The Office of Sustainability publishes an annual sustainability newsletter to update students, staff, faculty and alumni on the latest initiatives and projects focused on improving campus sustainability. The newsletter below recaps a few of the highlights of the last year. If you'd like to receive this annual newsletter and other periodic updates from the Office of Sustainability, please sign up here.
Connecticut College has a rich history of promotion of environmental awareness and social justice. As part of a national trend, these concepts have migrated into the general concept of sustainability with a specific focus on the intersection of environmental, social and economic considerations. Advancement of sustainability on campus is the work of many different centers, committees, departments and individuals, with the Office of Sustainability assuming a coordinating role. These various activities are all guided by the Building on Strength strategic plan for sustainability. This inaugural annual newsletter was produced to summarize some of the exciting progress made at Connecticut College towards our sustainability goals during the 2020-2021 academic year.
CC Turn Silver Into Gold
Defining success in sustainability over time often requires some type of benchmarking. Most academic institutions in the United States utilize the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) as a way to contrast and compare campus progress with peer institutions. The rating system includes levels from platinum to bronze, with an additional category for institutions who report data but do not want to be officially rated.
In 2021, Connecticut College achieved a Gold ranking from the AASHE, STARS sustainability ranking system.
In 2018, Connecticut College applied for and received a silver rating for our initial submission to the STARS tracking system. The silver rating already placed the college in an esteemed group of peers, but it was clear that more could be done to improve sustainability status on campus. Over the last three years, the Office of Sustainability has been collaboratively working with a large range of campus constituents to make improvements, fill in gaps and generate new initiatives based on what we learned from our initial STARS submission.
In June, 2021, the Office of Sustainability submitted its second set of data to AASHE with high hopes for improved standing in the STARS rating system. We are pleased to announce that we have learned that Connecticut College has achieved a Gold rating from AASHE, improving on our score from 2018 by over 20 points. The Gold rating helps document the incredible effort taking place within the campus community to promote sustainability values, reduce campus impacts, and develop more equitable ways of doing business. Connecticut College has been a leader in sustainability before STARS was in common usage, but the Gold rating helps others around the world to acknowledge our accomplishments. Read our STARS report here.
Camels Come Together to Go Solar
One of the most pressing issues with regard to sustainability focuses on the social and environmental impacts of climate change and the role that the college plays in generating greenhouse gas emissions through its normal operations. Connecticut College has a history of green energy initiatives, i.e. energy production that does not produce greenhouse gases. Alumni may remember the small wind turbine located on the roof of the library or the solar array on Park in the Plex. Unfortunately, in 2020, the only operational green energy production was associated with solar panels located at the college boathouse. It was clear that the college needed to revisit this topic and produce more green energy on campus.
Student and alumni workers install individual solar panels on a rack system that is held down by sets of 33 pound cement blocks. The rack system protects the roof from leaks and holds the panels down in strong winds. The yellow railing system evident in the background was temporarily installed for added safety. The roof was accessed through a temporary stair system and equipment was lifted to the roof with an extendable construction forklift operated by Rocky Ackroyd ‘83.
Professor Chad Jones, the former faculty director of the Office of Sustainability and an associate professor in the Botany department decided to do something about this situation in a project that highlights Camel initiative. During the 2019-2020 academic year, Dr. Jones partnered with Rocky Ackroyd ‘83 , who runs GreenSun, LLC a solar company in Maine, to teach a course for eight students with the goal of designing a new solar array for the facilities building. Students learned about permitting requirements, completed necessary engineering calculations and developed the financials needed to make the idea a reality. Two of the students even eventually found employment with GreenSun after completing the class.
The solar array taking shape on a beautiful spring day. From left to right, Imogen Gilard ’22, Anna Laprise ’20, Rocky Ackroyd ’83, Sophie Demaisy ’24 (background), Ashlyn Healey ’20 (working at Admissions now), Liam Rimas ’23 (background), and Nate Baretta ’20 are pictured.
During May, the project became a reality when a group of students, staff, faculty and alumni gathered on the roof of the facilities building to physically construct the array. Students worked in three hour shifts to assemble the racking that holds the panels, attach the panels to the racking and arrange the cement blacks that hold the panels down. The project was completed at a fraction of the costs that would have been expended if the installation was farmed out to an energy consultant. More importantly, students were exposed to an unique educational experience that was a highlight during what has been a challenging year on campus because of COVID restrictions.
The project is a 53.5-kW array that was funded through the Sustainability Revolving Fund and should pay for itself within 10 years. More importantly, the array helps to produce renewable energy for the local grid. Dr. Jones is excited to continue this educational model with the next class planned for Fall 2021. Once again, students will take the lead in all aspects of planning. The hope is to complete the next project the following year with subsequent projects following every couple of years pending funding availability.
Planning for Net Zero
In 2019, Connecticut College committed to a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. The goal followed recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) based on the latest dire projections for climate change. The next and more critical step is setting a target date for entirely eliminating or offsetting greenhouse gas emissions from college operations.
