An ever-greener Whitman

Windmills

Visitors to Whitman College unfailingly notice the beauty of the campus, remembering it as a cool green oasis of trees, lawns, flowers and natural wild grasses.

It’s behind the scenes, however, that Whitman grows greener every year, thanks to efforts of students, faculty and staff. One especially significant step toward an ever-greener Whitman was the April 25, 2006, student vote on the Renewable Energy Initiative, which requested that the Board of Trustees increase semester tuition by $5 beyond its normal level with the sole purpose of purchasing renewable energy through Pacific Power’s Blue Sky Program. The initiative, which took effect during the 2006-2007 academic year, is still in place.

The students didn’t stop with increasing their tuition. In fact, students have continued to raise funds to continue buying increasing levels of energy from the Blue Sky Program. In the fall of 2006, the Whitman Campus Climate Challenge (WCCC), an offshoot of the Campus Greens student group, set and met a series of goals to expand the college’s sustainability efforts. One project, selling “Holiday Alternative Energy Gifts,” was spearheaded by Brittany Smith ’08, whose group raised $4,300 to purchase renewable wind-powered energy prior to and during winter break of 2006. The WCCC continues to raise money for renewable energy with an on-line giving site.

Another goal set by the Climate Challenge group was to incorporate environmental responsibility sessions into all new-student orientations. This practice was implemented beginning January 2007, and members of the WCCC continue to give presentations to campus groups about global warming, invite related speakers and screen relevant movies.

Solar energy project takes flight as 2009-2010 academic year begins

As they raise the consciousness of the campus about renewable energy, students have energized their dedication to accessing more renewable energy. In each of the last two years, Whitman students have raised more than $13,000 to help fund renewable energy initiatives. Last year they directed funds to the Blue Sky program to help increase the college to 36 percent participation in the program. This year they are providing matching funds for a $140,000 grant to install solar panels on the roof of the science building and a residence hall.

In addition, the college administration has stepped up to the plate in a number of ways, including the creation of a $100,000 revolving green loan fund to support student, staff and faculty sustainability initiatives for the campus. A call for proposals will go out in the fall and an advisory committee will oversee the funds.

Whitman has also established a new campus sustainability coordinator position to help track the college's greenhouse gas emissions and serve as a liaison between the various environmental groups on campus and the administration.

And one can’t talk about the green Whitman campus without mentioning the Whitman Organic Garden, created by four students in 1997 and now supported by the student government and a small endowment. An Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) club tends the garden, and staff and faculty advisers work with students to rotate crops and develop organic compost for the garden. Regular invitations are sent out to the campus, inviting people to sample the garden’s vegetables, join in a “weeding party,” partake in a potluck, and much more.

The greening of Whitman has been progressing for more than a decade, and its evolution will continue to change the face of Whitman, as do the construction of new buildings, the addition of people and programs, and the annual ebb and flow of students.