SusCom and Student Activists Meet to Coordinate Efforts, Work out Differences

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The first joint meeting of the Sustainability Committee and campus environmental activists opened last Monday, as student environmental organizations worked to patch over differences with the Committee and discuss ways to coordinate future sustainability efforts on campus. The meeting came at a moment of tension between student environmental groups and the Sustainability Committee, less than two weeks after members of Earthlust wrote a letter to President Chopp. The letter addressed what they deemed “structural flaws” with the Committee and what they considered to be the Committee’s failures to communicate with the student body. Members of both the Committee and Earthlust came out of the meeting confident in the ability of their organizations to work together, and student activists and Committee members were quick to downplay any notion that there was a rift between them.

Maurice Eldridge, Vice President of the College, and SusCom members said, “I think the meeting went very well… the communication it opened up was a very positive thing.” Elan Silverblatt-Buser ’12, sophomore co-leader of Earthlust and signatory of the letter, said, “There were never really sour relations between the groups… it was great that the Committee invited environmental groups to talk about sustainability issues.”

This was the first of what is planned to be a number of joint SusCom and environmental activist meetings, as administration, faculty, and students work to determine the most efficient methods of improving campus sustainability in these cash-strapped times. Both Mike Roswell ‘11, Earthlust member and letter signatory, and Carr Everbach, Engineering professor and chair of the Sustainability Committee, agree about the importance of hiring a Director of Sustainability on campus to oversee and coordinate environmental efforts. However, this is unlikely to happen, according to Earthlust members who met with President Chopp last Friday, as the administration wants to avoid creating new posts until the economy turns around. Eldridge acknowledged that “There are things the Committee would like to get done but simply doesn’t have the resources to do.”

Despite the economic constraints, activist leaders and SusCom members are confident that President Chopp plans to make campus sustainability a greater priority than her predecessor did. Everbach said, “President Chopp has told SusCom that environmental sustainability is a major component of the leadership she hopes to bring to the college.” Chopp has promised to make sustainability a theme of her upcoming inauguration and wrote in an e-mail to the Gazette, “I bring a deep commitment to working on issues of sustainability with me to campus.”

Chopp has already become embroiled in some of the controversies involving environmentalism on campus and will be challenged to reexamine some of the sustainability policies implemented by former President Al Bloom. “Bloom,” Everbach said, “was supportive of sustainability efforts, but his focus was on other things.”

Bloom established the Sustainability Committee two years ago as a way of vetting sustainability proposals that students and others had previously presented to him. The Sustainability Committee was tasked only with approving deserving projects and was granted no budget to actually implement sustainability efforts. As a result, many of the projects the Sustainability Committee has approved, including the purchase of 100% of Swarthmore’s electricity from wind credits, the installation of energy monitoring systems in campus buildings, and even many lower-cost recommendations, have not been funded by the administration.

The recent disagreements between the student groups and the Sustainability Committee have come partially as a result of these projects’ failures to move on from the planning stages. Everbach argued that any inefficiencies in establishing sustainability projects result from the Sustainability Committee’s lack of funding, that “there is a structural problem that is not the fault of SusCom or its members. SusCom would accept an expanded charge from the President.”

Roswell, who in addition to being a signatory of the Earthlust letter served on the Committee last year, disagreed. “Money, or the lack of a budget, isn’t the critical issue, here,” he said. “It’s important that the Committee have a clearly defined role and that decisions made by the Committee become more democratic… the facilitation of the meeting has not been open enough to all voices.” Benjamin Dair ’11, of the Good Foods Project wrote via email, “As a student who is involved in projects that yield tangible returns, I am frustrated by the slow pace of the Committee in producing practical results.”

Monday’s joint meeting between activist groups and the Committee was established to address just such concerns. Eldridge said after the meeting, “What I like about our community is we really can talk to each other. We are really genuinely interested in getting things done.”

The Phoenix