Aurora Winslade to begin as new Sustainability Director

Aurora Winslade
Winslade brings to Swarthmore a sterling career working in sustainability initiatives on college campuses and in the private sector.

On November 3, President Smith announced the hiring of Aurora Winslade as the new Sustainability Director of Swarthmore. Winslade currently works for Hawaii Energy, a conservation and energy efficiency program administered by Leidos Engineering under contract with the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission. As Sustainability Director, she will face the challenge of defining her role within the Sustainability Office as well as fulfilling the college’s ambitious sustainability goals which include a 50% reduction in emissions from 2010 levels this year and carbon neutrality by 2035. She will also have to work with various student environmental groups which have made sustainability demands on the college.

The college created the position in 2013 to work with the already existing position of Sustainability Coordinator, created in 2011. Former President Rebecca Chopp tasked these positions with fulfilling the college’s climate action plan, set forth in 2010, which set out to reduce the college’s carbon emissions by 50% by 2015 and to make the college carbon neutral by 2035.  Laura Cacho first filled the position of Sustainability Directory but left in the summer for Seattle Public Utilities, leaving the position vacant.

The search for a new director began before Cacho left, in late May. A hiring committee chaired by Greg Brown, Vice-President of Finance and Administration, conducted the search. According to meeting minutes of the Sustainability Committee, which itself was not responsible for the hiring of the new director, the hiring committee narrowed the pool to seven candidates from over 200 applications by September. The finalists were brought to campus in September for final interviews and met with several members of the college community.

“[Winsdale] had both a depth of experience and passion for environmental and social issues that will serve the College well as we work together to realize our [sustainability] goals”, said President Smith in a press release after the hiring.

According to Melissa Tier ‘14, the current Sustainability Coordinator at the college, one of Winslade’s first tasks will be defining her role within the Sustainability Office, which half a decade ago did not exist. Now the Sustainability Office consists of two different people, for the first time since the college created the two separate positions of Sustainability Coordinator and Sustainability Director. While Tier, as Sustainability Coordinator, mostly works with student environmental groups such as the Green Advisers program and also works with the environmental studies program, she imagines Winslade will create a different role for herself.

“I imagine Aurora will be taking on much more of the facilities side to achieve our goals of carbon emission reduction, given her experiences.”

Winslade’s experiences include a diverse career in sustainability initiatives. She has served as the Sustainability Director at the University of California, Santa Cruz and at the University of Hawaii.

Winslade will be tasked with implementing the college’s sustainability plans, recently articulated in the Environmental Sustainability Framework. The framework lays out potential strategies for the college to follow in reaching its sustainability goals. According to the framework, new campus construction is expected to increase carbon emissions by 28% over the next several years. Major proposals in the 180 page framework include a large scale installation of photovoltaic solar panels and the construction of increasingly efficient buildings.

The question of whether the college is meeting its carbon reduction goals is somewhat murky. According to the 2014 college Sustainability Report to the President, net emissions in the 2010-2013 period had dropped by about a third, though this was almost entirely due to increased purchases of carbon offsets. Actual emissions from the college increased, but were compensated for by a 50% increase in the amount of carbon offsets the college bought from 2011-2013. The Sustainability Framework states that under the “best” scenario, actual carbon emissions would only be reduced by 40% by 2035, with remaining emissions compensated for by the purchasing of carbon offsets.

Student groups have questioned the college’s commitment to sustainability, saying it could focus on other ways to pursue sustainability initiatives beyond emission reductions.

”Reducing carbon emissions is important; however, Swarthmore makes up an extremely small portion of global emissions,” said Stephen O’Hanlon, a leader in the Mountain Justice group. “We must commit not just to making our campus more sustainable, but also to creating broader political change to promote action on climate.”

O’Hanlon added that the University of Hawaii, where Winslade had previously worked, has divested its endowment from fossil fuels.

Winslade will arrive in December to begin her new role at the college.

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