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Sustainability Efforts in the Last Five Years

Vassar’s faculty and students have a long history of engaging with environmental issues in the classroom and in the field. In fact, while serving as a Trustee of the College, Ellen Swallow Richards, Vassar class of 1870, proposed and gained approval for a College sewage treatment facility to avoid contaminating local waterways with campus waste. Richards work as a sanitation chemist also resulted in the development of the first state water-quality standards in the country and the first modern municipal sewage treatment plant. This spirit continues and is reflected in the work spearheaded by the Office of Sustainability today. The Vassar Office of Sustainability strives to instill and support a holistic sustainability ethic across campus—among students, faculty and staff alike—while its immediate responsibility is to minimize the College’s environmental impact.

We are proud to report significant strides have been made over the past five years across multiple sectors, including:

Energy
  • Power Purchase Agreement with local Hydro power plant; 10% of College electricity through this renewable source (2015)
  • Power Purchase Agreement in development with a solar farm which will produce another 12% of campus electricity when complete
  • 2017 NYSERDA grant to complete a Campus Energy Master Plan, extend campus electricity metering, build comprehensive database of energy use on campus
  • LED lighting retrofit projects in the following buildings (2015 and 2016) have reduced campus consumption by 1.4 million kwh (7% of campus electricity usage), saved over $200k per year, and mitigated more than 1000 metric tons of eCO2
    • Rockefeller Hall
    • Walker Field House
    • Ely Hall
    • Powerhouse Theater
    • Athletic and Fitness Center
    • Library Special Collections
  • Exterior LED lighting throughout campus parking lots (2015)
  • Convert Watson apartments from Home heating oil to natural gas; the Watson apartments accounted for 44% of heating oil use on campus.
  • Electricity metering has been installed in all residence halls with easily accessible web interface; additional metering is being installed in academic buildings (2016 – 2017)
  • Demand Response energy agreement with the state through EnerNoc (College agrees to reduce energy use during high demand periods) (2015)
  • Wrote a white paper on the use of internal carbon tax, “Internal Carbon Accounting at Small Liberal Arts Colleges”, which has been the driving force behind this movement on other campuses (although we have not implemented anything ourselves.)
  • Installation of a solar array and battery storage system on the CAAD Collaboratory trailer through a participatory workshop, allowing the space to be ‘off-the-grid’ for events and programming
  • Led the writing and passage of the 2016 Climate Action Plan, setting a goal for Carbon Neutrality by 2030.
Landscape Related
  • 1000+ trees planted on the Ecological Preserve funded by the NYSDEC and in partnership with the SCA (2013)
  • 2 Trees4Tribs projects – planting trees on the ecological preserve and by Sunset Lake to enhance surface water quality 2015 and 2017; funded by NYSDEC
  • Campus is a certified Tree Campus USA – through the Arbor Day foundation (2013 - ongoing)
  • Established about 4 acres of naturalized landscape on campus (2014)
  • NYDEC Hudson River Estuary Program Grant to write a storm water plan for the campus and develop a green infrastructure site design for the Vassar Barns (2016-2018)
Waste Reduction
  • Worked with campus dining and student orgs to reduce food waste and promote composting
  • Worked with purchasing office to use green products: toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, cleaning supplies etc.
  • SWAPR – runs the annual recycling event when students move out at the end of the academic year
  • Sponsor zero-waste events, including Founder’s Day
Curriculum & Campus Engagement
  • Supported 2015 Course ENST/GEOG 254: Sustainability Planning & Practice - including 3 day field trip to NYC on sustainability efforts in the City
  • Launched the EcoLeader program in collaboration with the Vassar Greens and the Environmental Cooperative - a volunteer leadership development group that supports 6-12 students through learning social change skills and taking action on campus and in the community
  • Collaboration on bringing guest speakers to campus for lectures and events including Vandana Shiva, David Orr, Majora Carter, and Hunter Lovins
  • Alumnae/i Career panels on opportunities in the sustainability field (2014, 2017, 2018)
  • Ford and URSI Summer placements to support campus sustainability efforts on carbon pricing, stormwater planning, and energy management (2015, 2016)
  • Coaching of the Vassar Solar Initiative to have their proposal for on-campus solar be approved by the Board of Trustees (2016-2017)
  • Hosted the 2016 Poughkeepsie Community Wealth Building Summit bringing together 200 community members and leaders from the region’s anchor institutions for a day-long conference.
Other
  • Bike Repair Station installed on campus – 2015
  • Sustainability Office manages the Bike Repair Shop on campus (2017)
  • Electric Car charging station to be installed this fall (2017)
  • Indoor Winter Farmer’s Market established
  • Achieved STARS Silver through comprehensive survey of college operations. (2014)
  • STARS is the national sustainability framework for evaluating the sustainability of colleges
  • Currently working on the 3-year update, with a goal of achieving STARS Gold
  • Supporting documentation of LEED Points for Bridge Building, Sanders Physics, and New England