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President Valerie Smith, Board Chair Tom Spock '78 Highlight Efforts to Confront Climate Change

Flowers sprouting on Swarthmore's campus

Earlier today, President Valerie Smith and Chair of the Board of Managers Tom Spock '78 sent the following message to the Swarthmore community:

Dear Members of the Swarthmore Community,

We write in response to a recent student referendum urging the Board of Managers to pursue partial divestment from separately managed and commingled accounts. We appreciate the time and effort that went into developing this referendum. However, following three years of thoughtful and detailed study and analysis from 2013 to 2015, the Board stated in its Sustainability and Investment Policy that it had reached the decision “not to divest from fossil fuels, either on a full or partial basis.” This decision is consistent with the College’s investment guidelines, adopted in 1991, that the “Investment Committee manages the endowment to yield the best long term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives.” (We urge you to read the policy, which includes a full explanation on how and why the Board reached its decision in 2015.)  

That decision stands, but the subject of climate change is of ultimate and deep concern to us. As we have said before, we believe that the magnitude of this issue underscores the need for Swarthmore to champion meaningful and sustained efforts that will model best practices to reduce carbon consumption, educate our students on the causes and consequences of climate change, and demonstrate national and global leadership in sustainability initiatives. Since hiring Sustainability Director Aurora Winslade in 2015, we are proud to say that we have made significant advances on each of these fronts.

Reducing Our Carbon Consumption
We aim not only to meet but also to exceed industry standards and best practices for our facilities and operations. Our approach is to lead by example in reducing our carbon footprint, with the goal of carbon neutrality by 2035, if not sooner. To meet this goal, the Board of Managers adopted a Sustainability Framework, which outlines rigorous standards for building and renovation in the most energy efficient ways possible. The institution is currently building on the Environmental Sustainability Framework to complete a detailed "Energy Strategy for Sustainability" that will lay out our path to carbon neutrality and our long-term plan for a sustainable, resilient energy future for the College. In addition, scores of students, faculty and staff are engaged in a college-wide effort to imagine new and innovative ideas to meet this challenge. For example, the Sustainability Committee created a Green Initiatives Fund to encourage and sponsor projects that contribute to the College’s environmental sustainability.  To showcase and reinforce the value of this work, the Office of Sustainability last year organized the 1st Annual Sustainability Summit, and we will host another summit later this spring.

Innovative Sustainability Education
Last year we also announced the new President's Sustainability Research Fellowship (PSRF) Program. This collaboration between the President's Office, the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, Environmental Studies, and the Office of Sustainability launched in the fall. It provides students with an opportunity to engage in a year-long course and internship to research and develop solutions for campus sustainability challenges in collaboration with faculty and staff mentors. These students are developing a range of projects that include how to address food waste, change behavior around energy consumption, preserve the Crum Woods, develop sustainability metrics and tracking systems, establish a Green Revolving Fund, and manage campus waste in a more efficient and sustainable manner. By forging interdisciplinary collaborations, conducting independent research, and developing project management skills, these students are applying their formal education to have a meaningful impact on our campus culture. In the years ahead we will continue to embed the principles of sustainability more deeply into our curricular and co-curricular programs.

Beyond the PSRF program, we believe that we must also instill in our students an enduring commitment to the natural environment throughout their education. This commitment is reflected in the delegation of students and faculty members that attended the 22nd United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco, marking the fourth year a Swarthmore delegation has attended UN sponsored climate talks.

National Leadership of Carbon Pricing
Last year the Board of Managers approved a $300,000 carbon charge, an idea originally proposed by a faculty-led working group. Across the globe, environmental activists, business and government leaders, NGOs and economists have identified carbon pricing as an important, long-term strategy for achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Our carbon pricing initiative recognizes the detrimental impact of carbon emissions by including an additional charge on the budget of each department, making the full cost of emitting carbon visible. The funds generated by this charge will support institutional sustainability initiatives such as renewable energy installations. This will reduce our energy consumption and carbon emissions, ultimately minimizing our impact on the environment.

We are one of only a handful of higher education institutions that have taken this pioneering step. Representatives of other colleges and universities have consulted with Aurora Winslade and other members of the Swarthmore community to learn more about our carbon pricing initiative. Swarthmore is also partnering with the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium and colleges and universities across the state to host an educational event in Harrisburg to inform students about carbon pricing. This event, scheduled for April 7th, 2017, will allow students to learn about how carbon pricing creates an economy-wide incentive to reduce greenhouse gases and will give students the opportunity to speak with elected officials about the impacts of carbon pricing. As leaders of this campaign, we serve as a model for other institutions and advocates for carbon pricing at state and national levels.

Without question, the scope and scale of climate change require us to act with a sense of urgency. At the same time, we find ourselves at a moment in history when we face growing demands on College resources and thus must do all we can to make sure that our assets are secure. We must continue to make an impact through smart and proactive efforts that are tailored to the unique strengths and capacities of the Swarthmore community. The sustainability initiatives we have described provide an extensive and robust foundation. We look forward to working together to continue building innovative and transformative strategies that lead higher education, and our nation, into a more just and sustainable future.


Valerie Smith, President
Thomas E. Spock ‘78, Chair, Board of Managers

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