Albion College Sustainability Council Highlights Campus Changes

April 22, 2021

Albion College students investigate freshwater habitats in Michigan.

FURSCA students investigate freshwater habitats in Michigan with Dr. Abigail Cahill in summer 2019.

On Earth Day, Albion College’s new Sustainability Council shares some important sustainability initiatives of this past year.

“I’m excited about the College’s Sustainability Council and the College’s re-engagement with important sustainability initiatives,” said Dr. Thom Wilch, dean of faculty and the Council’s co-chair. “The primary goal of the Council is to promote environmental sustainability, resiliency and justice within the College and in relation to the broader Albion community. The Council will be advising the College on a range of sustainability policies and operational priorities, including reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to meet President Johnson’s climate commitment goals.”

Beyond the Sustainability Council, several recent actions will enhance Albion’s mission to promote and improve sustainability and environmental education.

  • The Department of Geological Sciences has been renamed the Department of Earth and Environment. The change reflects the department’s new role as home of the College’s environmental science and environmental studies majors, along with the geology major. “Bringing these majors together will build a big cohort of students who care about the earth and environment and who can exchange ideas and research,” said Dr. Carrie Menold, professor and chair of the department. “These are some of the biggest issues of our time. We’re excited to work with our colleagues across campus to create a bigger interdisciplinary tent for students who will go out and be part of the solution.”
  • The Center for Sustainability and the Environment (CSE) is adding a full-time coordinator who will facilitate student experiential learning opportunities and help develop sustainability experiential certificates. “The addition of a full-time experiential learning coordinator for CSE will allow students, faculty, staff and community members to collaborate in hands-on campus and community-engaged learning initiatives centered on sustainability,” said Wilch, who is also a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment.
  • President Mathew Johnson and Albion College joined the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment, a nationwide movement of higher education leaders who are devoting institutional resources toward large-scale initiatives. Through this commitment, Albion formally undertakes a goal of carbon neutrality. “We will first evaluate our current emissions and climate policies, creating a Climate Action Plan,” said Sustainability Council Co-Chair Tanya Jagdish, ’22. “Based on this report, we will set a timeline and get to work as quickly as possible.”
  • Plans are actively underway to repurpose historic city buildings, including Washington Gardner School on Michigan Avenue and the old St. John’s Church at the northeast corner of Cass and Huron streets. “An often quoted phrase says ‘the greenest building is the one that’s already built,’” said Dr. Ray Barclay, Albion’s chief planning officer, noting that a number of Albion’s historic buildings were constructed to last for many decades. Barclay pointed out that several national organizations are actively working on new standards for evaluating energy efficiency related to older structures. He described these efforts as “good news that helps us think about sustainability in the context of historic preservation.”

Wilch notes that the Sustainability Council’s successes are due in large part to Jagdish. During the summer of 2020, Jagdish received a FURSCA grant to assess the campus’ greenhouse gas emissions. This year, she has also served as the campus’ student sustainability coordinator. Not only has Jagdish researched sustainability programs adopted by innovative colleges around the country, she’s been given support from Facilities Operations, the Business Office, and other campus units that can help her bring these new ideas to Albion.

A productive year by the Sustainability Council notwithstanding, Jagdish, a biology and mathematics major and CSE member, is looking forward to much more.

“Within the next year, I would like to see a Climate Action Plan for Albion College, with a timeline to reach carbon neutrality,” she said. “I would also like to set up a green revolving fund to increase student and faculty engagement and create sustainable procurement policies. I want these things to be part of Albion after I graduate.”

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