An Open Letter to the Future President of Davidson College on Sustainability

Dear Future President of Davidson College,

Thank you for your commitment to our school. Over the coming year, you will be laying out your positions on major issues relevant to the school’s needs and our collective future. I am writing to argue that one of your top priorities as a president should be the sustainability of Davidson College. I have worked for the sustainability office for three years of my college career. In my role, I play a heavy part in our greenhouse gas emissions reporting and have a front-row seat to the progress the school is making on its commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. We, the student body, are deeply concerned about our future. Climate change is the greatest challenge that our generation faces. Our focus at school is education and our development as global citizens. Your focus as our decision-maker is to take responsibility to be a leader in solving the climate crisis. 

The primary purpose of Davidson College is “to assist students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service.” This purpose is reflected in our residential community and our liberal arts education. What we learn and see at Davidson translates into what we create in the world outside the campus. Disappointingly, Davidson does not present itself as a sustainable college. This translates into the way students view their own sustainability values and goals. Without a concerted effort by the school to eliminate waste and bring down carbon emissions, students who value sustainability feel like these issues are an uphill battle. There is a disconnect between their values and the school’s operational practices. We learn ways of knowing to interpret the world and ourselves — sustainability as a lens should be a way of knowing. The onus should not be on students to push forward Davidson’s reputation as a sustainable school. It should be a directed school effort to present itself as a place where sustainability is a central focus. 

I implore you to read our Climate Action Plan carefully. Reporting is fundamental to maintaining goals. As the adage goes, what gets measured gets managed, and when done well, reporting helps Davidson achieve benchmarks towards clear goals. Davidson College made its commitment to carbon neutrality in 2008. Above is a snapshot of our net emissions. A serious consideration for the school is how it plans to expand. Note three spikes in our net emissions. These are related to the years in which we added buildings to our campus. The school has plans to expand, including a new football stadium. The administration should have considered the environmental footprint of this project before agreeing to build. This should be a consideration every time the school makes plans to expand. Our ability to achieve efficiencies in our energy consumption, replace carbon-emitting energy with carbon-neutral renewable energy, and adopt higher emission standards for ourselves as our campus grows will bring us to carbon neutrality. 

Finally, I want to say my impression of the college’s the attitude towards sustainability goals is auxiliary and viewed as an aside rather than a centrally focused initiative. Sustainability as a community on campus is mainly underground and disparate. Because there is no central effort to rally around, student-led ambitions for fighting climate change and bringing awareness to sustainability efforts are stifled by the short time we have on campus and our other commitments to our education and student activities. This year, SGA and the sustainability collective are starting a Green Fund to use student-controlled money for projects related to improving the school’s sustainability. A similar effort was started in 2019 but lost traction after the pandemic. In my first year, I started a composting project in our dining hall, and while talking to administrators and older students, I found out that someone a few years back had tried to do the same thing and failed. There is a pattern of trying and failing, and institutional knowledge doesn’t pass between generations of students on this subject. We come to Davidson hoping to make a difference. We can not keep this cycle of trying the same idea over and over only to have it lose steam. If we had administrative support to keep projects like the Green Fund alive year-to-year and let students push it along in small ways, we could start a movement. If changes only come from students, we will fail — it’s on you. There is no reason that Davidson College should not be a leading institution in mitigating climate change. As an alumnus, I want to be proud of my institution. I expect to see great changes come from you and the school in the following years. 


Brooke Whitcomb, Class of ‘22

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