Smith supports a range of initiatives focused on countering and mitigating the effects of climate change, the most important, perhaps, being its commitment to being climate-neutral by 2030. Sustainability is an integral part of the college’s strategic plan, and the college has several working-groups dedicated to moving its carbon-neutrality and sustainability goals forward.
Carbon Neutrality Strategies
Smith and four other leading liberal arts colleges have formed a pioneering collaborative called the New England College Renewable Partnership (NECRP) that will allow the colleges to offset 46,000 megawatt hours per year of their collective electrical needs with electricity created at a new solar power facility to be built in Farmington, Maine. This agreement is the first ever example of a collaborative purchase of solar energy in New England Higher Education, and one of the first such collaborations in the United States. Project details can be found on the website that Smith student Larissa Holland '20 developed as part of her special studies on the Farmington Solar Project.
Amherst, Bowdoin, Hampshire, Smith and Williams colleges created a partnership that will result in the first collaborative purchase of New England-generated solar electricity by higher-education institutions. The Farmington solar project will produce enough electricity to power about 5,000 New England homes each year.
Each of the five colleges will purchase a portion of this electricity to reduce their college’s carbon emissions from campus electricity use. Smith will purchase about 30% of its electricity through the project. This is all of the electricity that the college currently does not produce on site. Solar panels on Smith’s campus already provide the equivalent of 2 percent of Smith’s electric use, and the rest is generated by our co-gen plant. This will reduce our carbon footprint by 10% each year, bringing us closer to our goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
A critical component of Smith's 2030 Carbon Neutrality Plan is a complete transition to renewable energy sources. In March 2020, we completed our District Energy Master Plan which details multiple options wherein net carbon neutrality would be achieved by 2030.
We are pursuing a campus district energy system that can heat and cool the majority of our buildings using renewable and local energy. The recommended option is a transition to a district low-temperature, hot-water (LTHW) system and an expansion of the current district chilled-water (CHW) system. A geothermal (ground source) heat pump system is proposed to provide the LTHW and CHW while also capturing and recovering some waste-heat on campus. A closed-loop vertical geothermal heat exchanger (GHX) system is proposed to be installed in the athletic fields as the heat source/sink for the heat-pump system, and the existing chiller plant is proposed to be expanded to house the new heat-pump chillers.
Traditional boilers and chillers are proposed to be used to provide the peak heating and cooling loads and to balance the annual load on the geothermal field. A sewage heat recovery system and a CHW thermal storage (TES) system is also proposed to be utilized to balance the overall system and offset the size of the GHX field.
The Study Group on Climate Change recommended that Smith College develop an internalized cost of carbon emissions—such as a carbon-proxy price—to help guide major capital budget management and other decision-making processes. In the spring of 2018 the Sustainability Committee selected $70 per MTCO2e (rising over time) as the proxy carbon price for Smith College. In 2018, President Kathleen McCartney also signed the Higher Education Carbon Pricing Endorsement Initiative to demonstrate Smith College’s support for carbon pricing.
A proxy carbon price is a tool that acknowledges and internalizes the social, ecological and/or economic costs of carbon pollution in financial decisions. The proxy carbon price does not impose an actual fee. Instead it converts carbon emissions into the common metric of money to inform decisions. Planners at colleges and universities are constantly making decisions that ask them to weigh different types of products, technologies or fuels. Using a proxy carbon price strategy allows them to include the likely carbon emissions as an additional cost of each choice. Institutions can use a proxy carbon price to directly represent the cost to society from climate change damages, to model the financial risks posed by future carbon regulation and/or align decision-making with an institution’s strategic climate goals.
At Smith, we use our campus as a classroom, positioning students at the forefront of our innovations. Breanna Parker ’18 (pictured above) completed an honors thesis called Designing a Proxy Carbon Price Strategy for Smith College, advised by Alex Barron (ES&P), Susan Sayre (Economics) and Dano Weisbord (Executive Director of Campus Sustainability and Campus Planning). Parker found that while many businesses and governments are using carbon price strategies, only a small but growing number of academic institutions are using them. Her thesis explored how a proxy carbon price might be implemented at Smith College and included background research, stakeholder interviews and pilot projects. Parker’s thesis won a national Campus Sustainability Research Award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in 2018. Parker's work also laid the foundation for a collaborative paper published in the peer reviewed journal Elementa.
