Visitors to Whitman this summer, immersed in Walla Walla’s July heat, have noted the college's naturally landscaped campus, complete with green trees, lawns, flowers and natural grasses--all tended to with the utmost organic care.
Not as visible but every bit as organic is the greening of Whitman taking place behind the scenes. This fall the college plans to launch a $100,000 revolving green loan fund to support student, staff and faculty sustainability initiatives for the campus. In addition, Whitman has established the new position of campus sustainability coordinator, whose job it will be to help track the college’s greenhouse gas emissions and serve as a liaison between the various environmental groups on campus and the administration.
The new coordinator will need to hit the ground running just to keep pace with the current efforts of students, faculty and staff toward sustainability. One particularly significant step toward an ever-greener Whitman came in April 2006, when students voted for the Renewable Energy Initiative, requesting the Board of Trustees to 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.
Students didn’t stop with raising their tuition. In fact, they have continued to raise funds for buying increasing levels of energy from the Blue Sky Program. In the fall of 2006, the Whitman Campus Climate Challenge (WCCC), an off-shoot 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.
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. Beginning with the fall 2008 semester, all incoming first-year students will receive a Green Guide, highlighting ways students can reduce their own individual environmental footprint.
While raising the consciousness of the campus about the need for renewable energy, these involved students have energized their own dedication to access more of it. 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 $180,000 grant to install solar panels on the roof of the science building and a residence hall.
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. As Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) club tends the garden, and staff and faculty advisers work with students to rotate crops and produce organic compost for the garden. Regular invitations are sent via email to the campus community; inviting people to sample the garden’s fare, join in a “weeding party,” partake in a potluck and more.
The greening of Whitman has been a long-term process, and its evolution will continue to change the face of Whitman, as will the construction of new buildings, the addition of people and programs, and the annual ebb and flow of students.