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I’m pleased to announce that AASHE is kicking off a new interview series with sustainability leaders from campuses, businesses, and non-profit organizations that are taking the lead in advancing sustainability in higher education. Our inaugural interview is with Susan Kidd, the Director of Sustainability at Agnes Scott College. Susan became the first director of sustainability at Agnes Scott College in January 2008. She is working at the college where she earned two degrees – a bachelor’s degree in history in 1978 and a Master’s degree in teaching secondary English in 2007. She takes this position while also serving as the first R. Howard Dobbs sustainability scholar-in-residence in Emory University’s Office of Sustainability since July 2007. Susan served as senior vice president of the Georgia Conservancy from 2002-2006 where she managed the staff teams that carried out both Kidd the award-winning Blueprints community planning program and the Teaching Conservation curricula and teacher training programs.

I first got to know Susan after Agnes Scott President Elizabeth Kiss became a Charter Signatory to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. In this interview, Susan describes the work that has been done to advance sustainability on campus and the many plans for the future.

What campus sustainability initiatives are you working on at the moment?

Agnes Scott is in the start-up phase so we have two main initiatives underway:

  • Setting the goals for a comprehensive, campus-wide sustainability plan
  • Conducting our first greenhouse gas emissions inventory to be used as the basis for our climate neutrality plan

How did you get started in campus sustainability?

After 25 years working in the fields of conservation and historic preservation, I returned to school at Agnes Scott to get a Masters in Teaching degree. After graduating I had the opportunity to be the first R. Howard Dobbs Sustainability-Scholar-in-Residence at Emory University. In this position, working with Emory’s sustainability staff and a group of experts, I completed a research project analyzing the options for carbon offsets in Georgia. Working at Emory gave me the opportunity to learn about the very successful sustainability efforts on that campus, as well as to begin to learn more the field nationally.

Last fall after President Elizabeth Kiss and the board of trustees at Agnes Scott signed on to the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), I was asked to work for Agnes Scott as a consultant in order to begin the process of meeting the ACUPCC commitments. President Kiss appointed the Agnes Scott College Sustainability Steering Committee (SSC), which she chairs in November 2007 and they began the implementation process. In January 2008 I accepted the position as Agnes Scott’s first director of sustainability.

What campus sustainability success are you most proud of?

There are a number of successes thus far for Agnes Scott. I am most proud of three in this early phase.
First, there has been a strongly supportive response from all of the college’s constituencies: students, staff, faculty, trustees and alumnae. Here are some specific examples of the support from the college community:

  • More than 60 active volunteers on the SSC and the subcommittees
  • Close to ½ of all faculty, staff, and commuting students responded to the first commuting survey (to be used as data for the emissions inventory)
  • Inspired by the integrated design process for the green renovation of a campus building, the Dean of the College and a faculty member will teach a fall semester course that covers the sustainability and green building issues in conjunction with the learning space issues for that building
  • At the college’s annual “Community Day” (when staff and faculty commit to assist projects off and on campus with volunteer labor) sign-up for the sustainability activity filled up before all the other activities and the volunteer staff and faculty conducted a plumbing fixture survey of all non-resident buildings as part of the college’s water audit.
  • A number of alumnae who are in professions related to sustainability (architects, landscape architects, city planners, etc) participated in the day-long sustainability charrette.
  • The board of trustees has two very active participants on the SSC – they helped present an hour-long education hour for the entire board and the board passed a resolution in support of the SSC’s mission and purpose.

Second, the day-long sustainability charrette was a major opportunity for early input from the college community along with outside experts and community leaders. It really broadened our horizons on what we need to do and how we can do it. Third, our facilities staff has been particularly supportive, especially in two critical ways. They have provided much of the data for the emissions inventory and they have begun efficiency efforts in advance of our setting goals for climate neutrality. Below is a picture of facilities staff and Susan getting organized to do the inventory on Community Day.

What are the biggest challenges you face in advancing sustainability at Agnes Scott?

During the start-up phase the two greatest challenges we face are:

  • The age and condition of the campus buildings and infrastructure, and the need for addressing both deferred maintenance and retrofitting,
  • The search for new funding sources, specifically geared toward the college’s sustainability efforts.

What advice would you give others in your position who are just getting started?

Constantly remind yourself that sustainability is, at its heart, about people. While you might achieve some short-term change by approaching sustainability from a technological perspective, the long-term change will only come from buy-in of all college and community constituencies.

In what areas do you see the biggest room for growth in the campus sustainability field?

  • Actively sharing the experience of success and challenges among ACUPCC schools
  • Joint initiatives regionally or by the size of college*

How are you incorporating the community into your work?

We made the decision with some of our community partners to involve them at critical junctures in the planning process and to share our information as we proceed. Following this principle, for the sustainability charrette we invited more than 20 community partners and most of them participated. As a result we have these opportunities:

  • Possibly share an intern with the city of Decatur that is also pursuing a sustainability plan
  • Assist Dekalb County in conducting a charrette similar to the one we held
  • Working directly with the adjacent Oakhurst Community Garden on joint projects

How are you tracking your progress toward sustainability?

So far we are only documenting the results our work to date via a Blackboard site with all our draft goals, meeting notes and charette results posted. We have also been asked to write articles for our own college publications and several others. Tracking progress is an area where it would be helpful to see examples from other colleges and universities in order to adapt them to a tracking system for Agnes Scott, hopefully by the end of this summer.

Is there a particular insight (learning experience or “ah-ha” moment) you have had working on campus sustainability?

Many things come to mind, but perhaps the two most important are:

  • the constantly changing of technology and policy in this field
  • the breadth and depth of the issue

These two factors make it hard to get quickly to the best solutions for the issues you face.

How are your sustainability efforts funded?

For the start-up phase Agnes Scott is funding the sustainability effort from the operating budget – specifically the funds set aside to implement the strategic plan. We have begun the process of applying to foundations at the local and national levels that focus on climate change and sustainability.

It is important to note here that our sustainability mission is tied directly to the college’s new strategic plan and, therefore, its implementation.

In what ways are students involved in your work?

This summer a student research assistant is completing the emissions inventory and a recent graduate will begin as our first sustainability fellow, focusing on our student engagement plans for the 2008-2009 school year.
Also,both the president of the student senate and one of the dormitory “environmental residents” serve as standing members on the SSC. This past year those student representatives were very involved in the SSC’s activities. We have students volunteering on all of the SSC subcommittees and the Curriculum and Student Engagement subcommittee has set out ambitious goals for greatly increasing future student involvement. Prior to the sustainability efforts, Agnes Scott’s “Green Team” led the day-to-day conservation activity on campus, and this is still the case.

Are you involved in efforts to advance sustainability in curriculum at Agnes Scott? How?

Yes – both immediately by participating in the planning and as a guest lecturer for fall semester course mentioned above and long term by staffing the Curriculum and Student Engagement subcommittee of the SSC.

President Kiss is Charter Signatory to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. What do you feel will be the most difficult aspect of moving toward climate neutrality at Agnes Scott College?

Until we have our emissions inventory completed in September 2008 we will not set any goals for climate neutrality, so the most difficult aspect to date has been not having that context. Once that is achieved we anticipate setting rigorous goals, but we know that won’t be easy.

What are the other most pressing issues for Agnes Scott?

Georgia is in a drought so water issues are as pressing for us as carbon emission and climate neutrality issues, and we see the strong tie between the two. We have begun a water audit with technical assistance from a state agency. We would like to see much progress on our water efforts in the upcoming school year.

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