Smith College

Smith has several programs that prepare students to address climate change, such as a climate change concentration. This program fosters leaders who understand the science as well as the historical, socioeconomic, psychological and political aspects of the issue.

However, what’s more unique–and frankly, more important–is that Smith has elevated the interplay between campus operations and student learning to an institutional, cross-functional priority. In the college’s new strategic plan, five themes were developed to guide the institution. One theme–Complex, Urgent Problems—specifically identifies climate change and emphasizes using the campus as a classroom; modeling ideas in the curriculum, co-curricular options and campus operations; and supporting student research all as means to educate coming generations of climate leaders.

To further this strategic goal, the president and trustees launched the Study Group on Climate Change to examine how Smith can most effectively respond to the challenge of global climate change. The recommendations of the group coherently integrate climate action across all aspects of the college–education, research, operations, financial investments and engagement of the Smith community. Recommendations that specifically address academics and student life include:

1. Prioritizing climate change and sustainability expertise in faculty appointments across academic divisions
2. Providing funds for curricular development on climate change
3. Expanding on- and off- campus experiential opportunities
4. Implementing yearlong campus-wide programs for an in-depth look at focused aspects of climate change
5. Addressing climate change in our investments

By prioritizing climate change at an institutional level, we’re changing the model for how colleges prepare students.

Climate Innovation

Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability runs a unique Climate Change Concentration. This academic program fosters leaders who understand the science as well as the historical, socioeconomic, psychological and political aspects of the issue. It includes academic requirements across disciplines, and requires two applied experiences which might include internships, volunteer or paid work.

Off campus, we have developed a set of collaborative projects. First, we are working with Hampshire and Amherst Colleges and Communities Involved in Sustaining Agriculture to assess the potential for centralized food processing to increase our collective ability to provide local food and to promote our local agricultural sector.

Second, we have initiated a project to develop a regional climate vulnerability assessment. This is a collaboration among Smith, Amherst, Hampshire Colleges, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, the City of Northampton and Town of Amherst. Our next event will be sharing what each had completed to date to assess vulnerability. Our long-term goal is to complete a study of regional vulnerability that is common to all.

Finally, Smith, Amherst, Williams and Hampshire Colleges in collaboration with the Center for Ecotechnology are piloting the Community Climate Fund (CCF). The CCF aims to create robust, additional carbon offsets in our local community, by investing in local non-profits and businesses. The fund just completed its first project — the installation of a high efficiency boiler in a local tomato greenhouse, with more pilot projects on the way.

Creating Opportunity

We have a number of innovative energy and GHG reduction projects underway. First, we worked with Coop Power, a consumer-owned, sustainable energy cooperative to complete a PV project using a solar production tax credit flip. This is a model through which, non profit organizations can take advantage of the production tax credit and accelerated depreciation associated with solar development, but without turning a margin over to for-profit developers. Smith participated with a number of other local nonprofits including ServiceNet and the Valley CDC. Smith’s participation raised the credit-worthiness of the whole group of projects, thus we were able to leverage our economic standing to the benefit of other local non-profits.

Second, we completed a new mitigation plan. This plan is unusual in that we specifically scoped it, such that it did not emphasise energy efficiency as we feel we have a handle on energy efficiency work, but needed a vision for the next step-change for CO2 reduction. The result was a plan completed with the Integral Group which envisions a combustion free future for Smith College as well as a practicable path to get there by 2030 using ground source heat exchange, existing distribution infrastructure and renewable electricity.

Finally, we have issued an RFP, and are in the process of procuring renewable electricity in collaboration with Amherst, Williams, Hampshire Colleges, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. This electricity will come from a new, additional power source in New England and take advantage of the collective buying power of our institutions.