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William & Mary Leading Green

Miller Hall, the new LEED business school building/William & Mary studentsThe current global recession discourages many institutions—especially small ones with limited resources—from making the investments social responsibility demands, but what I read about a recent green initiative at William & Mary gave me some hope. The college, a signatory of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment, has chosen not merely to wield the rhetoric of the green movement (a popular and easy approach), but to lead its community, its state, and the national body of small educational institutions with tangible examples and results despite its added challenge of being an historic campus.

William & Mary defines its sustainable intentions as “pushing a path of more efficient use of energy, a smaller carbon footprint, and more sustainable existence” in order to become “a powerful cog in the change required to stave off the global climate crisis.” They started by confronting in some ways the largest impediment to these goals— the entrenched cultural and behavioral patterns that inhibit a public’s willingness to change. At a school it makes sense to do that by leveraging its intellectual capital: the faculty, students, and staff. Disseminating the science, the politics, the socio-economic realities involved in climate change has led to a powerful awareness in the students who have embarked on a host of programs to affect change at all scales. Last year “the installation of motion detectors, efficient light bulbs, and the improvement of building envelopes” on campus saved the College $600,000. The students are passionate and have even implemented by ballot initiative a green fee of $30 for the academic year to help finance projects and research. It won by 86% and generates $230,000 a year. These student efforts coupled with the school's commitment for LEED accredited buildings are an impressive beginning.

Students who choose William & Mary undoubtedly do so in part because of its forward–looking, ethical approach to social responsibility. Because freshmen are given an orientation guide and video on the campus’s green philosophy, any students who didn’t care very much about sustainability are likely to after they begin.

- N. Mendoza | Designer