Fang named Environmental Sustainability Coordinator

The Wister Center greenhouse, finalized in 2009, serves as a physical testament to the college's commitment to environmental advocacy and sustainability. (Courtesy of www.dvgbc.org)
The Wister Center greenhouse, finalized in 2009, serves as a physical testament to the college’s commitment to environmental advocacy and sustainability. (Courtesy of www.dvgbc.org)

In response to the rallying cries of student groups, faculty, alumni and administrators, the college created a new position this fall called the Environmental Sustainability Coordinator (ESC). The ESC, whose post was filled by Clara Changxin Fang earlier this month, will guide the college’s efforts to draft a Climate Action Plan (CAP), a document that will outline the College’s path to achieving carbon neutrality, throughout the year and coordinate the activities of environmental groups on campus.

“The Environmental Sustainability Coordinator is a new position created to guide the process of drafting the Climate Action Plan, a currently indefinite commitment that the school undertook in April 2010 to eventually achieve carbon neutrality,” said Camille Robertson ’13, an Environmental Sustainability Intern at the Lang Center of Civic and Social Responsibility.

Robertson, along with a selection of faculty, alumni and fellow students, is part of the Swarthmore Sustainability Committee (SusCom), which is responsible for submitting recommendations to the college administration in order to promote sustainability and environmentalism on campus.

In April 2010, President Rebecca Chopp signed the American College and University Presidents College Commitment (ACUPCC), which consists of the completion of a “comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions” within one year of signing the commitment and the creation of “an institutional action plan for becoming climate neutral” within two years of signature, according to the ACUPCC’s official website. Last year, SusCom submitted a recommendation to President Chopp to create a new post that would work full time to flesh out the CAP, which is due to be completed next April.

“The Sustainability Committee recognized that a CAP would involve a level of analysis, meeting and writing time that our committee structure could not handle,” said Ralph Thayer, Director of Maintenance at the College and co-chair of SusCom. “Thus the recommendation for the ESC position,” Thayer said.

In March 2011, soon after the idea first emerged, members of McKinstry Consulting Group — a consulting firm that assists clients with the construction of sustainable, energy-efficient facilities — visited the College to tour the College’s physical plant, met with SusCom and faculty from the Environmental Studies program, and publicly presented their findings to members of the Swarthmore community.

This presentation led to the submission of a formal request from SusCom to President Chopp regarding the hiring of a full-time Sustainability Coordinator and the accompanying creation of a Climate Action Plan Committee (CAPCom). “It was clear after that presentation that a new committee, CAPCom, should be empaneled to carry out the task of formulating a Climate Action Plan for the College,” said Professor Carr Everbach, Associate Professor of Engineering and co-chair of SusCom.

The idea then began to gain serious momentum through an influx of support from each corner of the college. Last spring, 17 different parties from the college community, among which included the Lang Center Environmental Sustainability Interns, SusCom, Earthlust, Green Advisors, Student Council, Scott Arboretum and various alumni of the College, presented a compendium of letters to President Chopp entitled “In Support of a Sustainability Director”.

“We believe that a Sustainability Director is necessary to continue and increase sustainability awareness, action and lifestyle change on campus and beyond. The creation of a Sustainability Director position would demonstrate the college’s responsibility and commitment to sustainability, just as the presence of the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, the Black Cultural Center, and the Intercultural Center represent our seriousness in teaching and embodying the values of diversity and social justice essential to our lives at Swarthmore and in the world,” wrote Robertson and fellow Environmental Sustainability Intern Rebecca Ringle ’11 last April in their cover letter.

The ESC will also be responsible for streamlining collaboration among the various environmental groups on campus — a duty that Robertson feels is especially significant, seeing how much these groups’ efforts have diversified in the last few years. “Since my freshman year, the amount of on-campus environmentalist activism has increased dramatically,” Robertson said.

“We hope that the ESC will facilitate communication and collaboration among these activist groups and other campus committees, departments, and offices engaged in distinct but complimentary efforts.” Robertson is also coordinator of Swat-Ecosphere, a new umbrella organization for environmental groups on campus that will undoubtedly assist in organizing and coalescing these groups’ endeavors.

Professors Charlton and Everbach were instrumental in the search and hiring process for this new position. SusCom interviewed three finalists among various impressive candidates and agreed upon the final selection to be Clara Changxin Fang. “Clara just jumped out at the hiring committee as someone who had great experience and enthusiasm for the job, and as being someone who would fit in really seamlessly with the Swarthmore community,” Cameron French ’14 said, a new addition to SusCom this year.

Fang attended Smith College, where she actively espoused sustainable development and was awarded the Outstanding Student Leader Award for her efforts, and subsequently earned a Master of Environmental Management degree from Yale, where she also worked for the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Yale Office of Sustainability. She then proceeded to work for a renewable energy consulting company, and most recently as the Sustainability Coordinator of the city of Albany, NY, where she helped the city conduct its greenhouse gas inventory and craft its Climate Action Plan.

Fang will work tirelessly with members of SusCom and CAPCom to ensure this plan is completed by this coming spring. Especially closely tied to her efforts will be Professor of Biology Rachel Merz, who has prior experience in strategic planning and is due to chair CAPCom this school year.

“Clara Fang brings the expertise and experience needed to help the college plan its next steps forward,” Professor Charlton said. “The Lang Center is very pleased to help bring focus to the environment as an issue of social responsibility in this way.”

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