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Fossil Fuels Update

September 8, 2014

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:

Over the course of the 2013–14 academic year, Smith students, faculty and staff engaged in a series of campus conversations in relation to the worldwide campaign to divest campuses, communities, and institutions from fossil fuels. The President’s Office, the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability (CEEDS) and Divest Smith College collaborated on panel discussions and educational sessions to understand the potential benefits and tradeoffs of fossil fuels divestment.

Over the years, student leadership has been instrumental in bringing attention to the imperatives of climate change. Last spring, student representatives of Divest Smith College met with a group of trustees to discuss their climate action goals. They asked the Board to consider making an endowment investment in a sustainable investment fund. We are proud to announce that, in June, the Investment Committee of the Board unanimously approved that request. The Board’s investment committee approved $1 million to be invested in a sustainable global equities fund managed by Investure, the firm that oversees Smith’s endowment investments. Today, nearly 9 percent or $150 million of the college’s endowment portfolio is invested with managers whose decisions are guided by environmental, social or governance (ESG) factors.

The Board’s investment decision is one in a series of commitments Smith has made in service of a sustainable future. In 2010, Smith adopted an ambitious 20-year plan to reduce the college’s environmental impact. Our “Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan” defines benchmarks the college has pledged to achieve by 2030 under the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. Through the leadership of students, faculty and staff, and with the commitment of our entire community, we are making significant progress toward those and other sustainability goals.

As an educational institution, one of the most significant environmental impacts Smith can have is as an innovator, leading-edge mover, and disseminator of knowledge. Our Bechtel Environmental Classroom, completed in 2012, is one of the greenest buildings in the United States. It is only the fifth structure in the world to complete the Living Building Challenge. The facility, along with the Center for the Environment (CEEDS) and the newly approved major in environmental science and policy, attest to Smith’s commitment to produce environmentally educated leaders.

We extend this commitment to our campus operations as well. At this time, we remain reliant on fossil fuel for heat and electricity. However, by generating these via co-generation, we have significantly increased our energy efficiency and independence, reducing our need to purchase electricity from the grid. We began co-generating heat and power in 2008; in 2013, the system began year-round operation, supplying not only heat and hot water but chilled water for air conditioning. Where we formerly purchased all of our electricity on the open market, in 2013, we produced about 17 million kilowatt hours (kwh) and purchased only 7 million kwh, a 70 percent reduction of purchased electricity and an annual savings to the budget of more than $1 million.

Solar power is also contributing to our sustainability goals. In 2009, we located 30 solar panels on the Campus Center. In 2013, we augmented this array with 1,500 additional panels on the Indoor Track and Tennis Building and Ford Hall. Combined, these solar panels generate electricity sufficient to power 53 average U.S. households. Each year, they help us avoid the same amount of carbon emissions absorbed by 77 acres of forest.  As an added benefit, Smith will realize savings of $20,000 annually over the next 20 years.

Local sourcing of food is also a sustainability goal at Smith. Dining Services currently obtains about 22 percent of its food from local, sustainable sources; with grant support from the Kendall Foundation, they are seeking to increase their local produce, fish and meat sources. Doing so will reduce fuel consumption as well as supporting local family farms and producers. Since 2001, Smith’s recycling and food-waste composting programs have cut in half the amount of solid waste we send to the landfill.

The challenges of global climate change are urgent and complex. At Smith, even as we seek to reduce our carbon footprint, fossil energy consumption remains a significant and undeniable fact of our operation as a residential college. But every step we take, whether dramatic or modest, contributes to the collective motivation to address one of the most pressing challenges of our time. We will continue to reduce our own reliance on gas and oil, take leadership in sustainability education, advocate for economic and policy measures that curb greenhouse gas emissions, and model solutions that contribute to a sustainable future.


Kathleen McCartney

Elizabeth Eveillard ’69
Chair, Smith College Board of Trustees