Rachael Warecki Photo by Marc Campos
President Harry J. Elam, Jr. signs the Second Nature Climate Pledge

On Jan. 21, President Harry J. Elam, Jr. signed the Second Nature Climate Commitment to combat climate change and support sustainability at Occidental College.

The Climate Commitment is the most comprehensive of Second Nature’s three Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, focusing on both carbon neutrality and climate resilience. With President Elam’s endorsement of this pledge, Occidental became part of Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Network, a nationwide coalition of colleges and universities dedicated to climate action.

“Occidental College has an important role to play in confronting the critical problem of climate change,” Elam said in a statement that accompanied the signed commitment. “With urgency, we must act in ways that arrest extreme weather and other climate crises, including associated environmental injustices that threaten the earth and its people. Accordingly, the College must stand poised to protect future generations and create a healthier ecosystem on the campus and beyond.”

Joining the Climate Leadership Network is Occidental’s latest step in its ongoing commitment to sustainability. The College relaunched the Office of Sustainability in Fall 2023, hiring Alison Linder as the new sustainability coordinator and Isa Merel ’23 as assistant sustainability coordinator. The Office of Sustainability will work with stakeholders across campus to create a climate action plan, document the College’s carbon footprint and implement programming and opportunities for the campus community to engage in sustainability.

As a kickoff event, nearly 75 volunteers participated in Oxy’s inaugural Olive Harvest in November 2023, yielding approximately 500 pounds of olives that were then processed into extra virgin olive oil. The harvest raised awareness of local food production and celebrated the drought-resistant trees’ dual roles in providing shade and sustenance to the community.

Additional sustainability accomplishments include the construction and installation of a 1-megawatt hillside solar array, the composting of food waste at all campus dining facilities and the renovation of Swan Hall to achieve LEED Gold certification. Since its founding in 2009, the student-run Food, Energy and Sustainability Team (FEAST) Garden has hosted children’s programs, served as an outdoor classroom for several courses in the Urban & Environmental Policy (UEP) major, and become a member of the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots youth-led global community action program.

The Climate Commitment, which requires the College to develop a climate action plan within three years of signing and submit an annual progress evaluation, will build on these existing initiatives and achievements in support of Occidental’s ambitious sustainability milestones. The first step is to better understand the College’s current emissions and use that data to create an action plan.

“I’m delighted that Occidental has formalized its commitment to climate action and resilience planning in the face of climate change,” said Linder. “Signing this pledge initiates a planning process to allow us to structure, document and expand on this passion for sustainability on campus. By demonstrating sustainability and incorporating it into the campus culture and experience, we will reduce our footprint and give students the opportunity to bring lessons learned with them after their time at Occidental College.”