The so-called ‘Net Zero’ target could be approached in one of two ways. The college could arbitrarily set a date and then hope to meet the target. Alternatively, the college could do a serious and in-depth look at college operations to determine what changes need to be implemented for carbon neutrality and then strategically set a timeline to incrementally reduce GHG emissions. Connecticut College decided long ago to focus on tangible projects to address sustainability concerns, so it will come as no surprise that the College is approaching the Net Zero issue in a deliberate manner.
The Future of Energy Action Plan is a project that is just getting going with the help of expertise from The Stone House Group. This summer, energy consumption data, inspection of mechanical systems, and analysis of electrical generation, heating and cooling alternatives will be completed to give the college a comprehensive picture of potential approaches to reduce GHG emissions. This analysis will finally give the Environmental Model Committee and the President’s Sustainability Advisory Council the information it needs to set an aggressive but realistic date for achieving Net Zero.
Getting Charged Up
Most campus community members and alumni probably continue to drive internal combustion engine automobiles, but there is little doubt that electric vehicles usage is destined to grow dramatically. This year, Connecticut College was lucky enough to receive a donation of three ChargePoint electric vehicle (EV) charging stations from Bruce Becker P’22. Two of these charging stations have already been installed in the parking lot next to Horizon House (Admissions) and the lot in front of Hillel House. These two locations allow for access to EV charging stations in both north and south portions of campus.
New electric vehicle charging stations at Hillel House (left) and the Admissions parking lot (right).These units will be available to the campus community for use free of charge.
These stations became fully operational in July, and will allow for students, faculty, and staff to charge electric vehicles while they are on campus. The college is not charging campus members for the use of the EV charging stations for a three year period. In doing so, this option will allow the college to decrease our carbon footprint in regards to vehicle emissions.
We plan for our third installation to go in the parking lot next to a Smith-Burdick, but are waiting for additional funding before we move forward. In the meantime, we are excited to be able to accommodate electric vehicle usage on campus!
Sprout Garden Grows
Sprout Garden is the college community garden that grows fresh fruits and vegetables for use both on and off-campus. The garden is centrally located just west of the Crozier-Williams student center. The garden was recently expanded to increase production with a portion of the garden focused on use for course work and a portion of the garden utilized by a student club.
The expanded Sprout Garden with the new academic plantings in the foreground. Note the older high tunnel and new high tunnel under construction at the back end of the field.
This spring, Sprout Garden has expanded even more! With the leadership of Tess Beardell ’21, the Sprout Garden received funding from the Student Government Association through the Sustainable Projects Fund to install a new high tunnel greenhouse. The two tunnels make it easier to grow plants in late winter and early spring while students are still on campus. This spring, Sprout planted tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers among other crops. We are excited to see how amazing they turnout.
The newly completed high-tunnel, hoop house with the Spirit Garden in the foreground and the original high tunnel located behind the new structure.
Tess Beardell also constructed a new information kiosk at Sprout Garden that will provide information on current crops and announcements related to the Sprout Garden. Because the Sprout Garden is located along a high foot traffic route for current and prospective students, the kiosk promises to attract plenty of attention.
The recently completed Sprout Garden kiosk for increased visibility and information sharing of activities in the community garden.
Sustainability Tour Launched
Connecticut College has completed many impressive sustainability initiatives over the years that include the geothermal well field under Temple Green, the Klinki Pine carbon offset program in Costa Rica (a very novel idea when it was initiated in the late 1990s), and the new solar array on the facilities building. One commonality among these projects is that it is often hard to see what was done, so the projects often go unnoticed. To help improve awareness of the College’s past achievements, a new sustainability trail has been established for campus. The self-directed tour includes physical signage and online materials for the campus community and prospective students to learn about the College’s commitment to sustainability.
Newly installed Sustainability Trail signs located at Horizon House and Sprout Garden. Each sign includes a QR code linking to a website with the full list of tour locations.
CC Pledges to Reduce Plastic Use
This October, a resolution was passed by the President’s Sustainability Advisory Council to prohibit the sale of plastic water bottles on campus beginning in August 2021! However, none of the dorms in South Campus have functioning water fountains in them, which makes it more difficult for students to easily access drinking water. Filling stations are also hard to find at the Athletic Center.
The Office of Sustainability is readying for the ban on single-use, plastic water bottles due to take effect in August of 2021.
To address these problems, Darby Mack (’21) and the Energy, Transportation, and Climate Team in the Office of Sustainability got Sustainable Project Fund funding to install water taps in all four of the dorms in South Campus: Jane Addams, Freeman, Harkness, and Knowlton. Additional water-bottle-filling stations are also being added to the Athletic Center. The projects increase student access to safe drinking water, making it easier to pass on plastic, single-use, water bottles.
