Swarthmore College

Swarthmore prepares and empowers students to engage with the climate crisis both in class and in practice.


260 courses include a sustainability component (11+%); 79 have a primary focus on sustainability. The Environmental Studies Program offers a major and a minor, 25 (of 33) departments offer sustainability courses, and students can study sustainability abroad in South Africa.

Classroom –> Practice

Swarthmore’s President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship course and associated internship bridges the divide between research and action. Fellows learn by taking stewardship of campus sustainability and climate challenges. Teams of students are mentored by staff and faculty to research, develop, and implement projects, including launching a $1M Green Revolving Loan Fund, redesigning our waste system, and developing a community-based social marketing program to change temperature setpoints in offices. This collaboration between the President, Sustainability, Environmental Studies, and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility fosters interdisciplinary collaboration; students engage with the President’s executive team and stakeholders across campus to transform the institution. As students learn, lead, and innovate, they apply their knowledge to pressing needs and produce replicable solutions for our campus and beyond.

Student Life

Diverse student groups support sustainable gardening in a community with little access to fresh food, advocate for animal rights, green Athletics, support fossil fuel divestment, maintain a student-run garden on campus, work to expand solar energy jobs in North Philadelphia, and attend and educate the community about the UN Conferences of the Parties. 20+ Green Advisors manage the school compost system, host residential educational events, and pursue independent projects.

Climate Innovation

Swarthmore’s two part Carbon Charge program incentivizes emissions reductions, educates and engages the community on carbon pricing, generates revenue, and challenges the norm of letting the rest of the world pay the costs of our emissions. Part One is a “shadow price” that accounts for the social costs of carbon while planning construction and energy projects. Consultants are required to calculate lifecycle financial and carbon costs for consideration during decision making. Part Two is a fee on departments for campus emissions that makes our impacts visible and felt by departments and funds climate protection efforts.

The program provides a platform for education and engagement with students, faculty, and staff- particularly those who would otherwise be unlikely to engage in a conversation about climate change and highlights one of the most potent solutions available to society to combat climate change. We’ve shared our model through presentations and workshops reaching over 1000 people at dozens of schools.

Swarthmore has a detailed Sustainability Framework for stormwater management, construction, and energy practices at the college. Our Green Initiatives Fund supports sustainability projects proposed by students, faculty and staff, such as waste education, community gardening, and a student designed solar car charging station.

Serenity Soular supports the creation of jobs in the solar industry and makes solar affordable in the low-income community of North Philadelphia. Last year, in collaboration with RE-volv and Solar States, a local solar installation company, they brought PV to Serenity House, a local community center, and supported two apprentices to shadow the installation process, after which they were both hired full-time.

Creating Opportunity

Swarthmore President Valerie Smith became the second signatory of the Put A Price On It campaign’s letter calling on elected officials to price carbon. Further, she collaborated with the Presidents of Dickinson, Pitzer, Vassar, and Wesleyan to invite their peers to sign, resulting in over 30 Leadership Circle signatories this May. Swarthmore is working with the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium, Our Climate, and Citizen’s Climate Education to host a day-long workshop for students in our state capital to learn how to engage with the public, media, and elected officials to advance carbon pricing. We will continue working to add higher education to the chorus calling on our elected officials to act.

On campus, we’re making ambitious plans to achieve our 2035 neutrality goal. Facilities has consistently achieved having among the lowest EUI rates as compared to peer institutions (according to Sightlines data) through sophisticated use of BMS systems to reduce loads and implementation of efficiency measures. We have launched a Green Revolving Loan Fund to tackle the larger capital investments needed. The campus recently completed the Energy Strategy for Sustainability & Resilience- a collaboration between Facilities, Sustainability, Engineering, and Finance to develop an integrated campus master utilities and climate action plan. This includes a facilities condition assessment, energy conservation measures, renewable energy options, and a 10-year strategy to convert our steam loop to a more efficient hot water system. This strategy would reduce our scope 1 and 2 emissions by 30% initially, and by up 80% once fully implemented (with biofuel and CHP).