Data reveals complexity in sustainability

4 mins read

Over the past five years, the College has consistently publicized its commitment to sustainability through its hires at the Office of Sustainability, its building of new energy efficient buildings and more recently its efforts with the carbon charge and the installation of geothermal wells on campus. The Office of Sustainability has grown, and now has three full-time staff members and two student fellows. We at the Phoenix applaud and are impressed by these efforts and hope they continue. But the purpose of all this sustainability capital investment is to reduce carbon emissions, which the college has not done in the last five years, as shown in data which the college itself has compiled. Since 2010, there has been no significant change in the college’s carbon emissions; this metric of success is ultimately the only one that truly matters in combatting the great existential threat that is climate change.

This chart shows the greenhouse gas emissions from the college as reported by the Facilities Department and the Sustainability Office. No data was compiled in 2012. The college has only been able to reach its goal of a 50 percent “reduction” in carbon emissions by 2015 by purchasing carbon credits, which many experts have questioned in terms of efficacy. The Phoenix hopes that the college will make changes that will produce real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the near future. We thank the college for making this information available, though we think it could easily be made more accessible. In order to compile this data we needed to go on two separate and somewhat obscure sections of the website that we only could find after asking administrators. We are impressed by the fact that Swarthmore is only the second college in America to implement an internal carbon charge and that the administration implemented this change so quickly, as it was only suggested last year by faculty.

However, we are not impressed by the carbon emissions statistics, and we hope, for the sake of the college and for the sake of our only planet, that real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are made. We realize college staff cannot do this alone; the drastic changes that are needed to combat the climate crisis will require real sacrifices by students, faculty, and staff. We think college staff would be surprised by how enthusiastic the student body would be to even extreme efforts made to reduce climate change, and we think such drastic measures would be the best thing Swarthmore could do to serve as an example to other colleges and institutions. Possible initiatives the college could try include multiple meatless days in the cafeteria or lowering the temperature dorms are kept at in the winter. We are sure that students would have many other ideas that could be easily implemented and widely supported. We will be following the important work of the Office of Sustainability over the course of this coming academic year. 

Year Gross Emissions (Before Carbon Credits)
2010 15,564
2011 14,781
2013 17,405
2014 17,524
2015 15,300


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