ES 300

ES 300 Projects

The capstone course for the ES major conducts a semester-long group project, generally focused on an environmental issue on Wellesley's campus. The course draws on the interdisciplinary skills students have developed over the course of the major and applies them to a current issue. 

Recent projects include:


2023: Let's Talk About Waste, Baby: Systems to Use Less and Divert More. To improve Wellesley’s waste management, we first collected information about the College’s waste stream. We did so by conducting trash and recycling audits to understand the type and distribution of materials in our waste stream. We used this data to estimate the total amount of waste produced by the College annually, which comes out to be 970 tons. Assuming three significant sectors of waste production, 50% of this waste is produced by the residential sector, 17% by dining halls, and 33% by academic buildings. Of all waste placed in the trash, 47% could be diverted from the trash stream, either to recycling or anaerobic digestion. We decided on four metrics—ease, cost, environmental justice, and greenhouse gases—to evaluate 11 options that had the potential to reduce waste generation and increase waste diversion on Wellesley’s campus. For each option, we also estimated how their implementation would directly affect Wellesley’s waste stream, whether by reducing, increasing, or diverting certain types of waste. While most of our options have value and should be explored by Facilities Management, based on these metrics, there are six options that we most strongly recommend for implementation immediately or in the near future. [pdf of report]

2022: Analyzing the Built Environment: Past, Present, and Future of Science Hill. What are the environmental impacts of the recent construction on Science Hill? Can this inform future actions within a rapidly changing climate? Environmental Studies 300 students approach these questions using life cycle assessment (LCA), a systematic analysis of the environmental impacts associated with each life cycle stage of a project’s materials and services. We apply this methodology to the Science Center, researching the production, use, and end-of-life strategies of structural materials to compare the building’s environmental impacts to those of typical construction. Our landscape-focused LCA then evaluates the plant species and layout of the northeast garden, with the goal of optimizing climate resiliency, ecosystem services, and educational opportunities. Finally, we move beyond the LCA framework to investigate the ability of the surrounding landscape to manage stormwater, stabilize topography, and support the long-term health and safety of the community and ecosystem. [pdf of report]

2018: We-cycle: A Systems Approach to Improving Recycling Practices at Wellesley College. In response to China’s waste import ban, the cost of recycling has increased and Wellesley College faces the challenge of restructuring its recycling program to maximize institutional efficiency and promote participation. The 2018 environmental studies capstone class (ES300) was charged with providing recommendations to improve recycling rates across campus. Through research examining the life cycles of recycled items at Wellesley and observations of recycling behavior as influenced by ease and accessibility of recycling on campus, we identified areas of priority and potential growth within our recycling processes. In our analysis, we considered our current system through the lenses of sustainability, practicality, and fiscal feasibility to present recommendations for individual, communal, and institutional changes to recycling on campus. ing, and food waste reduction. However, there are still major improvements to be made. This year’s Environmental Studies capstone class reimagines what a sustainable food system could look like at Wellesley College. With an examination of the Regeneration student farm on the North 40 as a starting point, we propose food system improvements that prioritize our whole community’s health and well-being. Our aims are to maximize the environmental sustainability, student health, accessibility and equity, academic integration, and economic viability of the College’s food system. [pdf of report]

2017: Women Who Will Farm: a Proposal to Move a Farm onto Campus.  In recent years, Wellesley College and its Dining Services have made strides in sustainability through initiatives for composting, local purchasing, and food waste reduction. However, there are still major improvements to be made. This year’s Environmental Studies capstone class reimagines what a sustainable food system could look like at Wellesley College. With an examination of the Regeneration student farm on the North 40 as a starting point, we propose food system improvements that prioritize our whole community’s health and well-being. Our aims are to maximize the environmental sustainability, student health, accessibility and equity, academic integration, and economic viability of the College’s food system. [pdf of report]

2016: Carbon Copy: A History of Greenhouse Gas Emissions at Wellesley College, 1990 and 2015.  This spring, Wellesley College’s Sustainability Committee requested that the Environmental Studies capstone course, ES 300, conduct an audit of the college’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The purpose of this report is to urge Wellesley College to add its name to the growing list of universities and organizations who have committed themselves to taking action in order to reduce the role they play in contributing to anthropogenic climate change. This report details the goals and methodology of our project, provides an estimate of the carbon emissions associated with college activities, and recommends possible strategies for addressing these emissions. We calculated the college’s emissions for the years 2015 and 1990, estimating 1990 emissions as a baseline in order to give context to our findings. [pdf of report]

