Section: News

Students seek trustee support for carbon neutrality

by Phoebe Roe

In 2014, Kenyon’s use of electricity and natural gas put 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Three members of Kenyon’s Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), Lauren Johnstone ’15, Matt Meyers ’17 and Sarah Oleisky ’16, hope to change that number. The three recently presented a plan for carbon neutrality to the Board of Trustees in hopes of gaining their support for sustainable actions on campus.

After their presentation, the board discussed whether the proposal was ready to be given to President Sean Decatur for a final decision. “The board did recommend as a whole that Decatur continue the recommendation and move forward as he sees fit,” Mark Kohlman, chief business officer, said.   

The students began working with Professor of Biology Siobhan Fennessy to determine whether it would be feasible for Kenyon to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), an agreement that seeks to unite colleges to promote neutralizing greenhouse gas emissions. “When I learned about the ACUPCC from a friend while abroad, I was like, that’s it,” Johnstone said. “That’s halfway, that’s moving forward on sustainability and common sense things that we should do, but it’s not radical.” She added, “It’s not asking us to change how we look at finances — it’s this nice in-between.”

Kenyon considered signing the ACUPCC seven years ago but was unable to meet the standards. Because of its Energy Star Alliance and LEED standard building codes, Kenyon now meets two out of seven of the standards required by the ACUPCC.

If Kenyon chooses to sign the ACUPCC, the College will conduct an energy audit, an inventory of the number of particulate emissions and other energy usage data, and create a committee to craft a long-term carbon neutrality plan. “Carbon neutrality means that we’d have net zero emissions. That doesn’t mean Kenyon would stop running and be entirely solar paneled,” Johnstone said. “[It] means we’re reducing our energy through different means.” Reducing Kenyon’s offsets could also benefit the community. “The direction we’d like to take carbon offsets in is an investment in the local community, weatherizing buildings and houses in Knox County, and that credit could come back to us,” Johnstone said. “We see it as this multi-faceted approach of making Kenyon, but also the greater community, more sustainable.”

Whether Kenyon will sign the ACUPCC will be decided by Decatur and the senior staff after the trio present their proposal on Monday, May 4.

“We are behind the sustainability ball that Oberlin [College] and [the College of] Wooster have started to take seriously,” Meyers said.  “It’s time for us to have an action plan to become carbon neutral; it’s the responsible thing for a college to do.”


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