Environmental Action Timeline

Swarthmore College has a long tradition of honoring the natural environment. As concern about climate change mounts here and around the world, the College continues to address the issue and make substantial strides in reducing its energy and water consumption.

 

1863 

Location of Swarthmore College

Black and white sketch of Parrish Hall

"The Westdale property, Springfield Township, Delaware County, Pa. ... furnishing a fine building site upon high ground sloping to the south, and commanding a fine view of the surrounding country … no place offered to the Committee affords such romantic and secluded rambles as the rocky and sloping hill-sides which bound this stream [Crum Creek].” — Circular, Board of Managers, 1863


1869 

Opening Day

Opening Day Treeplanting PhotoSwarthmore’s Quaker founders “loved trees,” wrote John Wister, the first director of the Scott Arboretum, in 1939. “On the opening day, Nov. 10, 1869, Lucretia Mott planted a red oak; a succession of famous men and women, including presidents of our country, have planted trees on Founders Day ever since.”


1929 

Scott Arboretum

AmphitheaterThe Scott Horticultural Foundation is founded on campus in honor of Arthur Hoyt Scott, Class of 1895. Today, the Scott Arboretum encompasses more than 300 acres of the Swarthmore campus and exhibits over 4,000 different kinds of plants recommended for area gardens.


1930

Crum Woods Cleanup

During the Depression, the College organized and funded, with Swarthmore Borough, work parties of former area mill workers to clear paths, open trails, cut dead trees, and haul out trash from the woods. According to the Arboretum's first director, after conducting this work from 1930-32, "they literally transformed the dilapidated areas into a pleasant woodland park with attractive paths."

1961  

Crum Woods Preservation

Crum WoodsThen-President Courtney Smith galvanizes opposition to the construction of a major highway, whose proposed routes would run through College-owned land in the Crum Woods. In letters to the community, he and then-Board Chair Claude Smith explain the detrimental effects the construction will have on the College and surrounding area and urge faculty, students, staff, and alumni to "express your views ... by letter or telegram" to the governor and federal officials. President's Smith's own correspondence to officials includes: "The Crum Valley and the spirit of careful conservation which it encourages has distinguished Swarthmore and the surrounding communities ... Surely Swarthmore College, which originally came to the country in response to a felt need for a location affording quiet and peaceful contemplation, looks toward the good of all in seeking to preserve this heritage."

1970  

Crum Woods as Classroom and Laboratory

Students conduct a study of the Crum Creek through campus and find it to be "relatively healthy and unpolluted... but limited in its ability to support plant and animal life." Biology, religion, and other classes continue to be held in the woods to this day.

1974  

Ecological Survey

The College commissions an ecological survey of the Crum Woods from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry in its efforts to preserve the Crum Creek area as a natural "green belt."

1989  

Crum Woods Cleanup Revisited

Students work with members of the Biology Department to organize students, faculty, staff members, and alumni in cleaning up the woods. 

1990 

Funding for Internships

The James H. Scheuer '42 Summer Internship in Environmental Studies is established.


1992

Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies Program is established.


1996  

Environmental Racism Conference

Students organize a conference on environmental racism in Chester, Pa. that draws 60 students from 15 colleges and universities. Their efforts lead to the formation of the Campus Coalition Concerning Chester, which was active in the 1990s in that city's environmental justice efforts.


1999 

Wind Power

Students with windmillsSwarthmore begins purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) in the form of wind power. Since 2011, 100 percent of the College’s greenhouse-gas emissions generated as a result of electricity are offset by RECs.


2000 

Crum Woods Stewardship

Student planting a tree in Crum Woods

The College establishes a committee of students, faculty, and staff members to protect, restore, and steward the 220 acres of mostly forested land along the Crum Creek that straddles Swarthmore’s campus.


2003 

Green Roofs

Green roofs

The College’s first green roof is installed on a shed behind Papazian Hall in 2003. The next year, Alice Paul Hall becomes the first residence hall in North America to have a green roof. David Kemp Hall joins in 2009.


2007 

Green Power

Swarthmore and Earthlust, a student environmental activism group, receives the Green Power: Turn It On! Award from PennFuture for helping to start the College’s recycling program and raising awareness about food waste and electricity usage, among other campaigns.

Trash to Treasure

People search through items at the Trash to Treasure sale

The first sale of gently used items donated by students at the end of the year raises more than $12,000 for nonprofit organizations in the community. The 2014 T2T sale raised approximately $20,000 and kept about 14 tons of material – picture 25 industrial-sized dumpsters – from being incinerated.


2008 

Sustainability Committee

committee of students, faculty, and staff members is formed to make recommendations to the President and to the College community regarding policies to promote environmental sustainability on campus. 

Composting

Students and compost pileComposting of food waste from the dining hall begins.


2010 

Environmental Studies Senior Capstone

The 2010 Senior Capstone Seminar of the Environmental Studies creates a website to serve as a resource for many of the issues surrounding drilling of the Marcellus Shale.

Climate Commitment

Then-President Rebecca Chopp signs the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, joining leaders of institutions in higher education across the country in accelerating educational and operational efforts to address climate change. The College has since taken several actions to fulfill this commitment, including the development and adoption of a Climate Action Plan.


2011

Investment Strategies

Members of Mountain Justice, a student group that works toward climate justice, the administration, and the Board of Managers meet to discuss the College’s endowment and the possibility of divesting the College from investments in fossil fuels. Discussions continue at dozens of meetings between 2011 and 2013.


2012 

Carbon Neutrality

To meet the Presidents' Climate Commitment, the College develops and adopts a Climate Action Plan, which pledges carbon neutrality by 2035.


2013 

Decision on Divestment

Board Chair Gil Kemp ’72, on behalf of the Board of Managers, informs the community that “[I]t is our collective judgment that the cost of divestment would far outweigh any potential benefit. If we thought divestment would change the behavior of fossil fuel companies, or galvanize public officials to do something about climate change, or reduce America's reliance on fossil fuels, this would be a much tougher decision. We believe we have other, more effective means to achieve this objective.”

LPAC Green Roof

LPAC green roofAt 31,000 square feet, the completion of the LPAC’s green roof more than doubles the College’s total green roof acreage, which absorbs rainwater while also providing natural habitat.

U.N. Climate Change Conference

Swarthmore seeks and is granted NGO observer status to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties and now sends students, staff, and faculty to the annual meetings of the U.N. body tasked with developing international agreements to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions and prevent climate change.


2014

Sustainability Director

Laura Cacho is hired as the College’s first sustainability director. Her office’s early initiatives include administering the College’s Green Initiatives Fund, partnering with a car share program, and leading the development of sustainable building standards for renovations and new construction on campus.

Call for Big Ideas to Address Climate Change

Interim President Constance Hungerford issues a call for ways the College could address climate change; the community responds with more than 160 ideas.

Commitment to Sustainable Buildings

The Board of Managers commits $12 million to making the planned Biology, Engineering, and Psychology building a model for environmentally intelligent construction practices. 


2015 

Sustainability Charrette

Participants listenThe Board of Managers sponsors a Sustainability Charrette that generated proposals in six critical areas for the College community’s consideration and action, including improving the College’s energy efficiency, installing a renewable energy system on campus, evaluating how the College’s endowment is invested, and becoming a zero-waste campus.

Community Activism 

Members of Mountain Justice begin a sit-in in Parrish Hall for fossil fuel divestment.

Zero-Waste Week

Green Advisors, a student group that facilitates environmentally-friendly campus living, sponsors a zero-waste week.