Sustainability at Macalester College

Suzanne Savanick Hansen, Macalester College
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For the past three decades, Macalester College has been a leader in implementing sustainable practices on campus. In 2008-2009, the newly established Sustainability Office facilitated a campus-wide sustainability strategic planning process. The results of that work, along with Climate Action Plan recommendations by the Environmental Studies senior seminar led to the adoption of Macalester College's first comprehensive Sustainability Plan ( The plan articulates concrete goals and actions for the college including:

  • Achieve climate neutrality by 2025
  • Produce zero waste by 2020
  • Integrate sustainability into curriculum and student programs
  • Adopt a "green building" policy to reduce emission in the construction and operation of facilities
  • Decrease emissions from travel
  • Adopt a responsible purchasing policy.

During 2009-2010, the Sustainability Office has worked with the Sustainability Advisory Committee to review the Sustainability Plan. Individual offices and students have worked on implementing parts of the plan. The environmental studies senior seminar researched topics that under the umbrella of Zero Waste by 2020. Students in the class recommended changes to our e-waste recycling program, developed an off-campus compost bin checkout system, and developed a recycling website. In addition, a major energy recommissioning of all main campus buildings is nearing completion. A major landscaping and stormwater planning process is underway and will be completed by fall.

As sustainability projects have been successfully implemented in campus operations, integrating sustainability into the curriculum remains challenging. Macalester has a long-standing, successful and growing environmental studies department and environmental studies and other faculty currently teach about sustainability. However, the college has not historically tracked sustainability content in courses and the only data readily available is environmental studies course listings. With limited staff time, even deciding on what constitutes a sustainability course and collecting the data from syllabi and course descriptions is time consuming. It is challenging, particularly for staff or pre-tenured faculty, to convince non-environmental studies faculty about the importance of adding sustainability in the curriculum.

It is my hope, as the Sustainability Manager here at Macalester, to bring resources and success stories back to Macalester and share them with interested faculty members. By implementing strategies that have worked at similar schools, I hope to avoid some of the common pitfalls in as all schools that signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment as well all try to integrate climate issues and sustainability in the curriculum.