We voted to divest, now what?

Two weeks ago, at the Town Hall, we, the student body, made Olin history. At Olin’s first-ever social referendum, 93% of the student body voted “yes” to divest and disclose.

  1. Are you in favor of calling on Olin to divest from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in sustainable businesses, industries, and funds?
  2. Are you in favor of calling on Olin to disclose the endowment’s exposure to fossil fuel companies on a regular basis?

This town hall is the first time that we, the students, have collectively expressed our voice through a democratic process we designed. In a young, maturing institution, we are setting a precedent.

This is a monumental achievement. Many other colleges weren’t able to get above 80% support: at Harvard, for example, 72% of the student body voted for fossil fuel divestment back in 2013. Our vote demonstrates the overwhelming support of Olin students for this critical effort, and CORe will send an official recommendation to the Board of Trustees with these numbers that show our resounding consensus.

As Gilda announced on the day of the Town Hall, the Board has now formed a committee to discuss divestment. The student representatives for this committee—nominated by CORe—are Olivia Chang and Tyler Ewald, and the committee will be having its first meeting on December 13. This new committee is important progress towards divestment, and we are optimistic that it will spur both conversation and meaningful action: the committee is preparing a proposal for the Board to vote on during its February meeting.

We thank you – fellow Olin students – for your support. Your questions, your solidarity, and your demonstrated commitment to fighting the climate crisis are why divestment is moving forward. As members of the community, you have the unique privilege to shape how seriously our school takes our stated commitments to sustainability, equity, and justice. A lot of important work has been done in the past twenty years of our school, but more remains to be done.

We hope you join us in our efforts to move Olin towards a just and sustainable future. Climate justice can’t wait.

Is This Greenwashing?

“greenwashing” /ˈɡrēnwôSH,ˈɡrēnwäSH/: disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.

According to a recent Olin press release, “Olin College is one of the nation’s most environmentally responsible colleges, according to The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges: 2023 Edition”. The press release also quotes Rob Franek, The Princeton Review’s Editor-in-Chief: “[w]e strongly recommend Olin College to the increasing number of students who care about the environment and want their ‘best-fit’ college to also ideally be a green one.”

“Sustainability” requires context. What follows is an explanation of how the score was calculated, a primer on AASHE STARS, and commentary.

Context

For this ranking, The Princeton Review tallied “Green Scores” for 713 colleges. The “Green Score” rating ranges from 60-99 and is based on questions including:

  1. What is the percentage of food expenditures that goes toward local, organic or otherwise environmentally preferable food?
  2. Does the school offer programs including mass transit programs, bike sharing, facilities for bicyclists, bicycle and pedestrian plans, car sharing, a carpool discount, carpool/vanpool matching, cash-out of parking, prohibiting idling, local housing, telecommuting, and a condensed work week?
  3. Does the school have a formal committee with participation from students that is devoted to advancing sustainability on campus?
  4. Are school buildings that were constructed or underwent major renovations in the past three years LEED certified?
  5. What is a school’s overall waste-diversion rate?
  6. Does the school have an environmental studies major, minor or concentration?
  7. Do the school’s students graduate from programs that include sustainability as a required learning outcome or include multiple sustainability learning outcomes?
  8. Does the school have a formal plan to mitigate its greenhouse gas emissions?
  9. What percentage of the school’s energy consumption is derived from renewable resources?
  10. Does the school employ a dedicated full-time (or full-time equivalent) sustainability officer?

These are the only questions mentioned on The Princeton Review’s “methodology” page to score colleges; it is unclear whether these are the only 10 data points and how they are weighted. The methodology page mentions the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) STARS, a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. However, it does not specify the extent to which AASHE STARS data is factored into the “Green Score”, if at all.

Colleges that scored 80 or higher were considered “green”. Of the 713 colleges considered, 455 colleges scored 80 or higher (the score ranges from 60-99; scoring an 80 is 50%). The 455 “green” colleges are unranked.

