerica, and Second Nature.

The letter asked Rosenberg to sign on to the Leadership Circle, a group of about 100 colleges and universities that will dedicate funds to reducing carbon emissions on their respective campuses, as well as inspire other schools to join the commitment.

The schools that sign the commitment will meet in Washington D.C. June 11 and 12, 2007 for a public launch of the effort. By then, organizers expect over 200 schools will have signed and expect 1,000 signatories by 2009.

The AASHE initially contacted MacCARES member Timothy Den Herder-Thomas ’09, who passed the letter on to Rosenberg. Den Herder-Thomas said Rosenberg did not need much persuasion to join the Leadership Circle.

“This allows [Rosenberg] to take a proactive role in working with the coalition. It gives us the opportunity to take initiative in how [the effort] works across the country,” Den Herder-Thomas said.

Before signing the agreement, Rosenberg talked to Facilities Management and other campus departments that would play a role in making the campus more environmentally sustainable.

“I wanted to make sure if we signed something we were in a position to follow through. There was no real resistance, just cautions from people who were worried about budgets,” Rosenberg said.

Though Rosenberg said he does not know how effective the national organizations running the effort are due to lack of experience with them, he said he thinks signing the agreement was a step in the right direction.

“I decided at the end of the day that it was the right thing to do. At this point global warming seems to me one of those issues about which there’s no doubt,” Rosenberg said.

Mark Dickinson, Director of Facilities Management, agreed that the commitment is fundamental to Macalester’s value of a global perspective.

The first step to internally enact the commitment will be to do a study of all energy usage on campus, followed by creating a plan to reduce our consumption in the long and short term, according to Rosenberg. He said that he plans to hire a sustainability manager as a new position in Facilities Management to aid the process.
Some efforts have already begun on campus. To reduce carbon emissions Rosenberg said the college is considering switching from using fuel oil to natural gas, which is more costly but emits fewer pollutants into the air. Using natural gas could cost the college up to $60,000 per year.

The new building for the Institute for Global Citizenship will use natural gas as part of its Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) Platinum certification, which is the highest level of green certification. Solar panels and efficient insulation will also contribute to the green building, which will be on the current site of Winton Health Services.

LEED certification is difficult to attain and is more costly. Rosenberg said the Institute building will cost ten percent more than a non-platinum building would.
“Our goal with that building is for it to be an energy neutral building so it heats and cools itself,” he said.

The Institute building will be one of few LEED Platinum buildings in the country.

Other long-term environmental initiatives include subsidizing students’ use of public transportation, and the re-design of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts department building.

While no plans have been finalized for Janet Wallace, Rosenberg said that consideration has been put into a green design for the building. However, such design would increase the cost and delay its completion.

Rosenberg said that he hopes to begin construction on Janet Wallace by Fall 2009 but that all depends on fundraising and coming to a consensus on the building’s design.

The college’s commitment to sustainability will not pay for itself. While better insulation and solar panels will reduce the cost of energy and heating in buildings like the institute and the new athletic facility, they will not pay for the cost of the building.

“We’re deceiving ourselves if we think there aren’t tradeoffs,” Rosenberg said.

However, Rosenberg said that fundraising for a green building is easier because donors are more inclined to give their money for sustainability.

Dickinson confirmed that sacrifices are inevitable.

“I think that we have to begin thinking is this what we want to do, not will it pay for itself?” he said. “Will this cause us to re-allocate resources on campus? Yes.”

Den Herder-Thomas said he sees Rosenberg’s signing of the Presidents Climate Commitment as “the beginning of a very long-term and busy agenda from re-designing the college’s heating system to integrating the education of global warming into student life.”