Profile: Pomona’s Sustainability Action Fellowship

Last year, 29 students took part in Pomona College’s Sustainability Action Fellowship, a program organized by Pomona Sustainability Coodinator Bowen Close as a way for students to get involved in the creation of the college’s Sustainability Action Plan.The fellowship was organized into six groups of four to six students. Each group addressed either energy, water, waste, education and outreach, purchasing, or environmental justice.Each group was responsible for developing the first draft of a chapter of Pomona’s first Sustainability Action Plan by researching what other schools have done, senior theses, the school’s Sustainability Audit which was conducted during the summer of 2008, and other sources.Although the President’s Climate Commitment, signed by President Oxtoby on April 20, 2007, required Pomona College to conduct an emissions audit of the campus and prepare a climate action plan—which were turned in on Sept. 15, 2008 and Sept. 15, 2009, respectively—the Sustainability Action Plan is a more all-encompassing document.“I knew I would need a lot of support and input in the creation of our sustainability plan—our goals, directions and priorities,” said Close, who helped conduct the summer audit and was almost entirely responsible for setting up and running the Sustainability Fellowship.Close added that the plan created an opportunity for students interested in sustainability.“I also knew that students would be really excited about getting involved, and learning more about how the College works and how we could move forward,” Close continued. “The Fellowship is a great way for students who are interested in sustainability as a career field to get some practical experience in the area.”All Sustainability Fellows had to help draft their particular chapter of the Sustainability Action Plan, while those students who opted to take part in the Fellowship for credit were also required to submit two “Extended Strategies” detailing a particular sustainability measure within their category (energy, waste, etc.) that they thought Pomona College should take.Since the completion of the 2008-2009 Sustainability Fellowship, Pomona’s Board of Trustees has approved a new environmental policy, which officially created the Sustainability Integration Office (SIO), headed by Close, and finalized Pomona’s Climate Action Plan.Close is currently working on fine-tuning the Sustainability Action Plan with the help of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (PACS), a group of environmentally-inclined faculty and students, and four paid assistants—Joanna Ladd PO ’10, Wendy Lovinger PO ’12, Samantha Meyer PO ’10 and Nate Wilairat PO ’11. The plan will come up for review in May 2010.Students who took part were generally positive about the experience.“It’s important to have a group like the Sustainability Fellowship in and of itself,” Energy Fellow Sam Gordon PO ‘11 said. “It illustrates that sustainability is a priority of both Pomona and Pomona students.”However, Gordon also said he was occasionally confused by the particulars of how the suggestions would be put into action.“It was hard to understand the mechanisms behind the changes that would be made. It wasn’t exactly clear where it was going, and we didn’t know enough about the school, though Bowen did a great job explaining it to us,” Gordon said. “Bowen has a really tough job….She’s been treading new paths and doing a really impressive job.”Wilairat, who was a Waste Fellow, added that his involvement gave him a new appreciation of the difficulties the administration faces in enacting changes in policy.“The Fellowship was a great way to have a hand in determining where the college goes in terms of sustainability,” Wilairat said. “It definitely made me realize the not insignificant hurdles the administration has to deal with, and showed me that you have to respect the opinions of the many different groups involved, like the housekeepers or dining staff. You can’t just force them to pick up all the composting; you have to take into account the extra work that goes into that.”Eleanor Hughes PO ’11 emphasized the importance of integrating sustainability into Pomona’s programs and policies.“Social justice and environmental sustainability aren’t compartmentalized—they need to be looked at in a holistic way. Basically, environmental justice wants what everyone else wants but in a fair way, so not at someone else’s expense or on the backs of workers here. Sustainability should be a community effort. Most schools that have launched groups like the Sustainability Fellowship don’t have committees that deal with environmental justice, so Pomona was one of the first.”Close expressed her satisfaction with the Fellowship process, saying that the input from many of the proposals had been included.“The student teams did wonderful work—the form of the plan is quite different than the form of the papers that were turned in, but the research and conclusions of the Fellowship groups from last year were invaluable in beginning to set up the format for the plan and for understanding the potential for various things the College could be doing to move forward,” she said.Close cited her excitement about putting together the plan, which will establish goals for the College in various categories and help the SIO determine priorities and targets for moving forward, and mentioned that there will be a variety of opportunities for students, staff and faculty to give input on the draft of the plan and its components.Although the fellowship is on hold for this year, Close said she hopes to bring it back next year.“We’ll need to figure out what role it takes,” Close said. “For instance, perhaps it will become a yearly course focusing on a variety of campus sustainability projects, or perhaps it will become a partnership between my office and PEAR or another student group….As we finish the plan and move towards implementing it, I’m hoping the Fellowship can be revived to provide students with valuable experiences in working on projects and programs to help us reach our goals.”

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