If you ask the question, “What is happening at Whitman College in the way of sustainability?” set aside some time for a lengthy answer because there is a lot happening in many different areas of the campus, from energy use, to water savings, recycling, and encouraging students to engage with the outdoors.
Each year, all the metrics are consolidated and analyzed by Whitman’s Office of Sustainability, to compile and compare against past use, to develop future projections and inform best practices.
With the campus using 13,000 megawatt hours of electricity yearly, and 600,000 therms of natural gas, energy is one of the most important resources managed both in terms of cost and to conform to the Whitman College Climate Action Plan adopted in 2016.
This plan lays out a roadmap to achieve the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 by decreasing energy use, increasing renewable energy generation and purchasing, reducing reliance on fossil fuel-powered transportation and maintenance equipment, and offsetting remaining greenhouse gas emissions that are necessary to fulfill the college’s educational mission (for example, those from study-abroad travel).
Energy savings increase yearly from efforts like converting to LED lights, installing efficient heating and air conditioning units, using energy efficient appliances, insulating buildings and putting in solar panels. A robust remote building automatic monitoring system allows buildings heat and cooling systems to be scheduled and adjusted individually for energy savings and the comfort of the inhabitants.
Another energy saving project is a pool heat recovery system at the Baker Ferguson Athletic Center. New buildings like the Cleveland Commons Dining Hall and the Stanton Hall are on track to achieve LEED Gold and Platinum sustainable building certifications, respectively. On farm land that is part of Whitman College’s trust, 72 windmills have been installed, generating six times the amount of electricity the campus uses a year.
Food is a focus too. Bon Appetit, the food service and catering partner on campus, is committed to sourcing ingredients locally, using reusable food containers and offering plant-based menu-options. Bottled water is not sold on campus as the plastic bottles are made from fossil fuels, often are not recycled and because of the energy needed to transport it.
Transportation is an important issue for sustainability as well. Campus housing supports two thirds of the students. For around-town trips, there is a student-run bike share program. The outdoor program operates the campus bike shop where students and campus staff can work on their bikes with available equipment and receive assistance when needed. A campus shuttle takes students to and from Portland and Seattle during school breaks, eliminating many individual, long-distance trips to major transportation hubs.
Each student is awarded a scholarship to participate in the many outdoor program trips in an effort to connect students with the local outdoors.
Recycling: Whitman operates its own recycling program, and staff and students collect and sort recyclables and take them to Walla Walla Recycling. All greenwaste generated from the extensive campus landscape is brought to the landfill and then bought back in the form of high-quality compost.
Greenery: Whitman College is proud of its 1-to-1 student to tree ratio. The campus is seen as an arboretum and treated that way, with a great deal of care awarded each tree. The landscape includes many heritage trees, including some state record holders. Yearly water, pesticide, herbicide and salt use is monitored. A campus landscape committee assesses aspects of the landscape like yearly water and chemical use figures, best practices, and projects with academic value and student engagement.
Student Activities: A number of student clubs with sustainability as a focus allow students to advocate for campus projects, raise awareness and become involved in efforts. Recently, students came together to establish The Sunrise Movement, a nationwide, youth-led movement focused on the climate crisis. Student-run initiatives have led to the conversion of toilets to low-flow models and the divestment of the Whitman board of trustees from fossil fuel-based investments.
Education: Environmental Studies is a popular major at the college, and its flexible program encourages an interdisciplinary approach so that each student can approach the landscape through the focus of their choice. Campus staff attend a number of university campus focused conferences that bring together participants to share knowledge and support.
Landscaping: A recent headline on the Whitman College website was “Goats Converge to Clean Up Campus,” announcing the arrival of 435 goats for a week to eat 2 acres of weeds and overgrown vegetation around the athletic complex instead of herbicide spraying and hand clearing. The busy goats were clearly delighted with this sustainable focus.