CMC and Scripps students push for higher commitments to carbon neutrality, sustainability

A row of solar panels on top of a building.
Scripps and CMC students are pushing their schools to make stronger commitments to sustainability. Like several other of the 5Cs, Pitzer College has installed solar panels on the roofs of some of their buildings, pictured above. (Courtesy: Pitzer College)

On the heels of Earth Week, Scripps College and Claremont McKenna College are considering student proposals to further their carbon emissions reduction efforts.

Scripps is moving to join the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment, a network of schools working to address climate change, Scripps Associated Students sustainability chair Sondra Abruzzo SC ’19 said. The rest of the 5Cs have already committed.

The commitment obligates colleges to develop a framework for achieving carbon neutrality “as soon as possible.”

Scripps’ Sustainability Committee is beginning a yearlong process to join the commitment by drafting a budget proposal for the Presidential Budget Advisory Committee, which would then have to be approved by President Lara Tiedens and the board of trustees, Abruzzo said.

However, a representative from Second Nature said no one from Scripps has reached out to the organization about taking the pledge.

“I’m happy that they’re strongly considering it, but we should have a conversation prior to them signing so they fully understand what the requirements are,” said Steve Muzzy, Second Nature’s senior manager of climate programs.  

Despite the committee’s efforts, students are skeptical of the college’s overall efforts toward sustainability compared to the rest of the consortium, Abruzzo said.

“Scripps is so green … it looks like we’re so sustainable. Why are we the only the school that’s not signed on to a carbon commitment? Students want to see that,” Abruzzo said. “As a liberal arts institution that promotes social justice and action by students, this is a really great way to show you care.”

Both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 SAS bodies backed joining the commitment.

Scripps spokesperson Rachael Warecki declined to comment on Scripps’ carbon neutrality and sustainability plans, its decision not to sign on to the commitment, data on its greenhouse gas emissions and its collaboration or lack thereof with the other 5Cs on sustainability.

When asked about sustainability and carbon neutrality for a TSL opinion article, Warecki said via email administrators has met with students about the topic “on multiple occasions.”

“Scripps has encouraged these students to work with the sustainability committee on proposals regarding carbon reduction,” she said.

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ASCMC is also pushing CMC toward more ambitious sustainability goals. The student government unanimously passed a resolution last week supporting moving up CMC’s carbon neutrality target date from 2050, its current goal, to 2030.

This resolution is the first one ASCMC has passed in four years.

ASCMC President Dina Rosin CM ’20 said via email that the resolution “was an entirely student-driven effort to push for a more sustainable campus.

“[I] am ready to work with college administrators to ensure that student voices are being valued at the highest level,” she said.

ASCMC Environmental Affairs Committee members Sam Becker CM ’19 and Andrew Bradjan CM ’22 presented the proposal to the Campus Planning and Facilities Committee of the board of trustees a few days later, with the ultimate goal of having it included in the school’s Campus Master Plan.

“The [board of trustees] committee seemed very interested in what we had to say,” Becker said after the presentation. “We’re excited to continue to engage with this idea moving forward in the Master Plan update process.”

CMC spokesperson Peter Hong said CMC is analyzing its progress toward carbon neutrality and looking into the viability of moving its carbon neutrality target date to 2030.

Becker and Bradjan cited carbon emissions progress from peer institutions, including Pomona College, which has a 2030 target, as evidence that a more aggressive carbon neutrality target is needed.

“We feel that in order for CMC to continue its stated goal of leadership, it needs to adopt a more ambitious carbon neutrality goal,” Bradjan said.

Pomona committed to the 2030 target in 2017, making it the only 5C to do so. According to data the college reported last year, Pomona has made the greatest reductions of the consortium, cutting net emissions by 43% since 2008. Pitzer College, which has a 2050 carbon neutrality target, has also made significant progress on carbon reduction, reporting a 41% decrease in emissions since 2008.

Scripps and Harvey Mudd College have not adopted a fixed carbon neutrality target date.

HMC has not reported emissions data to Second Nature, but is in the process of finalizing a 10-year emissions audit, according to Tanja Srebotnjak, director of the Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design at HMC. The school hasn’t adopted a comprehensive Climate Action Plan, even though the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment calls for signatories to develop one.

Haidee Clauer contributed reporting.

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