Goshen College president commits to a ‘climate neutral’ campus

Goshen College plans to sharply reduce and eventually eliminate all of the college’s global warming emissions and is supporting more research and educational efforts to help stabilize the earth’s climate.

President James E. Brenneman made that pledge on behalf of Goshen College by becoming a charter signatory to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. In doing so, Brenneman joined with leaders of 175 other higher education institutions that also have agreed to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions —the point at which carbon-dioxide emissions are offset by the use of renewable sources of energy and the carbon dioxide that is absorbed and stored as carbon in trees and other plants on campus.

“We are very concerned about life on this planet,” Brenneman said. “This is one more way we can heal and care for the world.”

Goshen College becomes the second higher education institution in Indiana (after Ball State University) and the first Mennonite college or university to sign the landmark climate commitment, which is aimed at reducing emissions that scientists say are changing climates, threatening the planet’s ecosystems and its economy and threatening many lives.

Brenneman said Goshen College has a history of taking environmental concerns seriously and acting to increase the campus’ ecological consciousness and responsibility. “We’re calling it in a broader way our ecological stewardship commitment. Goshen College, like the Mennonite Church, has always been committed to being global citizens,” he said. “I see this as just another step in becoming more public about who we are and articulating more broadly what our core values have always been.”

In addition to many current efforts to conserve resources and reduce pollution, Brenneman said Goshen College is establishing an Ecological Stewardship Committee to ensure the college meets the goals of the climate commitment.

The new campus committee will: raise campus awareness of ecological stewardship opportunities at the college and coordinate efforts to enhance ecological sustainability; develop ways to measure the ecological impact of college operations; evaluate the ecological impact of college programs and services; recommend financially feasible improvements to enhance the college’s ecological sustainability efforts; promote the stewardship of resources within college operations and programs and communicate the college’s progress towards its goals in this area; and identify and recommend institutional goals in ecological stewardship within the context of the college’s strategic plan.

“This will certainly invite us to reconsider our priorities, but we can provide several years of examples where we have saved significant amounts of money in our budget by being more aware of when the lights are turned on and off, what kind of cars we buy and other actions,” Brenneman said.

The Presidents Climate Commitment is the first such effort by any major sector of society to set climate neutrality — not just a reduction — as its target. This undertaking by America’s colleges and universities is inspired by efforts like the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and other collective efforts by states and businesses.

“Colleges and universities must lead the effort to reverse global warming for the health and well-being of current and future generations,” said Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University and a founding member of the ACUPCC Leadership Circle. “On behalf of all the signatories, I welcome President Brenneman to the commitment, we are honored and pleased to have him join us.”

Presidents who have signed the commitment promise to eliminate their campus’ greenhouse emissions. This will involve completing an emissions inventory, taking immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, setting a target date within two years of becoming climate neutral, and integrating sustainability into the curriculum.

Under the guidance and direction of the Leadership Circle of presidents, the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment is being supported and implemented by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Second Nature and ecoAmerica.

Brenneman said his decision to sign the climate commitment stems from Goshen College’s Mennonite Church belief system, its core values and its strategic plan, which calls for campus purchasing, maintenance and construction that reflect sustainable and environmental practices. He said the signing of the commitment also is consistent with the college’s extensive efforts to work toward climate neutrality by such actions as saving on electrical energy and reducing natural gas consumption.

In February 2006, then-Interim President John Yordy became one of 39 presidents to express a faith-driven commitment to curb global warming and to call for legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The statement Yordy signed, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action,” made four points: “Human-Induced Climate Change is Real;” “The Consequences of Climate Change Will Be Significant, and Will Hit the Poor the Hardest;” “Christian Moral Convictions Demand Our Response to the Climate Change Problem;” and “The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change starting now.”

Goshen College offers a major and minor in environmental science. And one of the recent campus environmental initiatives is Rieth Village, a collegiate facility located at the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College, which is Indiana’s most environmentally friendly building project. It consumes far less energy than a conventional building would require and from August 2006 through January 2007, Rieth Village generated more electrical energy than it used thanks to its 4.8-kilowatt photovoltaic array and a 10-kilowatt wind generator.

Recycling is a way of life on campus. And through a computerized energy control system and other conservation measures, the college continues to work at lowering its energy usage and becoming more energy efficient.