Report of the Smith College Study Group on Climate Change

Smith College

Project Overview

In this report, the Study Group on Climate Change (SGCC) presents its recommendations for climate action by Smith College. By implementing these recommendations, the college will coherently integrate climate action and sustainability across all aspects of the college—education, research, operations, financial investments and engagement of the Smith community. There are five broad recommendations, each with subrecommendations. The study group firmly believes that it is essential to carry out the recommendations simultaneously. The theory of climate action cannot be separated from its practice.


In the fall of 2015, President Kathleen McCartney, in consultation with the Smith College Board of Trustees, established the Study Group on Climate Change to examine how Smith, as an educational institution and residential college, could most effectively respond to the challenge of global climate change. The charge asked the SGCC to explore opportunities to mitigate climate-change impact on campus and to consider, more broadly, how Smith can contribute to climate-change solutions within the framework of its educational mission. The group was asked to pursue its charge through broad community input and consultation with experts. To ensure a range of voices and viewpoints on the committee, the study group included students, staff, faculty, alumnae and representatives from the board of trustees.


In developing principles and guidelines to inform its work, the study group looked to Smith’s past while embracing the challenges of an unknown future. Curriculum is the core of the college’s identity, and teaching students to innovate and solve complex problems is an imperative. The study group determined it critical that, to have the greatest impact both on- and off-campus, the climate action recommendations need to:

  • Be comprehensive in scope and set clear pathways for climate action in the college’s educational mission, operations and finances, and not simply focus on one or two components in isolation
  • Be distinctly Smith and incorporate the college’s outstanding liberal arts education, history of activism, historic residential campus, strong financial resources and engaged and loyal alumnae
  • Build upon the college’s new strategic plan that reimagines the liberal arts for the 21st century
  • Expand climate conversations across disciplines and departments to better educate the next generation of leaders
  • Strengthen connections between academics and campus daily life so that the climate-action principles taught in the classroom are implemented on campus
  • Model ideal institutional climate-action behaviors and policies so that students take those practices into the world when they leave Smith


The study group spent a year gathering input from hundreds of students, faculty, staff and trustees, consulting with experts and conducting research to develop a series of recommendations that allows Smith to contribute to climate solutions, locally and globally. During the Spring 2016 semester, Assistant Professor Camille Washington-Ottombre’s class, ENV 201/202 Researching Environmental Problems, led two community engagement sessions for the SGCC. More than 40 faculty, students, staff and trustees discussed priorities and concerns about climate change in relation to the college’s values and guiding principles; mitigation, adaptation and vulnerability; investments; and the curriculum and co-curriculum. The 15 students in the class then wrote and presented a report to the SGCC and gained invaluable practical experience while helping their college community.

Over the summer of 2016, SGCC members met with students to talk about their engagement with campus issues of climate action and sustainability. Study group members also met with graduate students in the School for Social Work to discuss the intersections between climate change and their experiences in clinical social work.

Concurrently, a subcommittee of the SGCC retained and worked with consultants to study how the college can effectively eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The subcommittee, which included SGCC members and additional students, faculty and staff, studied the college’s current infrastructure and examined ways to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions. The consultants, Integral Group, presented their findings to the SGCC at the end of the summer.

During the Fall 2016 semester, study group members conducted ten engagement sessions in which hundreds of community members discussed the SGCC’s draft recommendations, learned about college endowments and impact investing and viewed the consultants’ mitigation plan. At engagement sessions and meetings throughout the year, the SGCC gained valuable insights and suggestions from the Smith community that helped shape the recommendations. A number of quotes from these events are shared throughout this report.

In addition, the SGCC considered several concurrent college initiatives to ensure alignment: the college’s new strategic plan, the Neilson Library program plan,8 the college dining assessment, the work of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility and the Committee on Academic Priorities five-year planning framework (2015-2016).

As the study group considered the community feedback, the consultants’ report and the research it gathered, the members discussed, debated and expressed differing views, wrestled with trade-offs, competing priorities and the uncertainties of the future. The group asked questions, both of itself and the Smith community: How is Smith changing as an institution? How is the world changing? How do we make a better life for our community members and reduce the college’s impact on the environment? How are climate change and social justice linked?


The report took just over a year to finish.

  • December 2016: First meeting of SGCC
  • Spring 2016: Community Engagement Sessions led by students in ENV 201/202
  • Summer 2016: Student and School for Social Work engagement sessions; consultants worked on plan to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions
  • Fall 2016: Campus-wide engagement sessions
  • January 2017: Report written
  • March 2017: Presented report to board of trustees and campus community


The project was financed by a one-time grant from the president's office. This paid for the engagement events, associated committee meeting costs, the consultants, and designers for the report and presentation.


A set of comprehensive recommendations to address climate action at Smith College:

Academic Create new academic offerings and further infuse climate change and sustainable development concepts across the curriculum, while enhancing experiential and applied learning opportunities for students. Prioritize climate change and sustainability expertise in faculty appointments across the academic divisions, consistent with the approach proposed by the Committee on Academic Priorities. Develop a Campus as Classroom data integration program that manages operational climate and sustainability data in support of courses and student-faculty research. Provide workshops and funding sources, such as curriculum development grants, to help faculty create new courses and update current offerings. Expand on- and off-campus experiential and applied learning opportunities for students. * Provide funding for faculty research across all disciplines on climate-related challenges.

Campus Programming Expand opportunities for students to learn about climate-action initiatives outside of the classroom and to live more sustainably on campus. Plan and implement themed, yearlong, campus-wide programs that bring the Smith community together for an in-depth examination of focused aspects of climate change. Explore ways to strengthen or redesign co-curricular climate-action and sustainability initiatives.

Campus Operations Aggressively pursue the college’s commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, including a roughly 40 percent reduction in emissions over the next five years and continued research and scholarship focused on the optimal path to net zero. Pursue a plan to convert the central heating system to a ground-source heat exchange energy system. Upgrade part of the central heating plant to burn carbon-neutral biofuel. Purchase all non-campus-generated electricity from renewable resources. Increase funding to improve energy efficiency of campus buildings and implement metering of the largest energy users and most student houses.

Investments Address climate change in the context of Smith’s endowment investments. Increase the college’s commitment to impact investing from $9.5 to $30 million. Explore targeted opportunities for Smith to divest the endowment from fossil fuel holdings in a manner that is consistent with Smith’s tradition of prudent financial management. Enhance reporting and analysis on fossil fuel exposure in the endowment. Provide funds to the Smith College Investment Club to manage a separate, fossil fuel-free innovation portfolio.

Institutional Change Develop sustainability and climate-change initiatives that model ideal institutional behavior. Incorporate sustainability into the work plans of administrative and departmental offices and explore the development of sustainability innovation funds to implement cost- and carbon-saving programs. Develop an internalized cost of carbon emissions—such as a carbon-proxy price—to help guide major capital budget management and other decision-making processes. Develop a new campus landscape master plan that promotes use of the physical campus to demonstrate best practices in ecological management and climate-change adaptation. Expand local collaboration and locally sourced food in Smith College dining. * Partner with institutions and organizations to address climate change locally and globally.

Lessons Learned

Campus-wide engagement is essential for a project of this scope. The SGCC is serving as a model for future all-campus initiatives at Smith. At the start, the SGCC did not plan for the eventual governance, accountability, and oversight of the recommendations. After consultation with college administration, an existing sustainability committee has been charged with implementation of the recommendations.