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Bard Office of Sustainability

In the 1990s, Bard College turned its eye toward sustainability. Through its Environmental Resources Department, the institution launched a campus recycling program in 1992 and a composting program three years later. These early efforts toward becoming a more eco-conscious institution eventually spawned Bard’s Office of Sustainability.

In 2004, Laurie Husted joined the office as its Chief Sustainability Officer. As attitudes and information about our impact on the environment have changed, so has Bard’s focus. The school still composts and recycles, but has also set the goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035. To be “carbon neutral,” the college will cut its emissions and offset the remainder.
Husted has helped fit the bits and pieces of sustainability into the larger picture of reducing Bard’s carbon footprint. “It’s really about having the students, the faculty, the staff and the surrounding community thrive. That’s possible if we look at the college in terms of systems like water, land, transportation, and energy,” Husted explains. Although some of these components are addressed individually, most are evaluated in terms of Bard’s carbon goal. “Everything is done through a climate lens,” she says.

Luckily, Husted has had help in moving Bard toward its objective. “One of the most important steps toward achieving the goal of climate neutrality was that the college allowed me to bring on an energy specialist. Dan Smith, who came out of our Center for Environmental Policy, worked for me as an intern. Then we were able to get the college to hire him on as an energy manager and special projects coordinator. He is the nuts and bolts of the climate neutrality pledge in terms of built environment, which is about 60 percent of our emissions,” Husted says.

Long before Smith and Husted came to Bard, the school was already using geothermal power to reduce the energy use of its buildings. “People often associate geothermal with Iceland and digging down to sources of hot water. Geothermal is really just about taking advantage of the temperature difference about five feet down, because it’s 55 degrees, and so you can use that as a source of cooling or heating depending on the season,” explains Husted. “It’s still uses electricity, but it’s a great way of moving toward reducing your carbon footprint.”

In addition to using geothermal as the default in new construction, buildings are outfitted to reduce heat-loss. “Buildings leak. You have to figure out how to close the holes, so to speak, and make them more efficient,” Husted explains. “We call Dan the sustainability ninja because he’s behind the scenes getting it done, and you don’t even know that he was there. The buildings are more comfortable and they’re using less oil.”

Buildings constitute a big piece of the pie, but Husted also works to address the smaller sources of carbon emissions, such as waste. “We recycle, we compost. Other parts of the small part of the wedge are purchasing, so if we can buy recycled paper, that counts,” says Husted. The college has also switched its lighting to LEDs.

“The glaring omission from all of this reporting is our carbon footprint for food. Last year, we were able to add another person to my department. Katrina Light is our agricultural and food systems supervisor,” explains Husted. “Connecting to people through food is a very powerful tool. We are sort of keeping track of our carbon omissions despite the fact that we are not required to. I think it will soon be part of the measurable things that colleges and others have to think about.” According to Husted, 20 percent of emissions come from food services. “We’re going to lead on that and work to make sure we reduce that as well.”

But what about issues that don’t fall under the heading of climate? Bard’s Office of Sustainability has undertaken and encouraged a number of projects to protect the area’s natural resources. “Winnakee Land trust has gotten a couple of grants recently that we’ve written letters of support for, to purchase some land that’s adjacent to our campus.” The land, Husted says, connects the campus to the Village of Red Hook. “Buy buying this land, the land organization is going to be providing a better buffer to the Sawkill River, which is our water supply. Limiting development is going to help with flooding. They’re also talking about building a trail so we can get back and forth between the village and the somewhat-isolated campus. That’s very important for me to support. It’s this great ecosystem project where nature is doing the work of protecting the water supply. Sometimes it just needs a little help by keeping it from deteriorating through human impacts.”

Not long ago, Bard was also given approximately $800,000 from the New York State (EFC) to create a green infrastructure project on campus. Through the use of permeable asphalt, bioswales, constructed wetlands, and other means, Olin parking lot is now handling 10 acres of runoff. “The water slowly percolates through five infrastructure features, which clean it up before it goes on into our drinking water supply,” says Husted. “The project doesn’t have huge impact on our bottom line in terms of carbon, but it’s still important for a college to do. We’re showing the community what’s possible, and leading the way so other people can follow.”