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Challenges and Gaps

Crum Woods

The following summarizes the main challenges the College faces in reducing its carbon footprint and in implementing sustainability initiatives. It also lists potential gaps that have yet to be addressed.


  • The campus is growing in both population and building square footage. This will, in turn, increase energy demand, presenting a serious challenge to maintain a downward progression in the College’s greenhouse gas emissions without a major investment in new infrastructure.
  • The College’s infrastructure is fragile as demonstrated by this past winter. With climate change, it is likely that severe weather events are going to occur more often, rather than irregularly.


  • The College’s suburban location makes reducing emissions from employee commuting behavior a challenge.
  • Air travel related to the study-abroad program and staff responsibilities (e.g., admissions and development) are part of the College’s core business. It is unlikely that the use of technology (such as telepresence) could ever replace the need to travel for these purposes. The greenhouse gas emissions associated with these activities will need to be offset to achieve carbon neutrality.
  • The topography of the campus and the distance between some buildings makes walking seem infeasible or undesirable for some members of the campus community.

Waste management

  • The student Green Advisers organization performed a waste audit in November 2013 of Kohlberg Hall and the Science Center. It found that, of everything thrown in the trash, only 37 percent was actually garbage. The rest could have been recycled or composted. And of everything that could have been composted, only 7.6 percent of it was actually put in the compost. This indicates that there is substantial room for improvement in waste management at the College, both from an infrastructure and a behavioral perspective.
  • The College’s waste-management system is inconsistent, unclear, and confusing to users. A system of paired trash, recycling, and composting bins with a consistent look and clear messaging is necessary, so that users know what to do and are encouraged to create good habits. New, paired waste bins were purchased for some areas of Kohlberg and Parrish halls. This is a positive step, but thorough planning and funding allocations are essential to implementing a consistent and clear system campuswide.
  • The College should look for opportunities to reduce the complexity of the products used in food service; simple actions like removing a plastic straw from a compostable cup occur only infrequently and threaten to contaminate the compost system. If possible, all food service items (utensils, plates, cups, lids, straws, stir sticks, etc.) used in Essie Mae’s and other coffee bars should be compostable to reduce confusion.


  • Worldwide, water availability is as pressing an issue as carbon dioxide emissions. From accounts of a dwindling groundwater supply in the Colorado River basin to extreme drought this summer in California, water conservation is a dire need in many communities. It has not reached that point in the Swarthmore region, but hotter and drier summers under climate change also put our region at risk of drought and diminished groundwater recharge. Although the College is taking some steps to conserve water, the infrastructure investment for many water conservation strategies, such as the use of gray water to flush toilets, is likely to be a tough sell (particularly when compared with investments in energy infrastructure) in a mild climate.


  • Procurement at the College is largely decentralized. Individual departments are authorized to purchase supplies and hire vendors as they deem appropriate for their staff, faculty, and students. Although this flexibility may have advantages, it also means that the purchase of environmentally friendly goods and services varies greatly across the College. Until purchasing is centralized and/or College standards are developed, understanding the environmental implications of the College’s purchasing decisions and making improvements in this area will take considerable time and will need to be tackled department by department.


  • Much of the food served at the College is locally sourced, and Dining Services primarily works with local vendors. The College could consider sourcing more organic foods and free-range animal products. The College also offers vegetarian and vegan options at every meal, but it could consider holding meat-free dinners to raise awareness that meat consumption leaves a far greater carbon footprint than a vegetarian/vegan diet. It could also consider producing more food on-site.