The Princeton Review also compiled a list of the “Top 50 Green Colleges”. Olin is not on the top 50 list, which is ranked.

AASHE STARS is a comprehensive report that examines a school’s sustainability actions across several categories: academics, research, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership. AASHE gives awards based on a cumulative score out of 100; 45 is Silver, 65 is Gold, 85 is Platinum.

Olin scored 48.27 on our last AASHE STARS, putting us in the Silver category. 191 schools have Gold AASHE STARS reports*, including Babson and Wellesley, and 12 schools have Platinum reports, including Cornell and UC Berkeley.

Commentary

Some might find it misleading to call Olin “one of the nation’s most environmentally responsible colleges”, when this ranking merely indicates that Olin, has, like the majority of schools considered, scored more than 50% on a “green” ranking of ambiguous methodology.

As Healey and Debski (2017) write, “sustainability’s lack of fixed meaning enables university management to continue business-as-usual operations and present sustainability in ways to suit their own agenda… Sustainability in practice tends to operate in ways that are decisively non-threatening to the status quo”.

Some might argue that sustainability initiatives are basic requirements of any institution that cares about ethical responsibility and “doing good in the world”. Given the rapidly closing window of time in which we have to act, “winning slowly” with climate can also be seen as losing, simply with a different name.

The most relevant metric to evaluate Olin’s climate initiatives must be our actions taken relative to action required, not action compared to inaction or business as usual.

Read More

*This number includes reports that have been filed more than 3 years ago, and have expired.

Quiz: Is This QEA, or a Scene from Inception?

  1. People keep repeating certain numbers and you don’t know why.
  2. A team is working together to solve a near-impossible task.
  3. You have no idea what’s going on.
  4. People keep falling asleep.
  5. Some things feel purposefully ambiguous.
  6. Time feels like it’s moving much slower than it actually is.
  7. You have to keep track of so many confusing things that you feel like you’re losing it.
  8. People are constantly asking themselves “how did I get here?”
  9. You’re still confused after someone tries to explain what’s happening.
  10. Things are happening very quickly and you feel that it would benefit from slowing it down so you could understand it better.
  11. You think you get it. Wait, just kidding, no you don’t.
  12. Even after the end of it, you still have so many questions.

Answer Key:

QEA: 1-12

Inception: 1-12

What Your Dorm Says About You

The Floor Is Laundry

What’s the point of making your bed when you’ll sleep in it the next day anyway? You have open containers of food and clothes strewn all over the floor. You haven’t taken out the trash in three weeks. You don’t get many visitors and you don’t know why.

The AmazonBasics Dorm

You forgot that dorms are supposed to have decorations, so you purchased everything off of Amazon when you got here. You have a Great Wave poster and a map of the world because those were the first things that showed up when you looked up “posters”. You used the rubber tubing and dowel as your hopper trigger.

The Dorm With All The Plants

You have given names to your plants and talk to them daily. You bought your water bottle from REI and decorated it with national parks stickers. Your favorite shoes are Birkenstocks or Tevas and you own at least one article of clothing from Patagonia.

The Food Pantry

Your fridge is overflowing because you make frequent trips to Trader Joe’s and hoard food from the dining hall. Your parents never let you eat snacks when you wanted, so you’re overcompensating now.

The “Live Laugh Love” Dorm

Everything you own is color-coordinated. You own scented candles and have used them more than once since first getting them on Etsy. Your favorite thing from home is your Fujifilm Instax and you hang your polaroids on your wall with string lights.

Your Floor Is So Spotless You Could Eat Off the Ground

You clean your dishes right after eating. You always put colored pencil sets into rainbow order when you’re done with them. You tell people “my dorm is so messy!” when the only thing on the ground is your shoes. Your hopper worked on your first try.

You Have Apple “Think Different” Posters On Your Wall

You check Hacker News every day. You’ve read Zero to One and The Hard Thing About Hard Things. You frequently quote Paul Graham, wear Allbirds, and use words like “scale” and “pivot” more than necessary. You are taking classes at Babson.