Among the many people and departments on campus working tirelessly to help Hamilton achieve its carbon neutrality goal by 2030, there’s a group of students doing the work right alongside them: the Hamilton Sustainability Coordinators (HSC).

H Carbon Neutral 2030These 12 dedicated students spearhead academic and cocurricular projects that have direct impacts on the College’s carbon footprint by working for Hamilton’s Environmental Protection, Safety and Sustainability Office. Coordinators are regularly involved in planning and implementing large-scale sustainability initiatives, facilitating residence hall composting, reforestation plot/pollinator habitat management, and community education and outreach. They are often active participants on institutional committees and in working groups, and they serve as a bridge between all students and their elected representatives on Student Assembly.

Learn about just a few of the projects and initiatives HSC has recently taken on.

Green Attributes

In 2022, several members of HSC and the sustainability summer interns designed the “Green Attributes” project, which outlines how the College could use green landscaping as a tool to further Hamilton’s commitment to sustainability. The project, designed by Ellie Sangree ’24 with help from Helen Xin ’25, Clara Zhou de Magalhaes ’24, Emmy Goodwin ’23, and Eileen Bussiere ‘25, reduces Hamilton’s impact on the local environment and showcases the region’s natural beauty.

Sustainability Interns Make Their Mark on College Hill

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Green Attributes focuses on preserving small and large patches of habitat for native plants and animals, as well as “low-mow” zones to promote growth of field habitat. In conjunction with professors from environmental studies and biology, those involved with the project plan to calculate how much carbon is saved from forgoing the designated plots’ previous mowing regimens and hidden by more heavily vegetated areas.  

The students worked closely with Facilities Management and several campus offices to execute the plan, and now anyone walking around campus can read about the project thanks to signs installed throughout campus.

A Focus on Reforestation

Reforestation has been a staple of HSC initiatives for the last four years. HSC members, along with Hamilton’s Land and Forest Stewardship Committee (LFSC), Facilities Management Office, and various faculty, help to plant and manage the thousands of trees planted in two of Hamilton’s agricultural fields that are no longer in use. These sites promote forest regeneration and facilitate academic research.

Coordinators help by placing tubes around each of the tree saplings to limit predation and to increase the likelihood of the tree’s survival. Once the trees have developed, HSC will help with the removal of the tubes with the intention of reusing them for future reforestation efforts.

Adding to the Arboretum

Hamilton’s 1,350-acre campus is designated as an arboretum, and summer sustainability interns Betsy Gross ’24 and Adrian Stefan ’24 spent much of the summer of 2023 on projects that help others enjoy and learn about each part of it.

June 2024 - peony garden
Members of the American Peony Society visiting the Grant Garden. Photo: Kevin Waldron

The duo worked as guides for the American Peony Society’s 2023 convention, which was held at Hamilton's world-famous peony collection in Grant Garden, and they also could be found marking and cataloguing the near-3,000 trees on campus. Information about each tree’s species, location, and capacity for carbon sequestration was recorded in a digital program called ArborScope in an effort to modernize and digitize the arboretum for improved viewing and research purposes.

Serving Up Sustainability

Harvest Helps

Harvest, a popular student-powered food-salvage program on campus aimed at tackling local food insecurity issues. Harvest managers and HSC spend several hours a week organizing shifts and volunteer outreach efforts. Following lunch and dinner on most weekdays, roughly 10 to 12 student volunteers – many who harvest multiple times throughout the semester – collect leftover food from the hot lines at Commons and McEwen dining halls and prepare it to be stored in the Bundy Café freezers before being picked up or delivered to local partners.

In 2023, the program harvested more than 10,800 pounds – or more than five tons – of food. Nearly 125 Hamilton community members volunteered during the fall 2023 semester alone, including 24 individuals and 11 groups and teams. During finals week, College faculty and staff led 22 shifts while students studied, to ensure every usable pound of food was salvaged.

Altogether, Harvest packed 1,697 trays in the fall and expanded its local partnerships to eight by the end of the calendar year.

Learn more about Harvest

Weighing Waste

How can HSC help make the individual dining experience more sustainable? That’s where the group’s Weigh the Waste initiative comes into play.

Weigh the Waste is a long-standing HSC program that measures how much uneaten food waste is generated at one dining hall waste station. It helps remind dining hall patrons to take only what they can eat to avoid food waste.

During the fall 2023 semester, HSC hosted a Weigh the Waste event four times between Commons and McEwen dining halls where they collected 1,686 plates, 1,070 of which had waste, with an average of .22 lbs. of waste each. (That’s 63.5% dirty plates for a total of 214.3 lbs. over four days!)

Green To-Go

Hamilton students now have a greener way to take their meals outside of the dining halls thanks to a new program offered by the College’s dining partner, Parkhurst, and their collaborative efforts with HSC. Green To-go Containers reduces the College’s single-use container consumption, and more than 600 community members signed up during the fall 2023 semester.

Sign up for the Green To-go Container Program

Eco-Teaching & Learning

Forums & Discussions

The Hamilton Sustainability Coordinators hosted a ponel discussion during fallcoming.
The Hamilton Sustainability Coordinators hosted a panel discussion during Fallcoming. Photo: Clare Nelle '24

Each year, HSC hosts a variety of opportunities to hear others’ perspectives. The Sustainability Fair is one of those, as it also includes a panel of students, staff, and faculty who discuss a wide range of ideas and solutions. This year’s event, held during Fallcoming, featured Sangree, Katie Rockford ’24, Shey Sanges ’26, Kiara Nelson ’25, and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Aaron Strong. Willa Karr ’25 and Emma Reilly ’24 served as co-moderators.

The fall 2023 event tackled two big questions:

  1. How can we characterize and adapt our cultures of waste management at Hamilton College and the broader Clinton and Oneida County community? And
  2. How do we understand and address cultures of consumerism on the Hill?

Thanks to the panelists and the audience’s participation, the discussion generated action steps to alter the culture of waste management and consumerism on the Hill, as well as new ideas for HSC to pursue regarding the mitigation of food waste produced by catered events.

Thrifty (and Thrifting) Things

HSC organizes an on-campus thrift store in the fall semester each year, and worked with Phi Beta Chi and Alpha Theta Chi to do so during the fall 2023 semester. Hamilton students and employees donate clothes and other goods while HSC collects, organizes, and tags them for resale at thrift store events. All Thrift Store proceeds go to local charities and items not sold are donated to the Utica Rescue Mission.  

Putting Plans in Action

After the College launched its Sustainability Commitments and three action plans during the spring 2023 semester, sustainability interns Gross, Stefan, and Sangree worked to update parts of the Sustainability website to align with the current activities and goals. To do so, they met with various offices and departments to learn about initiatives already under way.

“It was exciting to meet with folks for this project because it revealed that people are thinking about sustainability in departments all over campus,” Sangree said. “These conversations sparked new ideas for improving sustainability in their departments and opened up new lines of communication between them and the Sustainability office.”

Authors’ Note: Special thanks to Clare Nelle ’24, Samantha Seepersad ’27, Eileen Bussiere ’25, Ellie Sangree ’24, and Shey Sanges ’26 for their contributions to this story.

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