Aligning AspirationsCollege’s first sustainability charrette provides framework for future action If you’ve read Zola, you may have seen the term charrette in his 1885 novel L’Oeuvre/The Masterpiece. To the French author, a charrette was a handcart that 60 frantic architecture students collaboratively commandeered in a mad rush to transport design projects to an evaluation site. To the 100 Swarthmoreans who collaboratively attended a two-day sustainability charrette, the term meant “a thoughtful and deliberate opportunity to evaluate proposals, compare priorities, and eventually coordinate aspirations with budgetary realities,” as Interim President Constance Cain Hungerford noted in her introduction to the February event. Hungerford, who has chosen sustainability as her presidential priority, stressed the urgency of the issue. Unlike Zola’s students, “Our deadline is not overnight or in a week, but our climate-change clock is ticking inexorably; time is most certainly running out on our foolish and unsustainable misuse of resources, such as our willful reliance on fossil fuels and our squandering of precious water.” The plan to host a think tank on sustainability began to emerge this fall after Hungerford invited members of the College community to send her big, but concrete ideas about how the College could be a better steward of the Earth. As she noted in her call to action, Swarthmore had made commendable progress toward creating a more sustainable campus, with energy-saving steps taken in recent years to meet the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2035 and the February 2014 hiring of the first sustainability director, Laura Cacho (for more on Cacho, see Page 76). By the Oct. 10 submission deadline 160 ideas had arrived. Cacho grouped them into nine categories: curriculum, building energy and infrastructure, transportation, waste, the natural environment, water, food, advocacy for local community efforts, and finance. The idea for a charrette came from Vice President for Facilities and Capital Projects Stu Hain, who was familiar with building-design brainstorming sessions. He proposed that the College host a charrette—bringing together diverse voices to evaluate the 160 ideas and consider new ones. Board funding ensured that a world-class slate of experts on green building practices, town/gown sustainability partnerships, and green investing could convene in the Scheuer room of Kohlberg Hall to offer provocative ideas and spark spirited conversation about the College’s aspirational goals for sustainability. In organizing the event, Cacho ensured that a wide range of faculty, staff, and students—plus several alumni, Swarthmore borough officials, and Philadelphia community partners —were invited. Board Chair Gil Kemp ’72, Manager David Singleton ’68, and Hungerford attended throughout. “The charrette aligned emotions and the interests of a wide section of the Swarthmore community,” confirmed Massey Burke ’00, a natural architecture practitioner from California and a charrette small-group facilitator. Another discussion concerned divestment. John Fullerton, a former JPMorgan managing director who now focuses on green investment, encouraged the College to think creatively about its investments, lest the divestment debate deflect attention from its sustainability efforts. An idea that appealed to faculty and students was creation of a Center for Just Sustainability that could be a nexus for interdisciplinary programs related to social justice and environmental studies. Proposals that addressed renewable energy and energy efficiency found traction amid the 160 ideas and at the charrette, according to Cacho. The first step this spring, said Hungerford, will be “to research particular proposals and attach pricing to them, then bring some of the more representative proposals back to the community for wider discussion.” She expects proposals will proceed to the Board for consideration in May and hopes that some projects will begin this summer. “There are lots of things we’ve done already that are really impressive—including migrating from a central boiler to localized boilers and getting away from burning oil, changing from incandescent lighting, and installing several green roofs,” she said. “The charrette was positive and exciting, a Swarthmore seminarlike kind of thing, in the context of which we could talk about what we’ve been doing for the past 10 years, really because of the leadership of the facilities staff,” Hungerford added. “Now there is an appreciation of the urgency and the need to move ahead.” + For more on the College's recent sustainablilty efforts, click here. To learn about prior initiatives, click here. Read our Q&A with Sustainability Director Laura Cacho here.