Pomona to Select Carbon Neutrality Deadline

Although the Pomona College Board of Trustees vetoed the option to divest its endowment from funds that include fossil fuels, Pomona is making an effort to decrease its carbon footprint. The administration will soon identify a target date for achieving carbon neutrality as part of a push for sustainability on campus, and the college hired Michelle McFadden to fill the new position of Energy Manager of Facilities.

These developments are due in part to Pomona President David Oxtoby’s 2007 signature on the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which was a document signed by a network of schools to move toward sustainability and carbon neutrality on their campuses.

“That started a lot of the sustainability initiatives on campus,” said Ginny Routhe, who was hired as Sustainability Director last year.

According to its website, the ACUPCC has signatures from representatives of 674 institutions, including all of the Claremont Colleges except Scripps College. When Oxtoby first signed the commitment, Pomona was not required to make a timetable for moving toward neutrality, but the ACUPCC has been pushing institutions to commit to a date. 

After considering the issue for several years, the members of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (PACS) voted yesterday on a target date for achieving neutrality. 

“We set the date based on federal- and state-mandated emissions standards deadlines and climate science, as well as the knowledge that to turn climate change around we need to do as much as we can as soon as possible,” said Routhe, who sits on PACS with other administrators, students, faculty and staff members. 

Routhe said that PACS hopes to make an official recommendation to Oxtoby next week in regard to carbon neutrality. 

Claremont McKenna College and Pitzer College have set 2050 as their neutrality deadline, according to the ACUPCC website. 

In the shorter term, Routhe said that she has been looking at ways to cut up to 70 percent of the energy used by buildings on campus, which constitute half of the college’s emissions in total.

“We’re [also] talking about RECs [Renewable Energy Certificates] or working out some sort of power purchase agreement with our utilities,” Routhe said. “This year we could perhaps work out an arrangement where, even if we have the same level of power use, we could have 100 percent green energy.”

McFadden was hired as Energy Manager of Facilities to address the logistics of moving toward carbon neutrality. Pomona will be the first of the 5Cs to set a date for carbon neutrality.

“It’s a new concept,” McFadden said of her position. “It’s somewhat nebulous. It’s like, we want to save energy, but there hasn’t been much engineering or calculation behind it. My position is to provide key guidance to facilities in their strategic plans for the college for capital improvements and infrastructure projects.”

She said that she is tasked with analyzing ways to save energy from a holistic viewpoint, such as considering the long term energy costs of new construction projects.

“When we’re building something, yeah, it might be cheaper to build it one way, but there’s going to be a larger energy cost for that,” she said. “Looking at it long term, energy is going to be more expensive. So a larger cost up front can be a better investment.”

Before coming to Pomona, McFadden worked as the Energy Services Administrator at Caltech, where, in addition to performing other administrative tasks, she helped run the third-largest green revolving fund in the United States. A green revolving fund is money set aside to finance facility upgrades that reduce an institution’s overall environmental impact.

McFadden said that she sought her position at Pomona because it offers the opportunity to start an energy management program from the ground up.

“I think Pomona has sustainability in the forefront of their plans,” she said. “It’s not just an afterthought.”

She said she has been enjoying her time on campus since being hired in June. 

“I’m just not used to students wanting to be so involved,” she said.

McFadden will host a discussion with Routhe about sustainability and energy management on campus Oct. 23 in the Frank Dining Hall Blue Room, at which they hope to dispel some myths about saving energy that they have heard around campus.

“There are some half-truths and some totally bogus things that are detrimental to sustainability being spread around the campus,” McFadden said. “We want to do a sort of ‘MythBusters’ thing for our energy usage.”

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