New office, new plan: College broadens commitment to sustainability

President Higdon, right, speaks to students and faculty at the reopening of the College's historic Steel House, home to the new Office of Sustainability.
President Higdon, right, speaks to students and faculty at the reopening of the College's historic Steel House, home to the new Office of Sustainability.

During the Aug. 29 celebration of Convocation at Connecticut College, which marks the formal opening of the academic year, the College celebrated two important milestones: the reopening of the College’s historic Steel House, which will serve as the home of the new Office of Sustainability, and the unveiling of its new Sustainability Strategic Plan.

Sustainability has long been a priority at the College, and the new plan enhances the institution’s commitment to environmental conservation, social equity and economic stability. Focusing on the College’s educational mission, the plan has resulted in more courses and research opportunities related to sustainability, student-led sustainability initiatives and opportunities to be a true model for sustainable practices, both on campus and in the greater community.

“We’ve spent a good deal of time over the past couple of years thinking strategically about where we want to be with sustainability — how best to build on our historic leadership in environmental studies and stewardship in a way that is strategically integrated with our educational mission,” said President Leo I. Higdon Jr. at the Convocation ceremony. “Compared to a vast majority of schools, we are way ahead. Our work builds on environmental efforts we have had in place for a long time. But we have now reached new heights in holistic sustainability and we have committed the College to a long-term plan for even greater achievement.”

In her keynote Convocation address, Associate Professor of Art Denise Pelletier continued the theme, cautioning the crowd not to let the “white noise” of sustainability conversations and cries for help drown out the call to work together to leave behind a better world.

“It’s natural to compare the enormity of a problem with our own smallness, and we tend to rationalize at least some bit of helplessness in this equation,” she said. “We all need community for personal and global sustenance. Nobody here’s going to go it alone.”

After Convocation, the campus community gathered for a picnic near the Steel House, a rare example of early prefab housing that was erected in 1933. The College acquired the house in 1949 and recently refurbished it. The building is now home to the new Office of Sustainability, which works to advance the understanding and application of holistic sustainability through curricular integration and by helping the College model sustainability.

Serving as “home base” for students interested in sustainability and campus clubs and organizations with related goals and missions, the Steel House has gathering and office spaces and a fully operational kitchen. Students with ideas for campus sustainability initiatives can apply for a Steel House Sustainability Grant, which provides funding to fast-track student projects.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the new office, sophomore Margaret Sturtevant delivered the final words on the day’s theme, urging the crowd to bow to the moral obligation posted by sustainability in order to be “fair to our wallets, fair to our neighbors, fair to our great-great-great grandchildren and fair to the place which we inhabit.”

September 5, 2013