December 17, 2021 | NEWS | By Gordon Clark | Photo by Rikki Held

Disclaimer: The author is the Green Programs intern for the Office of Sustainability at Colorado College.

Sustainability has been a recent focus of many institutions over the last few decades. Now more than ever, prospective students and the world expect a certain amount of sustainable initiatives from higher education institutions. Colorado College has taken this expectation in stride, becoming a leader in many aspects of progressive development.

In 2020, CC became the eighth institution of higher education to achieve carbon neutrality in North America, reducing on-campus emissions by 75% and employing both solar and geothermal sources to accomplish the incredible feat. But now, along with other similar institutions still grappling with the effects of a global pandemic and the ever-present climate crisis, CC is asking the question: what’s next?

Sustainability, in its simplest terms, asks us to satisfy the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. More particularly this goal has been established at Colorado College in the form of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which outline 17 global initiatives —fresh water and sustenance for all, sustainable communities, race and gender equality, and clean energy are just a few on the list.

Sustainability Director Ian Johnson and Sustainability Coordinator Mae Rohrbach shared their thoughts on the state of sustainability at CC and their aspirations for 2022 and beyond.

“Certainly, energy in heating and cooling is an important aspect of meeting our needs, but there’s a lot more to it,” Johnson said. “The United Nations’ Goals encourage us as an institution to focus not only on the numbers and the statistics of energy use, carbon footprint, and waste but on all other needs that students face.”

 “More broadly, this means meeting student needs like providing accessible education, reducing inequalities within and outside the classroom, and promoting student health and wellbeing,” Rohrbach said.

Communications intern Paige Simenz ’24 and communications volunteer Grace Gilmore ’22 in front of the Office of Sustainability, photo courtesy of Rikki Held

As such, many of CC’s initiatives are still centered on waste diversion, food availability, and student programming in the form of sustainability education and professional development for interns and volunteers of the office. Particularly, the Office of Sustainability has recently rolled out an extensive off-campus compost program and increased E-waste disposal sites on campus to meet student needs.

Many of the operations of the Office of Sustainability were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued to be impacted this 2021 fall semester. Throughout all this, Johnson and Rohrbach, in their employment of students and their setting of expectations, have paid close attention to the toll that the pandemic still takes on everyone at this school.

“I think it has internally caused us to prioritize wellness and building space for our own needs,” said Johnson. The pandemic presented us with unprecedented challenges, and the office has vowed to be prepared, adaptable, and resilient in the years to come.

“We’ve reached our big stretch goal,” said Johnson, referring to 2020’s carbon neutrality. “So we’ve actually spent the last couple years sitting down, setting goals as an office for what comes next…what can we petition our school to do next?”

When asked about next semester, Johnson and Rohrbach said they were excited at the prospect of very new and very ambitious institutional goals for sustainability at Colorado College.

While these plans are still in development, Johnson and Rohrbach hope to present their strategic proposals to school leaders in the coming months. 

“In the meantime, we hope to promote successful food and waste initiatives, co-curricular initiatives, and to maintain our reputation as a leader in sustainable action while at the same time connecting our work to the anti-racism initiatives recently started by the college,” Rohrbach said.

At the institutional level and on a smaller scale, there is much on the docket for the Office of Sustainability this coming spring. The office continues to think and act on initiatives great and small, for the needs of students, the needs of campus, and the needs of the world outside of CC.

The sense is palpable: we are at the cusp of another major era of sustainable ingenuity at Colorado College.

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