Amanda Heffernan
Environmental Studies 120
December 6, 2001

Final Internship Report – Campus Green Building Committee

This semester, I worked with Meghan Green both to research sustainable building methods and techniques, and to try to establish a permanent Green Building Committee on campus. The end result of our internship is a proposal, to be delivered to President Cronin, which will contain a synopsis of our research as well as our recommendations for institutional changes to make Whitman a more sustainable place. We plan to deliver the proposal early next semester, after Lea Redmond has delivered her proposal about the creation of a Sustainability Coordinator position.

Meghan and I spent the first part of this semester doing research. First, we decided that we would research green building successes at other schools, to serve as models for Whitman. We emphasize in our final proposal that a greener campus will make Whitman more competitive in terms of admissions, so we felt that showcasing green buildings at other schools, especially those in the same “small liberal arts college” category as Whitman, would help get our point across. Projects at other schools also provide concrete examples of strategies that Whitman can use, and their success or failure at other schools can be used to determine whether or not they are right for Whitman. I researched Northland College, Oberlin College, Humboldt State University, Swarthmore College, Dartmouth College, and Middlebury College. Each college had a different approach, and completed different types of projects; in sum they present examples of a range of options that are available to Whitman.

a) Northland College: Northland College has a green dorm building called the “Environmental Living and Learning Center”, completed in 1998, which houses 114 students. The dorm has solar panels and windmills, composting toilets, and recycled furniture. The dorm is also incorporated into the curriculum of the college.

b) Oberlin College: Oberlin recently completed the Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, an academic building with classrooms, an auditorium, organic gardens, and a greenhouse. The building has a solar design to maximize heating and air-conditioning efficiency, solar panels, leased carpeting, and used Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood in construction.

c) Humboldt State: Humboldt State has a student-run and student-founded residence called the Center for Appropriate Technology. The house has every environmentally-friendly gadget you could think of – composting toilets, a solar oven, appliances run by exercise bike, a marsh for processing greywater, solar panels, windmills, and even a car run by biodiesel fuel. The Center also maintains and extensive website filled with sustainable living resources. The Center, because it is a house and not a dorm, represents a smaller kind of experiment with green building that Whitman could try to test the waters.

d) Swarthmore College: Swarthmore just finished a new science building that incorporated some green characteristics (overhangs and fitted glass for sun-shadowing, energy-efficient heating), and had a “Green Team” to evaluate it. This approach is less intensely sustainable, but it’s a middle path that is certainly better than nothing, and involved input from a green committee.

e) Dartmouth College: Dartmouth College has a comprehensive campus composting system, and a college-owned organic farm where the compost is used. I think this is a wonderful idea for Whitman, which already owns so much farmland!

f) Middlebury College: Middlebury College has Environmental Principles that have been adopted by their trustees, a permanent Project Review Committee that evaluates the environmental impact of every college building project, and a full-time Campus Sustainability Coordinator. This is exactly the kind of structure that I think Whitman should adopt.

After researching colleges and example projects, Meghan and I decided that we also wanted to research some smaller, more easily implemented changes that Whitman could make to minimize the environmental impact of already-existing buildings. Some ideas:

a) Xeriscape more of Whitman’s gardens and lawns. This would save water and be educational for the community and students.

b) Make Whitman’s landscaping organic. Does the college really need to pollute our ground and water with fertilizers and pesticides?

c) Create a composting system (well, this one isn’t exactly smaller and easy to implement, but it doesn’t involve a building). This could involve using composting toilets, Bon Appetit composting, as well as a composting center where students could bring compost from their rooms or off-campus residences. Compost could then go to one of Whitman’s farms, or be sold to other farmers. This would require a good chunk of land on which to set up a composting system.

d) Use water-efficient toilets, dishwashers, and washing machines on campus to save water. Whitman could also experiment with composting toilets.

