Section: News

Despite cost, students push for carbon neutrality at Kenyon

by Nathaniel Shahan

Going “carbon neutral” has been a trend at colleges since 2007, when the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) began a public campaign to promote carbon neutrality at colleges and universities around the country. Going carbon neutral can take many different forms and is described on the ACUPCC website as “having no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” Greenhouse gases have been linked to rising global temperatures.

Matthew Meyers ’17 guesses it will take “between 30 and 50” years for Kenyon to become a carbon-neutral institution. Meyers is one of a group of three students taking part in an independent study to develop a plan for Kenyon to go carbon neutral. The other two students are Sarah Oleisky ’16 and Lauren Johnstone ’15, who is spearheading the project, while Professor of Biology Siobhan Fennessy is serving in an advisory role.

“You could get a new recycling plan, you could build buildings in a certain efficient way,” Meyers said. “I think a huge part of it is definitely tapping into those renewable energy resources, which is something I think Kenyon has not done.”

The idea to launch a carbon neutral plan at Kenyon can be traced back to a failed attempt in 2013 by the Environmental Campus Organization (ECO) to convince the Board of Trustees to divest (or disinvest) the College’s endowment from fossil fuels. Johnstone described the divestment initiative as a “long shot” but explained that the failure allowed ECO to take a closer look at what goals it should pursue.

The carbon neutrality plan “sprung up out of divestment,” according to Johnstone, who learned about the ACUPCC initiative last year. “I thought this was a great idea to … evolve from the divestment campaign and use some of the things that we had gotten from there, including relationships with administrators,” she said. Last fall, Johnstone met with Chief Business Office Mark Kohlman, who Johnstone said liked the idea and encouraged her to present to the trustees.

Johnstone approached Fennessy to be the independent study advisor last semester but Fennessy claims “it’s a completely student-driven project,” explaining that the students drew up the syllabus with the ultimate goal of presenting their plan to the board.

The students expressed concern about the program’s potential cost. Meyers noted that the College’s small endowment presented a problem; “at some point you’re going to need a lot of money,” Meyers said.

Johnstone noted that it will be necessary for Kenyon, if the plan is approved, to hire a consultant group to help with the transition. “Money’s always a concern,” Johnstone said. “We have limited funds. How do we make this not detrimental to our endowment?”

Olesiky, who was an assistant to former Sustainability Director Ed Neal, explained that Neal worked on how to make buildings more efficient and found that though the initial outlay was pricey, the buildings would pay for themselves over time. “I think the payback will be faster than we anticipate,” Oleisky said. “I think if we can prove to the board … that their investment will give them quick returns … they would be more willing to accept our plan.”

Currently the students are focused on researching carbon neutrality and reviewing the plans of other institutions that have already given carbon neutrality the go-ahead. The group will be giving a preliminary presentation to President Sean Decatur, who expressed interest in the project. All three of the students said it was too early to determine what their timeline would be, but they hope to have a presentation ready by the board’s spring meeting in April.

“I think it all depends on what we see as feasible for Kenyon … and how much money … Kenyon is willing to put into this project,” Johnstone said.


Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at