2015: What Powers Powerful Women: The Future of Energy at Wellesley College.  The conversation around renewable energies is being globally debated. While many colleges across the country purchase their energy from off campus, Wellesley has its own power plant. But we will no longer be able to rely on it. The cogeneration plan on campus is outdated, parts are being ordered off of ebay and others are being held together by duct tape. At the request of our Office of Sustainability, the Environmental Studies major capstone class spent the semester researching and developing the most effective strategies to recommend to the college in order to make an informed decision on the future of energy on campus. With an upgrade to the power-plant, we will stop burning #6 fuel and move toward a cleaner form of energy. Our report outlines strategies for implementing sustainable, responsible, economically feasible energy solutions on campus. We will also offer some conservation methods for you to begin to implement in your daily routine. [pdf of report]

2014: Making Wellesley a LEEDer in Sustainable Design: The Synthesis of Wellesley's Sustainable Building Guidelines. Wellesley celebrates a rich history and traditions that are inextricably linked with the aesthetical landscape. Today, the College must balance these values while addressing evident shortcomings in the capacity and functionality of its campus. On the eve of a major campus renovation, the Environmental Studies capstone class will present sustainability-minded design frameworks that align with the greater goals of the college. By examining the strategies of peer institutions, consulting with diverse stakeholders, and performing quantitative analysis, we have developed building guidelines that could transform Wellesley into a leading sustainable institution and community. The ideas we suggest seek to modernize Wellesley while preserving its identity, as well as help shape future spaces so that they are as reflective as the conversations that will occur within them. [pdf of report]

2013: Food is Not Trash: Redefining Wellesley's Waste Culture by Composting. While many colleges across the country already compost, Wellesley does not yet have an institutionalized system for managing the majority of our organic waste.  But that is all about to change.  Policy from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will require most institutions in the state to divert organic waste from their waste streams beginning in July 2014.   At the request of the Office of Sustainability, the Environmental Studies major capstone class spent the semester researching and developing the most effective strategies to recommend to the college in order to implement campus-wide composting and reduce the amount of food wasted.  Wellesley’s compliance with the DEP policy would annually divert approximately 220 metric tons of food waste from incineration. [pdf of report]

2012: Waste Reduction: Ensuring Wellesley's Pursuit of Sustainability Doesn't End Up in the Trash.  The class assessed sustainability implications of the College's waste system, by estimating the total amount of waste produced annually and the material content of the waste stream, and by analyzing the environmental impacts of the materials and disposal processes through a life cycle assessment (LCA). We estimate that Wellesley College produces 1,072,395.68 kg of waste annually. Of this total, 41.8% is food waste and 25% is paper waste. Through an examination of the impacts per 1 kg of each material as trash or recycling, we were able to identify the best current options for waste handling. Our primary recommendation is overall reduction of waste production, which has the greatest effect in limiting the environmental impact of our waste system. The college can build on existing successes, involving on-campus composting of yard waste, on-site mulch manufacture, and institutional durable goods reuse efforts like the Sustainable Move-Out. [pdf of report]

2011: Sustainable Sustenance: Greening Wellesley’s Food System. From the farm to the kitchen to the landfill, food is one of the largest factors influencing Wellesley College’s sustainability profile. This year, the Environmental Decisionmaking class conducted a review of the sustainability of the campus food system. At the request of the Director of Sustainability, the Assistant Vice President for Administration, and representatives from Wellesley’s dining service provider, we have prepared suggestions for reducing the environmental impact of our campus food system. Our report incorporates student input with administrative goals in order to find ways for the entire campus to contribute to and benefit from a sustainable food program. Join us in examining our campus food system, and learn what’s on your plate. [pdf of report]

2010: Making the Grade: An Analysis of Sustainability Ratings in Higher Education. Amidst many school-wide changes in the past few years, Wellesley has made major strides in sustainability. We improved our grade on the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s sustainability report card and are pursuing LEED certification in the renovation of current building projects. This spring, the Environmental Decisionmaking class investigated “green rating systems” for college campuses. High ratings from sources such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) would increase our visibility to stakeholders, including donors and prospective students. More importantly, participating in rating systems could also provide feedback and suggestions for future sustainability decisions. Not all ratings systems, however, prioritize behavior that makes environmental or fiscal sense for our campus. Our final report presents the results of our semester-long study on how Wellesley would do on a variety of rating systems, and reveals the truth behind the numbers. [pdf of report]

2009: Clean, Green Athletics Machine: A Sustainable Renovation of the Wellesley College Sports Center. The same historic landscape and architecture that make Wellesley College so picturesque can act as barriers to campus sustainability. With major renovations to the Keohane Sports Center set for the near future, the college has an opportunity to create a truly environmentally conscious space on campus. Such a space could simultaneously reflect the needs of current and future Wellesley students and take into account the greater global impact of our local actions. At the request of the Facilities Department, the class drafted suggestions for Sports Center renovations that minimize the building's environmental footprint as they maximize its utility.[pdf of report]

