VOLUME 44 NUMBER 2
The moment that Holy Cross president, Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J., signed his name to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), business as usual became a thing of the past at the College of the Holy Cross. This is not to suggest, however, that the president’s 2007 agreement to reduce dramatically the College’s emissions that accelerate global warming was the birth of a green movement on the Hill. There’d been a recycling program on campus since the early 1990s and a composting system for at least as long. Fr. McFarland had established the Presidential Task Force on the Environment, a collegewide body, co-chaired by Katherine Kiel, associate professor of economics, and Scott Merrill, director of physical plant. And the student organization Eco-Action even had screened Al Gore’s dire documentary An Inconvenient Truth.
Holy Cross’ decision to join the network of colleges and universities of the ACUPCC—now totaling more than 650 institutions—was more than a symbolic act. With one stroke of a pen came a daunting commitment to conduct biennial greenhouse gas audits, create a carbon-neutral plan with specific targets and a timeline for reaching them, and, in a befittingly no-time-to-waste spirit, immediately select and implement two “tangible early actions.” Talk about aspiration. Talk about inspiration. The Presidential Task Force on the Environment, which to this point had been loosely charged with assessing environmental issues on campus, now had a definitive responsibility. And the clock was ticking.
Fortunately, the College had a head start. Earlier in the year the physical plant department had contracted for at least 30 percent of Holy Cross’ power to be hydroelectric, a renewable resource. The summer before, campus police had added electric vehicles to the fleet. And, even as the ink of Fr. McFarland’s signature was drying, an ambitious construction project was under way to gut and renovate Haberlin Hall and connect the science and social science buildings, Beaven, O’Neil and Swords halls, with the new Smith Laboratories. What’s so eco about that? “These are the buildings where we teach environmental studies,” says John F. Cannon, associate director of physical plant/planning and operations and a task force member, “so we decided early in the planning process to go LEED.” For the acronym unaware, that’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a building rating system that awards points for environmentally sustainable features.
“It was great to have such a visible green project ongoing,” says task force co-chair Katherine Kiel, “because we knew that the way for us to succeed was to get everyone on the campus excited and involved. We have to work together—administration, faculty, students, buildings and grounds, everyone.” Some might scoff at that idea, with academia’s reputation for stunting communication and creativity with hierarchical boundaries. But Holy Cross doesn’t fit the stereotype. At task force meetings, for example, “we just sit around a table and talk,” Cannon says. “We exchange ideas.” The resulting progress shows.