Pitzer Ramps Up Sustainability Efforts

With the recent certification of Pitzer College’s Phase II residence halls as LEED Platinum, Pitzer has the most mixed-use LEED-certified buildings of any elite liberal arts college, according to a press release published by the college.

But the college’s efforts to become more environmentally friendly do not stop there. Students, faculty and the administration are all undertaking projects to increase the school’s sustainability.

The Phase II buildings, which were completed this summer, include features such as a gray-water reclamation system, along with a green roof and living wall to provide natural insulation, said Larry Burik, Vice President of Campus Facilities at Pitzer. He said that solar panels that are part of the new construction generate 73.5 kilowatt-hours of energy, compared to the Phase I panels, which produce 17 kilowatt-hours.

Environmental analysis professor Paul Faulstich said that the LEED certification is “a way of us holding ourselves accountable and wanting to achieve a particular standard.”

He added, “Beyond the Pitzer campus, it’s also a way of signaling other institutions ... that this is an important thing to do, that it’s valued by students and faculty and staff, and that it is an investment that is worthwhile.”

Another environmental initiative at Pitzer is the establishment of the Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability, Faulstich said. The Conservancy will be created from part of the Bernard Biological Field Station, land located north of Foothill Boulevard that is currently owned by the Claremont University Consortium.

“When Pitzer’s president learned that the Claremont University Consortium was interested in getting rid of their oversight of lands, she realized it was an opportunity for us to step in and get as much of that as we could afford and make a commitment to preserving it, thereby setting a standard for how that land could be used,” Faulstich said.

The Conservancy will partner with researchers and activists in Southern California and throughout the world to promote restoration and ecological design in the region.

Faulstich and his Restoring Nature class continue to work on the Outback, the undeveloped area in the northeastern corner of Pitzer’s campus that contains chaparral and coastal sage scrub.

“The new development had really negative impacts on the size of the Outback,” Faulstich said. “This is a way of the institution taking some accountability of that impact and trying to rectify it in some small way.”

Students in the class are currently selecting native species to plant in the Outback and identifying which plots of land they will use for planting.

Meanwhile, other students are working to implement some of the recommendations outlined in a climate action plan created last spring. The plan, written by a hired consultant and four student interns, made recommendations for reducing the school’s greenhouse gas emissions, with a goal of cutting emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Jess Grady-Benson PZ ’14, one of the interns who worked on the plan and a member of Pitzer’s Ecological Center, said that short-term priorities are education and awareness. She said that educational programs, including first-year orientation programs, can help students learn to live on campus in a sustainable way.

Matthew Shubin PZ ’13, who also worked on the plan, said that even with the LEED-certified buildings, “There are still larger issues that are a little bit more difficult. Those usually come down to personal habits. Are people utilizing the systems that are there, like the composting, the recycling? Are people actually turning off lights?”

To coordinate student and faculty efforts, Grady-Benson said that she would like to see the establishment of an office of sustainability at Pitzer.

“I think that’s something that will push our efforts forward,” she said.

She said such an office could bring together all the ecologically minded student organizations at Pitzer, including the Ecological Center, Garden Club, Beekeeping Club, Composting Club and Green Bike Program.

Grady-Benson said that she thinks that Pitzer students take an interest in sustainability because of the overall values of the student body. 

Shubin added that Pitzer’s emphasis on “broad humanities-based analysis of large social issues” contributes to its focus on sustainability. 

“If you examine intensive economic and social issues from the perspective of the social sciences, you often find that conspicuous resource consumption leads to a) unhealthy environments and b) unhealthy relationships between people and their environments,” he said. 

Faulstich said he would like to see even more of an emphasis on sustainability at Pitzer. 

“This kind of radical change that is necessary doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “In order for change to be real and meaningful, it has to be integrated into the culture.” 

"On the flip side, these are critical and urgent concerns, and we do have to be mindful of attending to them promptly," he said.