2008: Climate for Change: A Look at Wellesley's Greenhouse Gas Emissions.  One of the biggest issues facing our generation is climate change. While we are a part of the problem, we can also be a part of the solution. The Environmental Studies capstone course has devoted the semester to assessing Wellesley College’s greenhouse gas emissions, making recommendations that will help Wellesley reduce these emissions, and evaluating ways in which the College can meet the requirements of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Using a commercial carbon calculator to measure emissions, we have estimated the College’s contribution to climate change across the areas of energy, transportation, land use and waste. By educating the campus community about the steps we can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we can begin to shrink Wellesley’s environmental footprint. [pdf of report]

2007: Green Is the New Gothic: Wellesley's Greenhouses in the 21st Century.  Wellesley's greenhouses provide a glimpse of nature's wonders from around the world, but more than a century of use has left them in grave disrepair. The dilapidated state of the greenhouses gives us the opportunity to rethink and expand the greenhouses' original purpose and structure. A building to house both the greenhouse and Wellesley's growing Environmental Studies program, which currently has no space of its own, is one idea to emerge from the early planning process for renovation and rebuilding. What better opportunity for Wellesley, which has not yet achieved renown for its environmental practices, to undertake a truly green project? [pdf of report]

2006: Raising Awareness on Connections between Chemical Exposure and Women's Health. Due to a lack of information and research, women are forced to speculate about the dangers they face from chemical exposure in their daily environments. The focus of this year’s ES 300 course was to research the presence of potentially hazardous chemicals that specifically or differentially impact women which are found in personal care products as well as communal areas on the Wellesley College campus. The outcome of this semester is to present potential exposure scenarios to environmental factors that can increase the risk of detrimental long-term health effects that result from exposure during young adulthood.  Through surveying students to ascertain the products they use, and by isolating locations of intense chemical use and human traffic on campus, a map of exposure pathways on the Wellesley College campus and a consumer guide for women have been created to raise awareness of the intricate links between chemicals and long-term women’s health.

2005: Another Green Hall: The Ecological Footprint of Wellesley's Next Residence Hall. The possibility that the next major building on campus would be a new residence hall inspired the class to examine the environmental impacts of campus buildings.  This report organizes the myriad of systems and materials in a building into the five sectors established by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system.  Each sector presents an overview of relevant regulations, an analysis of Wellesley’s current practices, a presentation of conceivable alternative solutions and their merits, and a recommendation based on feasibility and LEED points that could be achieved. It is often assumed that integrating environmentally preferable systems will be more difficult and more expensive, but our analysis shows that they are entirely feasible and can often be economically beneficial.  With more planning and thought in regards to the purpose of the building, the end result is a structure that serves social, environmental, and even economical objectives in an effective manner, and brings “environmentalism” from the theoretical down to the practical.

2004: Everything but the Carbon Sink:  Managing Land Responsibility in a Time of Global Climate Change. Humans have always manipulated the landscape to suit particular purposes. This report examines the impact of Wellesley’s landscape on climate change, the effects of climate change on the landscape, and the ways in which Wellesley’s land can best be managed in the context of climate change.  In the case of Wellesley College, the vision and foresight that created its natural landscape of forested hills separated by wet meadows can now be extended to include carbon sequestration.  It is easy to fall into complacency due to economic constraints, lack of immediate, tangible consequences, and apathy, but we need to keep in mind our moral obligation not to put other people or ecosystems at risk.  We can begin to meet those obligations by assessing a landscape's ability to sequester carbon—creating a carbon budget—that reveals ways to reduce the overall emission of greenhouse gases from the habitats it includes.  Faced with various choices of projects to pursue, we can employ economic tools such as a cost-benefit analysis to choose the best option.  While there are many reservations in applying CBA, it does help to identify the expenses and advantages of any particular course of action.  In the end, however, we may choose to manage to mitigate climate change despite the cost, because it is the right thing to do.

2003: Audit of Wellesley College's Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Global climate change is one of the greatest environmental issues of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but in light of the devastating potential of climate change and imminent international legislation, the students of Environmental Studies 300, Spring 2003, undertook efforts to quantify Wellesley College's contribution to the greenhouse gas effect and global climate change. For this purpose, Clean Air-Cool Planet, a New Hampshire-based advocacy group that engages civil society in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, provided a calculatory framework specific to college campuses. Further modifications were made to the program to make it Wellesley-specific, and data was collected from both on and off-campus sources. This report shows ES 300's findings: the quantity of greenhouse gases that Wellesley College emits, what factors relate to those emissions, and what accounts for the greatest emissions on campus, in addition to policy suggestions for future emissions reductions.