Getting to Work: A Message from Interim President Connie Hungerford
September 1, 2014
Dear Students and Members of the Faculty and Staff,
The first day of the fall semester always feels like a new beginning. A quarter of our students have just arrived for their first semester—ready to discover the joys, challenges, and demands of college life. Returning students have new course schedules—with exciting challenges of their own. For faculty and staff, new student faces ensure that each fall really does feel different. And, for me, this fall is particularly new and exciting.
But it’s important, too, to remember that we are all part of something larger—a college whose history is deep and rich and whose future is as dependent on us as we are on those who have come before us.
When I first emailed you in mid-July, just after I was named interim president, I encouraged you to introduce yourselves and to share with me your visions and concerns for the College and our future. You responded by addressing many important issues, but I noticed one subject that kept recurring in my conversations with faculty, staff, students, and members of the Board of Managers: a great, shared concern about what we at Swarthmore are doing to address the threats of climate change. I have spent the last month and a half trying to learn as much possible about our sustainability efforts to date, the challenges we face, and the opportunities we at Swarthmore have to help lead efforts to ensure the future of our planet.
Here is what I have learned so far. First, we actually have made considerable progress in this area in recent years. As you may know, in February, Laura Cacho joined the College as our first director of sustainability. She too has plunged into understanding Swarthmore’s sustainability efforts and, at my request, has summarized her findings in a very useful report, which I urge you to review (http://www.swarthmore.edu/sustainability/report-to-president-2014). It shows incredible efforts—led by staff, students, and faculty over many years—that have led to tangible and impressive progress. Laura has also initiated several major projects over the past six months, including bringing Zipcar to campus, leading new events for new student orientation, and developing a sustainability framework to ensure strong energy efficiency standards for construction and renovation projects.
Second, although we have made commendable progress, there is much, much more that needs to be done. Meeting the commitment that Swarthmore made four years ago to achieve carbon neutrality (that is, to reduce our net carbon emissions to zero) by 2035 is a daunting challenge. We will need to step up our efforts as imaginatively and purposefully as we can in order to succeed. In addition, I believe that Swarthmore can and should be a leader in stemming climate change and its effects on our environment and that we should model practices from which others can learn and be encouraged.
I applaud the students, faculty, staff, Board members, and alumni who have focused attention on this issue and pioneered our responses. Specifically, student groups like Earthlust, Green Advisors, and Mountain Justice, among others—as well as the Sustainability Committee, the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, the Social Responsibility Committee of the Board of Managers, and other campus groups addressing climate issues—have made a clear and compelling case for the urgency of addressing climate change brought on by decades of unchecked carbon emissions. It is time now for the entire Swarthmore College community to get involved personally and collectively.
Which brings me to our next steps together. I write today to invite you to dream big, but concretely, about how Swarthmore can create change, how we can be better stewards of the earth, and how we can encourage others to do the same. I won’t promise you that we can make every proposal a reality, but what we can do is figure out what a significantly more sustainable campus looks like and determine what it would take to achieve it.
What do I mean by big, but concrete, ideas? A good example is using a combination of the latest, best thinking and innovative technologies to create a zero-energy residence hall (i.e., a building that uses only as much energy as it creates). The financial payoff for these expensive techniques can take several decades, but the impact on our carbon footprint would be substantial. In the past we might have set such an idea aside as simply too expensive. Now I want to think seriously about such a cost and whether it might in fact be affordable—the wiser investment, when balanced against the environmental costs of further fossil fuel dependence. Another example would be accelerating our work to eliminate our dependence on a central plant steam heating system by installing high-efficiency boilers at each building or using geothermal wells—again a significantly costly infrastructure change, but one that would dramatically reduce our energy consumption and therefore our carbon emissions.
We all share the ethical responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. Individually, this means reducing our energy consumption and decreasing the waste we send to the local incinerators in Chester by recycling or re-using materials whenever possible. Institutionally, this means re-calibrating our thinking to reflect the growing threat of climate change and the urgent need for action and leadership. It means providing more resources to ensure we can meet our ambitious and urgent goals.
I hope you will join in this collective effort and contribute to positive change at Swarthmore and beyond.
Laura Cacho will be collecting your ideas, and you can respond to this email (which will go to email@example.com). I ask that you take time to think through your suggestions and get them to us by Friday, October 10, so that through our budgeting processes, in which the Board of Managers also participates, we can move forward together toward realizing some of the good ideas that are sure to emerge.