Oberlin Environmental Sustainability Up to Par?
Oberlin exceeds many of its peer institutions in environmental sustainability: it is home of the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies and an environmentally-conscious student body. When college juniors Morgan Pitts and Travis Grout compared the environmental policies of six other colleges this Winter Term, however, they found that many Oberlin practices, including the efficiency of buildings and the central heating system, need improvement.
Pitts came up with the project idea in collaboration with Environmental Studies Chair David Orr. Pitts and Grout served as the only students in the Environmental Sustainability Work Group over Winter Term. The group is charged with generating specific recommendations on how to meet the Strategic Plan’s sustainability goals.
Over the course of three weeks, Pitts and Grout traveled to St. Olaf College, Middlebury College, Northland College, Carleton College, Brown University and Berea College. At each institution, they met with students and faculty members and observed energy usage, heating methods and building practices.
During the trip, Pitts observed that these schools are dealing with the same challenges as Oberlin. “[It was beneficial to see that] other people are frustrated with similar things and are working toward similar goals,” he said.
Pitts and Grout said they were especially impressed with Middlebury College’s green practices. The school produces its own heat by burning wood that is a waste product in the area. Additionally, the school gives free compact florescent light bulbs, which are much more energy-efficient than regular bulbs, to all students. This saves thousands of dollars in energy costs.
The two students also investigated the larger question of how to encourage an environmental ethic on campus. Grout found that the solution lies in involving all community members.
“In general, it’s really important that the College not only have a policy that is favorable towards sustainability,” he said, “but it really has to get that through to every single department and every employee of the College.”
At Oberlin, sustainable practices sometimes get shortchanged because of budget restrictions.
“Oberlin wants to be very environmentally conscious, but when push comes to shove financially speaking, the environment is sacrificed,” Pitts says. He offered the example of the new Union Street housing, in which many green features in original plans were cut from the final product.
Pitts and Grout emphasized that adding sustainable features doesn’t necessarily mean creating a higher budget.
“For the administration, the single biggest thing is to overcome the idea that green is more expensive. You can do the right thing for the planet and the right thing for the economic bottom line at the same time,” said Grout.
Pitts and Grout will present their views on Oberlin’s current sustainability status, possible ways to “green” the campus further and proposed long-term goals for Oberlin Monday, March 13 in Hallock Auditorium. Nancy Dye and student trustees will receive these recommendations in a written proposal.
Grout hopes the presentation and proposal will give weight to existing student efforts to make the campus more sustainable.
“If we can add a little bit more to the critical mass of evidence the College needs to go forward with a more proactive agenda, then that would be great,” he said.
While Grout and Pitts found room for improvement in Oberlin’s move toward environmental sustainability, they also said that they were impressed by the efforts students are already making at Oberlin.
“At some of the schools we visited, it seemed like administration was
leading instead of the students,” said Grout. “Here, it’s the