An ECO Presentation to the Board of Trustees (2010)


Below is the proposal for sustainability that ECO presented to the board of trustees. A big thank you for the support of everyone who signed this proposal! If you have any questions, comments, or would like to get more involved in this project please feel free to e-mail eco@kenyon.edu.




Building New Traditions: Sustainability at Kenyon

A Presentation to the Board of Trustees

Spring 2010

 

This report is a follow up to the 2007 student sustainability report, and the student sustainability report which was presented to the trustees in fall 2008. 

 

Kenyon has never had more energy and force behind its initiatives for ecological and sustainable responsibility. Many of these projects and initiatives originated with the student body, and we are excited to see them transition from the grassroots to institutionalization.

We want to offer our sincere thanks to the Board of Trustees and the Kenyon Administration for the institutional changes that have occurred over the past year. Thanks to these decisions, Kenyon now has a Statement of Sustainability, a Sustainability website, and most recently a Sustainability Director. However, the foremost overarching theme we want to offer today is that the students feel that many of these are at risk of becoming symbolic decisions only. Kenyon cannot change its marketed image if it does not change the culture and messages that students experience and receive every day.

The students want to emphasize that we care deeply about Kenyon’s history and tradition. It because we respect the school’s past that we want to contribute to its future. Kenyon has a history of thoughtfully engaging with the world, and this is an apt description of environmental responsibility.

We would like to focus on three areas: Kenyon’s image and the Sustainability Report Card, Energy and Finances, and the position of Sustainability Director.

I. Kenyon’s Image and the Sustainability Report Card

In the area of sustainability more than any other, Kenyon is falling more and more behind its peer schools. The Sustainability Report Card (see fig. 1) is not a comprehensive analysis of Kenyon’s sustainable practices by far, and the students are aware of this problem. For example, it is clear that the grades awarded to institutions are strongly related to their endowments—which leaves Kenyon at a disadvantage in this ranking system.

However, there is no reason that Kenyon’s grade should have fallen from previous years.
Harvey Mudd and Centre College are two schools with comparable endowments who maintained or improved their score (see fig. 1).

Second, the report card is the primary public source for prospective students looking into Kenyon’s environmental practices, and therefore requires our attention. Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jennifer Delahunty reported in the Collegian that “sustainability issues” are a primary focus for the incoming class of 2014.[1] The values that are portrayed in Kenyon’s literature for prospective students is severely undermined by our low grade on the Sustainability Report Card. If Kenyon hopes to maintain a competitive edge with its peer schools, it must fulfill the philosophy of sustainable and healthy community that is espoused in the college literature.

Since the last student report in 2008, Kenyon has also published a sustainability website, which puts us in line with our peer institutions who all maintain similar sites. However, from students’ perspective, the sustainability website has become a symbolic step more than anything else. The site is inaccessible through the primary Kenyon site navigation, has been updated once since its inception, and does not include any data on the energy use of buildings. As ECO has met with Ed Neal we understand that this website will be updated and more public, but we still want to emphasize how strong the student push for this is—all the information in the world won’t make a difference if it is inaccessible to students.

II. Energy and Finances

Noting the lack of online information on energy use, the Kenyon student body offers a strong endorsement of the campus energy audit, which would provide the reliable data that is required for so many of these projects. Having this data available to both administrators and students ensures transparency of the system, and is a necessary foundation for concrete action and energy reduction.

We understand that this audit is newly available to Mr. Neal, but that it only includes ¾ of the campus buildings, and does not differentiate between residential and academic buildings. We encourage an energy audit that differentiates both of these things, in order to negotiate a long-term contract between Kenyon and its students that specific, numerical goals.

The first signature on this petition is from Elisa Young, a resident of Meigs County, OH, and our keynote speaker for this year’s Week of Sustainability. Her support of this petition represents the communities that are affected by the coal industry—that  suffer from poverty, unemployment, and the health hazards created by coal-burning power plants (see Appendix 1). Therefore, we want to address specifically Kenyon’s dependence on electricity from coal.

