The Colgate Scene
March 2003

The Green Summit
Addressing Colgate's environmental future is a team effort

Josh Baker, co-director of outdoor education, begins the daunting task of inputting a wall full of campus environmental concerns into a laptop computer after a morning of brainstorming at the Green Summit. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]

In mid-January, nearly 60 members of the Colgate community came together to address the university's environmental future. Called the Green Summit, the two-day event provided a springboard for students, faculty, administrators and staff to become actively involved in efforts to reduce the university's environmental impact and manage resources more efficiently.

The Green Summit was the brainchild of Molly Ames Baker '91, co-director of outdoor education. She said the idea was sparked last spring, at a roundtable discussion co-sponsored by the outdoor education and environmental studies programs and the Campus Ecology Group.

"Drew Koff ['04] asked, `Why aren't we serving organic coffee?''' Baker recounted. "Mark Spiro [vice president of administrative services] said, `e-mail me. We'll do it tomorrow.' and Drew about fell off his chair."

Inspired, Baker began brainstorming the creation of an event that could produce tangible results, speaking to members of the Campus Ecology Group and the environmental studies faculty. Her idea quickly took hold and gained support from key campus administrators and the Campus Ecology Group.

"Conservation is not necessarily easy or obvious," said Spiro, who participated in the summit. "We've got to think about it when we design buildings, purchase supplies and appliances, prepare food or discard trash. That's why I feel the Green Summit is such an important experience -- it surfaces the issues we must consider every day to preserve one of Colgate's real competitive strengths -- its natural environment."

Baker pulled together a host crew: herself; Adam Dale '98, program assistant in outdoor education; Emily Boyd '02, program assistant in environmental studies; and three students with environmental interests and facilitation skills, Milt Geiger '03 and Bill Sadlon '03, who were enrolled in the senior seminar ENST 480, Interdisciplinary Investigations of Environmental Issues, and Kat Longfield '03, an outdoor education staff member.

Throughout fall 2002, the crew met weekly to plan the event, developing a common vocabulary to facilitate discussion: at the Green Summit, participants would create a Green Print, a dynamic strategic plan that outlines the environmental path of the university, including prioritized initiatives to be implemented. Once implemented, those initiatives would be called Green Strides, which can be addressed on three levels: university, site-specific and individual.

"One of our goals for the print was that it would be a dynamic document -- not, here's Colgate's Green Print forever, but here's the print today," Baker explained. "The summit would be the springboard, and not the culmination, with the Green Strides being the overlying umbrella."

In tandem with the crew's planning, the ENST 480 class conducted a campus environmental audit.

"Part of what we learned in doing the audit was that a lot of good things have happened already," said Bob Turner, director of environmental studies, who taught the course. "Colgate is already a really environmentally friendly place, and almost nobody knew it." He cited as an example the fact that Colgate's heating plant furnace burns wood chips for 70 percent of the total requirement, offsetting the need for mass oil-burning, thereby significantly reducing net carbon dioxide emissions. Other examples include usage of organic fertilizer, expanded use of recycled papers and shuttle buses equipped with EPA-approved low-emission diesel engines.


The ax-wielding Samuel Payne, the original owner of the land now occupied by Colgate, makes a guest appearance in Merrill House during the second day of the Green Summit. Payne's message was that there have been many uses of the land in the past and will be many more in the future. (Molly Ames Baker '91, co-director of outdoor education, portrayed Payne).
The results of the audit became the bulk of the working document for the summit, to educate participants about where Colgate currently is, and to identify new opportunities for improvement or change. Initiatives for the Green Print are organized under ten categories: Air, Water, Energy, Grounds/Land, Facilities, Resources/Materials, Dining/Food, Transportation, Education and Marketing.

With input and support from the Campus Ecology Group, the host crew devised a creative, participatory format for the summit.

"The key was that Adam and Emily, Kat and myself had all had experiences with outdoor education, which is about experiential learning," said Baker, who told the group in her opening remarks: "This is not a committee meeting. This is not a conference or a retreat. We're here to accomplish a task."

Participants included staff representatives from administrative services such as buildings and grounds, environmental health and safety, food services, printing and mail services and purchasing, as well as from admission, communications, information technology and university relations. Also represented were the Campus Ecology Group, Green Earth Gang, Hamilton Outdoor Group, The Loj, Outdoor Connections, Students for Environmental Action and the Student Government Association. Faculty and staff members also represented interdisciplinary programs including environmental studies, peace studies, the COVE and outdoor education.

Much was accomplished in only two days. To kick off on a positive note, the host crew led the group in a celebration -- complete with party hats and noisemakers -- of the Green Strides already accomplished across Colgate. By the end of day one, the group had brainstormed a list of 156 potential Green Strides, and had completed activities to assess their level of importance and feasibility.

President Chopp addressed the group on the second morning. "If you think about what the mission of the liberal arts is, it's about taking care of the future -- to make sure that the succeeding generations have the formative experiences, intellectual knowledge, the communal relations to make sure the nature of the world endures through time," she said. "One of our goals, I hope, will be to make sure that there is a fundamental green literacy for all of our students as well as our staff and our faculty."

The second day, the participants worked in groups through the most important and feasible strides on the list, to create action plans for implementation, identify roadblocks, costs, timelines and reporting dates. In the end, the groups had formulated action plans for 32 of the potential Green Strides, such as composting dining hall and other food waste, minimizing automobile traffic and emissions on campus, creating "green" standards for construction projects, use of safe cleaning products, increased recycling and educating members of campus to foster a culture of environmental awareness.

"I've been involved with different groups, and a lot of us were duplicating our efforts -- our energy was diffuse, our resources were scattered," said Paul Pinet, professor of geology and a founding member of the Campus Ecology Group. "The best part [of the summit] was that it brought together the staff, administration, students and faculty, and all of them recognizing an overall goal, to make the campus a better place to live for everybody. It also forced us to sit down and to think hard about how we implement all these things we keep talking about, so it added real concreteness to abstract notions of what it means to make the campus better."

Boyd agreed, and felt that the summit met her expectations. "We really did create a model of how to take an issue that we know the majority of the campus cares about, the environment, and make a plan that really is action oriented," she said. "Given the climate at Colgate, with growing interest in environmental programs, and a lot of strong leadership in our groups on campus, there was room for it to go well, and it did."

"It truly was a collaborative think tank," said Baker, "and I think it provided a working model or method that can be used in other places."

Visit the Green Strides website to learn more about the Green Summit and current Green Print Initiatives.

Top of page
Table of contents
<< Previous: If they can make it there... Next: Thirteen who served >>