Will Sampson ’24 on Achieving Carbon Neutrality through Renewable Natural Gas and Carbon Offsets

The College of the Holy Cross is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. Presently, over 60 percent of the College’s carbon footprint comes from heating, which is primarily fueled by natural gas. Renewable natural gas (RNG) and carbon offsets are potential assets in fulfilling this commitment. RNG emits significantly less carbon than traditional natural gas does. This gas is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and thus can be used in existing natural gas systems, such as Holy Cross’ physical plant. RNG is essentially biogas (the gaseous product of the decomposition of organic matter) that has been processed to purity standards. RNG can be extracted from landfills, livestock operations, and wastewater treatment plants.

Other colleges and universities are utilizing RNG and carbon offsets in a cost-effective manner to achieve carbon neutrality. My proposed plan of action for Holy Cross is to contract with a major in-state energy or waste management firm to access RNG at a competitive and stable rate. The University of New Hampshire has achieved carbon neutrality by utilizing RNG. UNH partnered with Waste Management to develop a landfill biomethane plant, which now fuels most of the campus. UNH sold renewable energy certificates to finance the capital costs of the project. Similarly, with its own RNG plan, Duke University is approaching carbon neutrality. Duke partnered with Google and Duke Energy to develop a livestock biogas plant.

Meanwhile, Allegheny College and American University have achieved carbon neutrality through carbon offsets, which are voluntary offsite investments made to negate emissions. For Allegheny and American, these measures included investing in responsible trucking, forestry, international energy sustainability, and further insulation on their campuses. To reduce its carbon footprint and as an alternative to converting to RNG, Holy Cross could maintain its traditional natural gas system while increasing its portfolio of carbon offsets.

heating boiler with metal pipes above
Holy Cross’ central heating plant, fueled by natural gas.
There are commercial RNG facilities within proximity of the Holy Cross campus. These locations are listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as sellers of biomethane, a form of renewable natural gas. Some Massachusetts locations include Westminster, New Bedford, Haverhill, Hadley, and Rutland. Holy Cross can explore contracting opportunities with these locations individually, or through a major energy or waste management partner.

In accordance with the Jesuit tradition, Holy Cross is committed to active engagement with the world. The Society of Jesuits’ Universal Apostolic Preferences call us to act urgently on today’s environmental crisis, “whole nations and peoples need an ecological conversion if we are to be honest custodians of this wonderful planet.” By reducing its carbon footprint through renewable natural gas and carbon offsets, the College is dedicating itself as an honest custodian of this planet. We gain new strength to care for others and for creation when we replenish our common home.

I see three major steps in reducing the College’s carbon footprint through RNG. First, Holy Cross should continue building efficiency projects to minimize heating demand, and consequently, natural gas usage. Second, the College should contract with a major in-state energy or waste management firm to access RNG at a competitive and stable rate. Finally, Holy Cross should replace conventional natural gas purchases with RNG from a new contract. These measures will lead to significantly reduced carbon emissions, advancing the College’s mission to be carbon neutral by 2040.

Monica Martinez ‘21 on Alternative Transportation Appreciation Day – April 21st

On April 21, 2021, the College of the Holy Cross will host an Alternative Transportation Appreciation Day (ATAD). You may be wondering what is alternative transportation? Why is the office of sustainability spending a day celebrating it? Alternative transportation refers to the different forms of commuting other than single-occupancy vehicles (meaning when one person drives in a gasoline-powered vehicle alone). Some alternative forms include walking, biking, using public transportation, driving an electric vehicle, and carpooling. Student and employee commuting produce 30 percent of Holy Cross’ carbon emissions. The goal for Alternative Transportation Appreciation Day is to bring awareness to options like carpooling incentives, public transit, and carbon footprints in order to encourage the Holy Cross community to try transportation alternatives to single-occupancy driving. By doing so, the office of sustainability hopes to reduce the College’s carbon emissions produced through commuting.

To support alternative transportation commuters, the College maintains a number of Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations, exclusive hybrid vehicle parking spaces, and bike racks. Four dual-dual port EV charging stations are located on the third and fourth floors of Holy Cross’s parking garage. Highly desirable parking spots, exclusively for hybrid vehicles, are spread throughout campus parking lots, everywhere from Hogan Campus Center to Figge Hall. Uncovered bike racks are situated on the corner of Linden Lane and Kimball road, between the Science complex and Dinand library, as well as on each side of the Hart Center. Try to keep these locations in mind as they will be useful for ATAD activities.
Map of poster route
As mentioned earlier, ATAD will take place on April 21, 2021 and encourages people to enjoy the outdoors while staying socially-distanced. Participants will find green posters with QR codes in various locations on campus (see the map). The QR codes direct students and employees to infographics about public transit, to a site where they can calculate their carbon footprint, and to the app store where they can download the Baystate commute app. Happy ATAD!

The Relationship Between Sustainability and Residential Life with HRA Nelson Martinez De Los Santos ‘22

Headshot of Nelson Martinez De Los Santos

Sophie Haywood ‘21, Office of Sustainability intern, sat down with Nelson Martinez De Los Santos ‘22, RHA of Alumni Hall, to explore how sustainability integrates into living in a residential hall.

Q: What compelled you to become an RA?