We are better in our peer schools, in that we only receive electricity, and not heating, from coal. Yet approximately 80% of our electricity comes from coal, which is an ironic contrast, given that Kenyon students are participating in APSO service projects in the very same regions of Appalachia. Please see Appendix 2 for details on energy from coal. The students would like to see a concrete, long-term plan for reducing Kenyon’s dependence on coal. In the short term, this means reducing energy consumption on multiple levels. This reduction poses an immediate economic benefit, while also being a step toward a renewable total energy system for our campus.

Energy reduction is an area which the students see as being inextricably tied to Kenyon’s financial goals and current economic standing. In this vein, the students want to emphasize several methods which are environmentally beneficial as well as proven budget-saving projects for colleges and universities in a time of economic crisis. The first is a Green Fee (see Appendix 3), which has been instituted by schools such as Centre College and Connecticut College. A small opt-out green fee around $10 to $20 would automatically appear on all students’ bills, from which students can opt-out if they choose.

The second method is a revolving fund (see Appendix 4). In a revolving fund, all money that Kenyon might save as a result of sustainable practices would be channeled into more sustainable projects. This model provides an incentive for money- and energy-saving measures, particularly the retrofitting of Kenyon’s older buildings, and ensures financial support for future projects.

Without a long-term concrete plan, students are observing conflicting projects and messages. For example, Sustainability Director Ed Neal stated recently that Kenyon was trying to reduce its energy use 10% over the next year, but this goal is statistically incompatible with the construction of the new art facilities and North campus housing, which add significantly to the campus’ overall energy use and carbon footprint—despite any LEED certification or sustainable building practices.

Those who have signed this petition would like to strongly encourage a cap on the campus’ energy use, ensuring that the campus will not exceed a set amount of energy per year.[2] With this cap in place, Kenyon would have to reduce energy use before adding new facilities, which is a wise economic plan as well as a sensible plan for sustainability.

Rather than cutting budgets for academic departments and [example b], Kenyon would be well-advised to cut back on energy use. The benefits are financial, environmental, and cultural. ECO regularly receives complaints from students about the inconsistent dorm HVAC systems, and the inability to regulate (or know) their own energy consumption. Clearly, there is strong student support for a change in our energy culture.

III. Sustainability Director and Intern

Since the last Student Sustainability Report (see Appendix 5), the Board of Trustees has approved the position of Sustainability Director, recently filled by the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Ed Neal. The creation of this position is a substantial step forward in ensuring the success of sustainable projects at Kenyon. We are especially grateful that the Trustees and Administration were able to create this position given the economic restrictions that began last year.

However, it is of utmost importance that this position not become isolated in decision-making or communication. The Director should engage directly with students, just as AVI Director of Sustainability John Marsh regularly attends weekly student meetings about local food.

Similarly, the student intern under the Sustainability Director will face the difficult task of navigating the intricate and often-overwhelming system of student organizations and activities. It is crucial that the job description for the student intern include attendance at both PEAS and ECO meetings, as well as a seat on the sustainability council. We look forward to the possibilities that a student position can offer under the Sustainability Director.

IV. Conclusion

A sustainable approach is one that looks both backward and forward: backward to traditional low-impact ways of living, like growing your own food and emphasizing face-to-face communication over digital communication, and forward towards new ways of building community and maintaining a respect for our campus and the world. Students are the best source for this progressive lens. As future alums, we are invested in graduating from a school that we respect, remember, and want to donate to. For the current students of Kenyon, this means a school that is inclusive, responsible, and transparent. We look forward to a collaborative approach between departments and between generations at Kenyon.

 

 

 



[2] Another comparable option would be a cap on Kenyon’s carbon footprint, which would allow more energy use overall, as long as it is from sustainable sources, but has the drawback of being harder to quantify.

 

Appendix 1- Coal

Appendix 2- Green Fee

Appendix 4- Revolving Fund

Figure 1- Sustainability Report Card

Figure 2- Statement Sustainability