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Extraordinary Student Leadership on Environmental Practices Celebrated at Pomona College Graduation

On May 13 during Pomona College’s 114th Commencement Exercises, President David W. Oxtoby celebrated the extraordinary leadership of Pomona students on environmental issues. "In my four years on campus, I have been struck that so much of the leadership at the College comes not from the top down but from you, the students,” said Oxtoby.

“You took the issue of climate change and did not just watch movies and throw up your hands; instead, you analyzed College practices and proposed specific strategies to reduce our carbon footprint; you started a campus climate challenge that lowered dormitory electricity use. You laid the groundwork for other critical steps ranging from reducing water consumption to cutting the number of cars on campus through a Flexcar rental option,” he noted.

Specific examples of the students’ leadership on the environment included the following:

  • The student-led Pomona Campus Climate Challenge, which started as a research class, prepared a remarkable 87-page report on Pomona College greenhouse gas emissions, as well as recommendations for changes. The group was led by seniors Praween Dayananda and Ada Aroneanu. Joining them were Kyle Edgerton, Class of ‘08; Stephen Conn, Class of ‘07; and Tara Ursell, Class of ‘08.
  • Last fall, students organized the incredibly successful Dorm Green Cup Challenge, an information campaign and competition, which resulted in students reducing their consumption of electricity by over 5 percent. In response, the College purchased renewable energy credits from the Bonneville Energy Foundation, equal to the amount of electricity that would be required to support 1,065 households for a 30 day period, according to the Bonneville website.
  • A student initiative, now in its second year, produced energy savings by having students replace incandescent light bulbs in their dorm rooms with fluorescent bulbs. In part in response to this successful project, Oxtoby created a $15,000 fund to support similar campus projects.
  • Recognizing that food and sustainable agriculture are critical issues for the 21st century, a group of students continued work to build the organic farm, and student demand was instrumental in having a course on Farms and Gardens added to the curriculum.
  • And, Femke Oldham, Class of ’07, wrote a thesis in Public Policy Analysis on the subject of "Water at Pomona College: An Investigation of Policies and Practices."

While Oxtoby noted that it's been hard to keep up with the students this year, the College has taken separate steps towards sustainability as well.

  • The College opened its second and third buildings, the new Edmunds and Lincoln buildings, built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s silver standards.
  • In April, Oxtoby signed the President's Climate Commitment, pledging the College to take serious steps to reduce production of greenhouse gases.
  • The President’s Sustainability Committee was established to help coordinate and connect activities, monitor critical indicators of environmental performance, develop new approaches and ideas to improve the College’s sustainable use of resources.
  • And this summer with the goal of reducing student cars on campus, Pomona will begin negotiations with FlexCars, a car-sharing company that provides low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles at an hourly rate.

In addition, The Claremont Colleges have jointly set up a fund of $50,000 per year for three years to spark ideas for environmental projects from faculty, students, and staff that cross campus boundaries. Three projects have already been approved, including one led by Pomona Professor Richard Hazlett.

Led by students, Pomona College has made major strides during the last few years to be a wiser consumer of natural resources, further develop a campus ethos of resource sustainability, and incorporate environmentally sound practices in its operations.

Despite these accomplishments, Oxtoby noted that, “Much work remains to be done, not only on environmental sustainability but more broadly on social sustainability: building a society in which difference is respected and welcomed, in which everyone has the opportunity to use their talents to succeed and in turn to give back to the world, in which income is not the prerequisite for success."