Environmental Commitment

Quick Facts:

College statement of environmental responsibility (adopted March 15, 2006)

  • Grinnell College believes that as a liberal arts institution with a strong social commitment, we have a duty to the environment, society, and future generations to be leaders in environmental stewardship, education, and policy. Grinnell College is therefore committed to incorporating environmental responsibility into policies, decisions, and daily life on campus. (found here)

GreenReportCard.org’s 2008 assessment of campus environmentalism

  • In spite of tremendous student effort, overall administrative support for campus environmentalism was recently given a B-. (see article here). The administration was rated a C, mainly because of its lack of support for the Presidents Climate Commitment

The 10/10/08 Scarlet & Black report on the 2008 assessment of campus environmentalism

  • According to President Osgood, the Commitment is “a complete charade.” Osgood cited the Commitment’s lack of guidelines that require long-term sustainable solutions. The administration said they believe that endorsing a commitment that didn’t require a long-term plan was undesirable.
  • Marci Sortor, VP for Institutional Planning: “The critical thing has to be behaviors. You cannot just expect that it’s going to be the college and the college’s endowment that’s going to make everything better. We ourselves have to be performing better.”

Osgood’s own proposal for CO2 reduction, the Emissions Reduction Commitment

  • Has no time frame for completion and no substantiative goals (see below). In this sense, it is long term; who knows how or when we’ll accomplish anything!

EcoHouse 2008-2009

  • The student sustainable living model residence has thus far saved the College over $1,000 in energy costs by providing extra insulation, keeping the heat low, and taking shorter, less frequent showers.


The College currently profits from efforts made through student environmental groups, such as Free the Planet, EcoHouse and Student Environmental Committee, that promote sustainability, yet continues to place the onus on students to reduce their carbon footprint. However, only so much change can come without serious and thorough change at the campus-wide level.

The college’s statement of environmental responsibility claims that we must be environmental leaders, yet the President has repeatedly to refused to agree to commitments that many other peer institutions have joined, including the Presidents Climate Commitment (PCC). President Osgood even called the PCC “a complete charade“. While President Osgood cites many flaws in the PCC, similar problems have arisen with the College’s self-designed counter-proposal, the Grinnell College Emissions Reduction Commitment (ERC). One important issue is the long term goals of our reduction plan. Despite Osgood’s critique of the lack of a long term plan in the PCC, the ERC has no timeframe or deadline to measure its success. Essentially, the current plan is not representative of the bold steps needed for the college to be environmental leaders. The lack of any clear goal in reductions beyond 2010 is also indicative of the failure of the administration to take the necessary actions that confronting our role in global climate change require.

Campaign History

(For a complete, year-by-year history of student engagement on this issue, check out this.)

In according with the tenets of the Commitment there are several initiatives students have undertaken to move the College towards environmental sustainability:

Free the Planet! has worked extensively to bring wind turbines to Grinnell and continually monitors the project while pursuing many other measures that improve sustainability on campus. Students in the Energy Subgroup have worked “inside” the system by meeting with FM administrators, passing SGA resolutions, and conducting original research, while engaging in serious “outside” work like petitions, letter writing campaigns, and demonstrations.

EcoHouse is the new sustainable living residence on campus. It is a college-owned house in which a group of students are creating a community that supports conscious efforts to reduce their impact on the environment. This is done, for example, by keeping the heat set low, cooking local and seasonal produce, growing a garden and prairie, and reusing graywater. With the help of Facilities Managment, they have saved the college more than $1000 in utility bills since August 2008.

Student Environmental Committee works with administrators, mainly FM staff, to enact change. Accomplishments include an annual flea market from end of the year dorm waste that raises about $1000 and implementation of the Dorm Environmental Coordinator (DEC) program.

The DEC position is representative of the impact students can have since the Emissions Reduction Commitment emphasizes the importance of student behavior change. A lot of this change has been demonstrated at EcoHouse, but is more difficult elsewhere since there are no submeters in the residence halls.

Flaws in the ERC

There are five reasons why the ERC is wholly meaningless as it currently stands:

1) the College has delayed investing in wind turbines to power campus – the crux of the ERC – even though the current economic crisis is in fact the perfect time in which to make such an investment.

2) many of the action items, like the demolition of the Physical Education Center, were likely to have occurred with or without the plan – we are doing nothing new;

3) it emphasizes student behavior change without providing us the tools, like the submetering of dorms, to do so. (Nevertheless, student groups like the Student Environmental Committee and EcoHouse, in conjuction with FM, have been pioneers in pursuing many of the points in action item #2 of the ERC);

4) The proposed reductions are insignificant. Most nation-states seriously considering reducing CO2 emissions are looking at figures like 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. International scientists agree such cuts are necessary to prevent catastrophic change in life as we now it on Earth. While we are obviously not a nation-state and must write a plan built specifically for a residential liberal arts college, the fact that we are measuring our cuts based on projected 2012 emissions levels means we are barely changing anything;

5) There are no mechanisms established through which we measure our progress and there is no time-frame. There are no goals.


We demand a reevaluation of our current Emissions Reduction Commitment that would (1) include more aggressive carbon emission reduction goals, (2) set actual deadlines for meeting these goals, and (3) specify comprehensive metrics to evaluate the college’s progress. The new Emissions Reduction Commitment must include student membership on the writing committee, and be adopted at the October 2009 meeting of the Board of Trustees.

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