Smith College is also involved in The Carbon Pricing in Higher Education Working Group, which brings together stakeholders from the higher education sector and experts in carbon pricing policy. It is led by Yale University, Second Nature and Swarthmore College and supported by the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, with partnership from Smith College, Arizona State University, University of British Columbia, University College London and George Washington University. The role of the working group is to support colleges and universities that wish to model carbon pricing on campus, and to explore the role of U.S. higher education in advancing carbon pricing on a state, regional or federal level.
The working group developed tools and resources that higher education institutions can use to model internal carbon prices. By modeling carbon prices, campuses create a community of practice that may inform potential policy and educate students on the benefits and challenges of pricing carbon. Smith students and faculty have developed several resources for this toolkit.
“In an economist’s perfect world, everyone would have to pay for their carbon pollution—thus encouraging everyone to take steps to reduce emissions. We don’t yet live in that world, but Smith can lead by ensuring that we account for climate change when we make important decisions.”—Alex Barron, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, SGCC Member
Committee on Sustainability
The Committee on Sustainability is concerned with the best long-term use of finite natural resources and the college's impact on the local, regional and global environment. It identifies, implements and evaluates approaches for increasing Smith's commitment to sustainability in all areas of the campus, including (but not limited to) construction, transportation, materials and energy use, waste management, purchasing, investment and the campus curriculum. It will also monitor the college’s progress toward meeting the recommendations from the Study Group on Climate Change and report annually to the community.
Committee on Sustainability Members
Alexander Barron, Assistant Professor, Environmental Science & Policy
Timothy Johnson, Director, Smith College Botanic Garden
Denise McKahn, Associate Professor, Engineering
Chris Aiken, Professor, Dance
Amy Rhodes, Professor, Geosciences
Dano Weisbord, Director of Sustainability and Campus Planning
Jim Gray, Associate VP of Facilities and Operations
Study Group on Climate Change
In the fall of 2015, President McCartney announced the formation of the Study Group on Climate Change (SGCC), a group made up of staff, faculty, trustees, alumnae and students. President McCartney tasked the SGCC with facilitating a campus-wide examination of how Smith, as an educational institution and a residential college, could most effectively respond to the challenge of global climate change. Charged with more than just the creation of a climate action plan, the SGCC considered climate adaptation and mitigation, curriculum and co-curriculum integration, faculty and research, advocacy, investment and community engagement. Few issues at Smith College have been given the kind of dedicated time and resources that sustainability and climate change have, through the work of the SGCC. The study group spent a year gathering input from hundreds of students, faculty, staff and trustees, consulting with experts and conducting research to develop a series of recommendations that best allows Smith to contribute to climate solutions, locally and globally.
By implementing these comprehensive recommendations, the college will integrate climate action and sustainability across all aspects of the college—education, research, operations, financial investments and engagement of the community.
Planning and reporting is central to Smith’s climate action goals. Reporting is completed for both the Smith community and external bodies, such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
This report, completed as part of the work of the Study Group on Climate Change, outlines various ways that the college can decarbonize how it heats, cools and lights its buildings, all toward meeting its goal of being climate-neutral by 2030.
This is an update of the college’s Sustainability & Climate Action Management Plan (see below). It details the college’s progress on energy efficiency, water conservation, waste diversion, and local food, as well as as academic and co-curricular offerings.
This document was written soon after the founding of the Campus Sustainability Office and coincided with former President Carol Christ’s signing of the Carbon Commitment. It outlines the sources of Smith’s carbon footprint and created the first look at how to reach 2030 carbon neutrality goals.
AASHE Silver Rating
In Spring 2020, Smith earned a silver rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for its overall sustainability performance. The prestigious ranking is based on such measures as curriculum, research, operations, public engagement and leadership. Smith was recognized for its reduced energy consumption in campus buildings, the formation of a committee on investor responsibility, and the proportion of faculty members (now 37 percent) engaged in research on sustainability.