Recently, Pitzer College students Alexa Coughlin PZ ’12, Simone Fine PZ ’13, Jessica Grady-Benson PZ ’14, and Matthew Shubin PZ ’12 were hired to fill four internship positions working with the college’s environmental consultant in order to meet the sustainability requirements of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) and move in the direction of carbon neutrality.
The ACUPCC is a network of colleges and universities in the U.S. with the shared goal of promoting environmental sustainability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“Pitzer was one of the original 12 signatories of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment,” said Pitzer Environmental Analysis professor Paul Faulstich. Currently the ACUPCC has signatures from representatives at 672 institutions, including each of the Claremont Colleges except Scripps College.
On Oct. 12, Jim Marchant, Vice President of Student Affairs at Pitzer, asked students to submit brief applications for the short-term internships.
“In just over an hour I had gotten 30 applications,” Marchant said. Over the next two weeks, Marchant worked with the college’s sustainability consultant, Mike Wolfsen, to narrow down the applicant pool. “[Wolfsen] and I ranked the students based on their essays, GPA, resume, and so on, and we narrowed it down to eight students. From there, [Wolfsen] conducted individual interviews with the students and chose four of them to become interns. [He] was looking for students with diverse disciplinary backgrounds and strong resumes,” Marchant said.
Marchant said that the selected interns’ previous experience with sustainability projects was impressive.
Grady-Benson is Environmental Analysis major who worked on an urban farm in Connecticut teaching kids about environmental issues this summer. “The inventory is an important milestone for Pitzer’s goals of sustainability and I thought the internship would be a great opportunity to get involved. Right now we’re investigating the different areas of Pitzer’s operations that affect greenhouse emissions,” Grady-Benson said.
The four student interns will work with Wolfsen to meet the ACUPCC’s requirements, which include a two-part report. The first part of the report is a greenhouse gas emission inventory, which will pick up where the 2007 report left off. The second part will be Pitzer’s ‘action plan’ to work toward becoming entirely carbon neutral, or having no carbon footprint. “Having a zero carbon footprint is about balancing carbon release with an equivalent amount of sequestering,” said Faulstich,
The action plan will be a roadmap of concrete steps that students, faculty, and staff will need to take in order to limit the college’s carbon footprint.
Wolfsen is optimistic about Pitzer’s current carbon footprint. “As far as I know, we use less water than any of the other Claremont Colleges,” he said, citing Pitzer’s use of “xeriscaping,” a landscaping method designed to significantly reduce the amount of water the plants on campus need. However, he made it clear that the college has a long way to go before achieving carbon neutrality.
“It is a long-term goal to become carbon neutral. Somewhere in the range of 30 to 40 years out,” Wolfsen said, adding that for an institution like Pitzer or any of the other Claremont Colleges, becoming carbon neutral would be nearly impossible with modern technology.
In order to reach carbon neutrality without buying “carbon credits,” which are essentially permits that are intended to indirectly offset carbon emissions by paying others not to pollute, a number of technological innovations must be made, according to Wolfsen. Carbon credits are one option that the college has considered, but both Wolfsen and Faulstich opposed the idea.
“To me, carbon credits are a little less honorable than reducing carbon footprints through direct methods,” said Faulstich. Wolfsen agreed, explaining, “Carbon offsets do not offset bad climate behavior.”
Lindon Pronto PZ ’12, who serves on Pitzer’s Student Senate as an Environmental Senator and is the founder of a the new 5C Environmental Council, said that the second part of the college’s sustainability plan will be a chance for students to have more impact.
“Part two of the project is all about taking action to reduce our carbon footprint,” Pronto said. “Students will need to use less water for showers, unplug appliances whenever they’re not using them, and carpool more, for example. But the biggest way we can reduce our carbon footprint is by encouraging the dining hall to buy local products and find a way to reduce the amount of fuel used for the grills.”
Pronto added, “The number of applicants for this internship position proves how much interest there is in sustainability on campus. The 5C Environmental Council will act as a forum for students to discuss their ideas, receive funding for projects, and meet other students at the 5Cs [who are] interested in sustainability.”
Faulstich said, “If we move forward in a meaningful way it’s not going to be an easy transition. It’s going to take a radical change to achieve carbon neutrality. We don’t want to greenwash. Generally, I think Pitzer walks the talk, but there’s absolutely room for improvement.”