Nourshing Community Dialogue
Each year, the Office of Sustainability adopts a campaign theme to orient our outreach projects. This year, our theme was Nourishing Communities: Creating Equitable and Sustainable Food Systems. To enhance our understanding of sustainable food systems we had a variety of speakers virtually visit us to tell us about their own experiences as farmers and community leaders.
Naima Penniman from Soul Fire Farm gave the keynote address for our Nourishing Communities sustainability theme.
Our first speaker we had was Naima Penniman from Soul Fire Farm in upstate New York. Soul Fire Farm is a BIPOC led and centered community farm committed to ending racism and injustice in our food systems. They’re committed to community farming throughout upstate New York and urban planting beds to allow a more diverse community access to nutritious food options.
Our second speaker was Dishaun Harris, the founder of Root Life. In his workshop he discussed the importance of developing more equitable and inclusive food systems. We explored the intersections of food justice and physical and spiritual health and how to prepare meals that maximize benefits of both body and soul.
Our final installment of our speaker series was a panel of local farmers from New London County who taught us about their own experiences of resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. From collaboration between farms to expanded crop-share programs to online ordering, these farmers taught us about the strength of the local food system!
Fellows Propose Projects
Each year the Office of Sustainability offers a two-credit course, SUS 293 Applications in Sustainability. The class is designed to provide students, especially the Sustainability Student Fellows, an opportunity to learn about sustainability and how to implement these concepts on a college campus. This spring, the course was redesigned into a Career Informed Learning class loosely based on the TV show “Shark Tank.”
Thirteen students were partnered with one of four alumni mentors to develop and refine a project idea for a sustainability-related initiative. The three-to-four person groups worked with the alumni experts to consider various aspects of the project that included costs, logistical issues, benefactors and potential barriers to completion. At the end of semester, the students presented their project ideas in a short-format pitch to the four alumni experts and a group of student sustainability fellows.
The projects included a reusable food container plan for dining services, an expanded give-n-go plan focused on reusable student clothing and athletic gear, a compost system for the various coffee shops on campus, and an educational outreach effort focused on the general education requirement and first-year orientation. The Office of Sustainability plans to move forward with implementing several of these ideas next year. We thank (Hale Center for Career Development) help with development of the course idea.
SGA Supports Menstrual Products
Traditional menstrual products create unwanted waste and are expensive, but few options are presented to women. In their lifetime, the average American woman uses 12,000 to 16,000 disposable tampons, pads, and liners, which equates to spending between $1,920 to $3,840 total. Menstrual cups provide an effective, environmentally friendly alternative to disposable menstrual products. Based on a survey sent out to the student body, students are enthusiastically interested in receiving these types of products.
By collecting blood rather than absorbing it, menstrual cups remove the risk of toxic shock syndrome. These cups hold about 1 to 2 ounces of blood without leaking. In comparison, tampons and pads can only hold up to a third of an ounce. In April of 2021, the Office of Sustainability, in partnership with the Student Government Association and the Women’s Center, ordered 1,000 reusable menstrual cups from June Cup through the Sustainable Projects Fund. Over 200 menstrual cups were already distributed at the end of the academic year. This initiative will work to lessen the College’s waste and increase student accessibility to safe and affordable products. Much of the progress on this initiative was thanks to the hard work of Hans Horst-Mantz ‘21. The Office of Sustainability recognizes him for his important leadership with this project and many others.
Spokespeople Gets Rolling Again
Spokespeople was a student-run organization that operated as a bike share system and helped to repair bikes free of charge on campus. Though it has not been in operation for the past few years, we are working to get it up and running again!
With the help of Professor Doug Thompson and Darby Mack (’21), we have been working with a group of students to make it fully operational soon. This program will make it easier for students to have their bikes repaired while on campus. For those without their own bikes, this program will allow students to borrow a bike to use for a short period of time.
Freeman Receives 'Smart' Solar
The facility building solar array is not the only new green energy being introduced to campus this year. This summer, a unique solar array called the Smartflower will be installed south of Freeman adjacent to Freeman Green. The Smartflower is a sculpture of solar panels in a circular array, mimicking that of a flower, which rotates to track the sun and folds up at night to protect the panels.
This project was made possible by students in the Office of Sustainability, led by Avatar Simpson ’20. Purchased with the approval of the Student Government Association through the Sustainable Projects Fund, the Smartflower sculpture will offset 5,000 kWh per year, which will work towards our goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions.
About the Office of Sustainability
Founded in 2013, the Office of Sustainability is jointly managed by Margaret Bounds, Assistant Director of Sustainability and Doug Thompson, Suzi Oppenheimer ’56 Faculty Director of Sustainability. Student involvement is centered on our Sustainability Fellows Program where projects are pursued by groups of students in one of our SustainabiliTEAMS under the direction of a student team leader. If you have questions, suggestions or would like to get more involved, please contact the Office of Sustainability at firstname.lastname@example.org.