Colby-Sawyer College takes on resilience by signing the Climate Commitment

Second Nature

by Theresa Edick, Environmental Studies Major, Colby Sawyer Class of 2018

Nestled in the center of the small town of New London, New Hampshire is a private liberal arts college that is home to 1,100 undergraduate students. Actively engaging students in their learning is one of the hallmarks of the college. In the past students have been responsible for the planning and construction of a new energy-efficient classroom, they have designed several permaculture gardens on campus, and several of the majors are currently working with the City of Franklin on a series of projects aimed at revitalizing the community. In 2007, based on the recommendation of a group of students who conducted a sustainability assessment, the college signed the Carbon Commitment and in 2015 the college reached its first greenhouse gas emissions reduction milestone of 50 percent.

On February 22, 2017, President Sue Stuebner of Colby-Sawyer College signed Second Nature’s Climate Commitment. This was an exceptional opportunity for the college because students were again the ones that completed the assessment and recommendation that led to the commitment. The class, a requirement for Environmental Studies and Environmental Science majors, is titled Community-Based Research and has a different focus each year. This year the students outlined and implemented a comprehensive assessment of the resilience of the college itself.

After a semester of research, we, the students, created a report that outlined complications associated with the college’s level of resilience. We looked at the college and its community as a complex system and we considered the capacity of this system to absorb climate-based disturbance. We identified disturbances that were within our control and some that were beyond our control. For example, climate related events such as wind and intense precipitation are not within our control, but we can suggest the means to better prepare for these associated concerns.

After completing our analysis we shared our results with the President and she invited us to present our findings and recommendations to the full Board of Trustees. It was the first time we ever had to present to the Trustees and we were quite nervous. We advised the college to add the resilience component to our existing carbon commitment by signing the Climate Commitment. It was a great moment when we gathered in President Stuebner’s office and she officially signed the document. We felt that we had achieved a great deal by convincing the college administration to take this important step.

This was a great example of engaged learning. Our class was intensive, we worked long hours to collect data and finalize presentations, but we feel that we are now part of the history of the college.

This semester, the Community-Based Research class is working on some specific recommendations to make the college more resilient. These recommendations include ideas such as implementing more local foods on campus, strengthening community relationships, and alternative energy options. We believe that signing the commitment will put Colby-Sawyer College in a strong position by developing goals, both short-term and long-term, which will make the college resilient and successful in the future. We thank Second Nature for their work with us and hope that our institution can be a model for others.