After completing our initial research, Meghan and I decided to move on to the next phase of our internship ¾ working on the creation of a committee. We began by meeting with Lea Redmond and Bob Carson about our ideas for the proposal; they provided valuable insights both into the potential structure and function of a Green Building Committee, as well as into strategies that we could use in writing our proposal and presenting it to President Cronin. In the end, we came to several conclusions about the proposed committee:

a) It must be composed of the full range of interests at Whitman – students, faculty, staff, trustees, and overseers

b) The committee must include both people who already have power in Whitman’s administration (i.e. representatives from the Treasure’s office and the Development office), and those who feel that they don’t currently have a voice in these kinds of decisions (i.e. students and faculty)

c) The committee should meet regularly, and more frequently when a building project is being proposed, planned, and/or constructed

d) The committee must have continuity in its membership, in order to create institutional memory and affect real change

Meghan and I realize that the primary barrier to green building is cost. Because the markets for recycled, organic, and other alternative building materials is small, prices are higher than they are for conventional materials. We also know that Whitman is in something of a money crunch right now, due to the current state of the stock market.

We know that, when we go talk to President Cronin, we will need to convince him that green building is worth the cost. So, we decided to emphasize the following key points when presenting our proposal:

a) Green building is educational. Green living and learning spaces fit perfectly into Whitman’s vision for a residential liberal arts college. Green building, if integrated into Whitman’s up-and-coming Environmental Studies program, would further the creation of a holistic learning atmosphere on campus.

b) Green building looks great. Whitman already presents itself as a fairly “green place” ¾ the campus is gorgeous, and all of Whitman’s admissions literature emphasize the beauty of the surrounding natural areas. Backing this image up with real changes towards sustainability on campus would be great for Whitman’s PR as well as the environment.

c) In addition, many schools of similar size and reputation (such as those described above) have implemented green building projects; we don’t want to lag behind schools we’re competing with.

We will attach our research on projects at other schools to our proposals, specifically showcasing those at Northland, Oberlin, and Humboldt State. We also plan to attach our list of smaller potential building adaptations to our proposal, in recognition of the fact that Whitman may not have the resources (or the need) for a green building project in the near future.

Meghan and I have also been attending Conservation Committee meetings all semester as part of our internship. As a member of the Committee, I continued some previous work I had done on Whitman’s paper use and joined the paper sub-committee. This sub-committee organized a campus-wide paper forum (unfortunately, attendance was lacking ¾ I think that one of Conservation Committee’s goals should be to decrease student apathy!!), and brainstormed strategies to reduce Whitman’s overall paper consumption. It was gratifying to learn that, due to the work that my friend David Beckley and I did spring semester of last year, Cindy Waring this year ordered a significant amount of 100% recycled paper.

I have definitely learned from my attendance at Conservation Committee meeting this semester just how complicated it is to get anything done at Whitman! It seems that every new idea has to run the gauntlet of committee after committee and meeting after meeting before it even has a chance to be implemented. But I’m extremely glad that I learned this at the same time as Meghan and I were working on the proposal. Now that we know just how hard it is going to be to get our proposal implemented, we have more realistic goals, expectations, and strategies. Learning about Whitman’s decision-making processes was also one of the primary objectives of our internship, one that we have accomplished without a doubt.

I feel that we have accomplished the rest of our initial internship goals as well. We said that we wanted to increase our understanding of green building techniques and strategies, which we did during our preliminary research. We also said that we wanted to gain a greater understanding of Whitman’s overall environmental impact, especially as pertaining to building projects, which we have accomplished both through research and through our involvement with the Conservation Committee (involvement in the Committee was itself our fourth goal). Our fifth goal was to help Tova Cochrane with Whitman’s Green Seal. However, in our discussions with Tova and Rose Miller (the Campus Environmental Audit intern), we decided that helping with Green Seal could constitute an internship in and of itself, and was much more suited to the goals of Rose’s internship than to ours.

I have really enjoyed this internship, mostly because these issues are extremely important to me (I also like working with Meghan!). I feel very strongly that people need to make collective, democratic decisions in their communities, which is why I am excited by the idea of a Green Building Committee that would include student, faculty, and staff voices. If we want the world to be a more sustainable place, we need to start as close to home as possible, and transform the places where we live and work. I hope that the work that Meghan and I have done this semester is a positive step in that direction, one that can be built upon by future interns and that, with luck, will be adopted as the policy of the college.

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