The Office of Sustainability and a Commitment to Environmental Action: Holy Cross’s and Other Institutions’ Progress on the Climate Crisis

Anna Lee ‘24

Opinions Editor

Since its establishment in April 2020, the College of the Holy Cross’s Office of Sustainability has already made headway on a series of environmentally-progressive initiatives. With climate change and discussions about sustainability at the forefront of global politics and scientific research, the Office of Sustainability hopes to provide “coordination, encouragement, and accountability to foster a campus culture that cares for our ‘common home.’” 

Headed by the Director of Sustainability, Cathy Liebowitz, there has already been a series of changes to reduce carbon emissions. Liebowitz explained this goal: “In 2007, the College signed Second Nature‘s Carbon Commitment, agreeing that the College would strive to reach carbon neutrality by 2040.” An information page released by the European Parliament describes carbon neutrality as “having a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere” in order to combat global warming. In doing so, the threat of rising temperatures is slightly mitigated, though carbon neutrality goals require full effort on the part of many local institutions in order to make significant environmental change. 

  Remarkably, the Office of Sustainability has already reduced Holy Cross carbon emissions by over 50 percent “through infrastructure changes like highly efficient chillers and LEED certified buildings, as well as behavior changes, such as composting food waste” (Liebowitz). Behavioral changes in particular are an integral part of promoting sustainability efforts after students leave Holy Cross. According to Dr. Kimberly Nicholas, Associate Professor of Sustainability Science at Lund University, 72% of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by “lifestyle” habits, though they are not taken that seriously by policymakers. According to Dr. Nicholas, lifestyle changes will generate the most long-term progress during the climate crisis since students take their modified habits with them post-graduation. 

As the climate crisis gains traction, colleges other than Holy Cross have made similar strides in environmental progress. One Office of Sustainability intern, Riley Smith ‘24, conducted extensive research on this topic. In her research, Smith gathered data from peer institutions with similar profiles, including Williams College, Amherst College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, among many others. Smith’s findings revealed that while most of these institutions were on par with Holy Cross’s environmental actions, some colleges are opting for more ambitious sustainability goals. For instance, Williams’ Sustainability team pledges to buy carbon offsets every year, while Amherst aims to be carbon-neutral by 2030. Smith concluded that while sustainability missions vary across schools, it’s still important to cross-check efforts at other institutions to “ensure accountability and progress at Holy Cross.” 

Smith’s research unveils another important topic at the center of Holy Cross’s identity: the initiative for Catholic schools to commit to more environmentally stable practices. For example, Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si was a universal appeal for environmental change and related issues at the core of sharing the “common home.” In light of the encyclical, the Laudato Si Action Platform emerged: “a unique collaboration between the Vatican, an international coalition of Catholic organizations, and ‘all men and women of good will’” (Laudato Si Action Platform). Some of the primary goals of the Platform include the exploration of faith in the current ecological crisis and understanding the interrelated nature of the world. As Smith discovered, peer Jesuit, Catholic institutions like Regis University and Fairfield University have already pledged their commitment to the platform. While Holy Cross’s sustainability efforts may not match what the Laudato Si Action Platform aims for, the intersection between environmental sustainability and Catholic responsibility is something worth considering in a Jesuit school. 

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