The First Annual Sustainability Summit

November 6, 2013

By Maren Hunsberger

When Saturday arrived, warm and cloudy, all I wanted to do was stay in bed. At 8 a.m. however, my alarm insisted on doing its job and getting me out of my inimitably comfortable bed to attend the College’s First Annual Sustainability Summit. As much as I had resisted getting up, I was greeted on arrival by busy friends and hot coffee–and the day only got better from there. After breakfast and coffee were enjoyed by all, Professor Emeritus Dennis Taylor gave a few opening remarks that set the tone for the rest of the Summit. He touched on the progress the College has made in the realm of sustainability, running the gamut from dining services to energy conservation, encompassing almost every department and staff on campus. He emphasized the role of students in beginning these initiatives, even those who devoted just a few hours every week to a green project on campus. Students who have started small have made huge progress, step-by-step–like making the heating/cooling system in Swem more energy efficient. His remarks particularly resonated with the students in the crowd when he concluded, speaking about the changes that still need to be made. “All the easy stuff is already done”, he quipped, urging students to look for solutions to the difficult green initiatives and to not be intimidated by their scale: “The beauty of this school is what drew you to it, and it’s your ideas, volunteerism, and long-term support of green initiatives that will keep it that way”.

After Professor Taylor’s opening remarks, the room was palpably energized, students and faculty buzzing with an energy that defied the early hour. The panel that followed, ‘Sustainability in Practice’, furthered this enthusiasm. Panel members introduced themselves and their participation in green initiatives on campus, most with very impressive accomplishments to bring to light. Faren Alston, with Dining Services, brought up the fact the W&M has been 1st in a recycling competition among Virginia public universities for 3 years in a row (Go Tribe!). She also spoke about the wildly popular Farm to Fork Night, the annual sustainable, local food dinner. The panelists, who included Alston, Bob Avalle (Facilities Management), Patrick Foley (Sustainability Fellow), and Michael Curcio (Dining Intern), discussed the eco-initiatives they had been most excited about seeing put into practice and their dream sustainability projects. Hearing a group of driven people speak about their sustainable work created a moment where attendees of the Summit looked around at the room and seemed to think, ‘We are all working toward the same goal. We are making real progress. And I think we can take this even farther.’

Two other panels followed, one on ‘Sustainability in research and Academics’ and ‘Sustainability in Service’ (this last panel was made up entirely of students!). After absorbing such rich, diverse perspectives and hearing about exciting but perhaps little known sustainability projects, attendees mingled to discover mutual interests and goals. Even as a bystander it was gratifying to watch connections being made, and as a student I can say that I met people who changed my perspective on the nature of sustainability at the College. I made contacts I will certainly be using in the future, especially with possible projects in mind (and did I mention making new friends?).  While I and other planners certainly identified aspects of the Summit that will be improved upon for years to come, the ultimate goal of the Summit was fulfilled. Students and teachers from all backgrounds came together to celebrate William and Mary’s green achievements and used communal brainstorming to plan for new goals. So, to all you sustainably minded people out there on campus–here’s to next year.


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