Nelson: Community building was the main reason I wanted to become an RA. I felt that I could have had a better first year if my RA was someone that I could turn to whenever I felt like I needed somebody to hang out with or confide in. I felt like I needed a mentor to help guide me because I did feel a little lost as a first generation latino student from the west coast that was going to a predominantly white institution on the east coast. I came to the conclusion that I would try to be that person for first years could look to, and that is what made me want to become a first year RA.

Q: What about sustainability interests you?

Nelson: Growing up in Arizona I saw a lot of solar panels, so it was something that was always on my mind. The ability to make energy out of natural sources, such as sun and wind has always been really cool to me. As a vegan, sustainability is a big part of why I decide not to eat meat because I don’t believe it is an efficient use of our resources. Personally, living sustainably is just how I live.

Q: What is one green behavior that you have seen students doing well in your residence halls already?

Nelson: Recycling! I have been seeing a lot of students recycling this year, and have not seen very many trash on the floors or outside of residence halls. I have also seen students cut back on food waste. With Kimball giving out portions now, I have seen students eat most of their food which is a good thing to see.

Q: In your experience, which kind of reslife programs have you seen students get the most excited about? What would be any advice you have to get students excited about the new Green Student Living Program?

Nelson: In my experience, students are the most excited about programs that give out free food, or do something for the student that interests them. They also get excited when they are doing something active that gets them involved in the community. For students to get excited about the Green Student Living Program, they need to understand why they are doing it. Physical representations of the impact that they have are important because many times, students have to see it to believe it. If it is something that students care about, students will respond better to it.

Q: Do you have any goals or ideas for collaboration with the sustainability department and the residential life in the future?

Nelson: One goal for sustainability and residence life in the future would be for students to live more intentionally, and to be more cautious when choosing what they are taking and using.

The Relationship Between Sustainability and Residential Life with HRA Hannah Baker ‘21

Headshot of Hannah Baker ‘21
Sophie Haywood ‘21, Office of Sustainability intern, sat down with Hannah Baker ‘21, HRA of Williams Hall, to discuss the relationship between sustainability and residential life.

Q: How many years have you been a part of reslife here at the college?

Hannah: I was hired as an RA at the end of my first year and began sophomore year. Then junior year I became a head RA, which I am doing this year as well. During my sophomore year, I was an RA in Brooks-Mulledy. I then lived there as a junior as well, as I was the HRA of Brooks-Mulledy. I’m currently working as the HRA of Williams.

Q: What compelled you to become an HRA?

Hannah: I loved working as an RA because I got to reach a group of residents who were just beginning their time at Holy Cross. I felt that as an HRA I would have even more opportunities to connect with first year students and help them with this really important transition. I also just loved the experience of being on an RA staff. My staff had a really great connection during my first year as an RA, and I attributed our great dynamic to our HRA. I hoped I could create the same sort of positive work environment on a staff of new RAs if I became an HRA.

Q: What about sustainability interests you?

Hannah: I’ve always felt like it’s our responsibility to take care of our planet. I don’t really know how that started — I think it was just growing up in Vermont and never really giving things like recycling a second thought. It was just what we did, and I knew it was important so I did it. Then as I grew up I started to see how that wasn’t really as common everywhere else in the world. I have become really focused on educating people around me about simple things we can do, like composting and reducing plastic waste.

Q: Have you been involved with environmental programming/ taken any relevant courses/ or learned about sustainability in any capacity while at Holy Cross or elsewhere?

Hannah: I led some book talks on The Uninhabitable Earth for the Montserrat clusters in Brooks-Mulledy when I was the HRA there, since that was the first year book for 2019-2020. I’ve taken an environmental studies course and been an active participant in the sustainability-focused initiatives at Holy Cross. I also participated in the climate strike last year, which was so exciting. I participate in Plastic Free July every year, which is a really cool initiative that challenges people all over the world to be more mindful of how much plastic is a part of our everyday lives and then to make changes to that.

Q: What is one thing you would like to see change in your residence hall in the future?

Hannah: I think a big one would be installing more reusable water bottle fillers. If we could have more refill stations in residence halls, students would be less likely to buy the plastic water bottles in the lobby shop. Anything that is going to make the lives of residents easier.

Q: Do you have any goals or ideas for collaboration with the sustainability department and the residential life in the future?

Hannah: Any sort of educational programming between sustainability and residence life would be awesome! We could make the first part educational and then the second part could be more interactive and could involve student input.

The Ciocca Center and the Office of Sustainability Launch the Pothos Project


Pothos plants often symbolize determination, perseverance, wealth, and good fortune. The pothos plant thrives under challenging circumstances, making the most of limited resources like light and water, and its heart-shaped leaves clean the air. The pothos plant improves its environment while ensuring its own growth and flourishing. The new Pothos Project provides students with the opportunity to help Holy Cross and our local business community do the same; become more sustainable on their way to wealth and good fortune.

The 2021 J-term Pothos Project pilot gave students the opportunity to practice real-world corporate responsibility consulting, in partnership with Holy Cross’ Lobby Shop, and under guidance from Holy Cross alumni. During the first week, students attended three hour-long interactive sessions with HC alums (Cole Worthy ’88, Megan Skwirz ’12, and Jereme Murray ’15), learning about the consulting field and picking up some of the skills and tricks needed for the job. In the second week, students worked directly with the Lobby Shop to analyze how the store can advance their operations more sustainably. Throughout the final week, students presented their recommendations to their campus partner and met with alumni mentors who offered guidance and support.

This pilot project was co-sponsored by the Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society and the Office of Sustainability with the intent to expand the project in upcoming semesters.