Brian Hansen has served as Hamilton’s director of Environmental Protection, Safety & Sustainability since October 2000. He oversees the College’s various obligations with regard to environmental compliance and occupational health and safety.

Brian Hansen Director of Environmental Protection, Safety & Sustainability Brian Hansen
Those who know me know that I love to tell stories, so let me tell you one of my favorites. Two summers ago, Environmental Health and Safety Specialist Sara Soika and I had the pleasure of mentoring a handful of students — our summer sustainability interns — who quite literally changed the landscape on College Hill.

The initial idea came from one of the interns, Ellie Sangree ’24. She knew there had to be a way to make Hamilton’s landscape maintenance practices more sustainable. That year, our interns spent most of their time researching and developing a course of action to better define, delineate, and implement naturalized landscape features on campus.

Low-mow signage
Signs installed along high-trafficked parts of campus highlight the new landscape practices of the Green Attributes Project. Photo: Oliver Zhao ’24

This meant getting a clear understanding of how our Facilities Management team categorizes campus land based on landscaping and maintenance needs. They focused on areas designated as the lowest priority level (such as no- and low-mow zones) and proposed redefining the plots into five subcategories known as Green Attributes: no-mow zones, reforestation plots, wetlands and drainage sites, low-mow zones, and pollinator habitats.

Impressive, right? That’s just the beginning. The students conducted more than 100 in-person land surveys, hosted stakeholder meetings with administrative and academic departments (including Environmental Science and Biology) to better understand ways they use the different areas of campus lands in their teaching, and partnered with members of the Geosciences Department to create accessible and interactive multi-layered GIS maps of the areas they evaluated.

The interns worked with Facilities Management to document what is required to maintain each landscape feature so it could be integrated efficiently into maintenance plans moving forward. Not only was this program fully implemented by the fall 2023 semester, it’s gaining steam and expanding by way of Facilities Management teammates themselves.

This initiative, known as the Green Attributes Project, is a classic example of true collaboration. By meeting with different parties, gathering information, distilling it, making recommendations, gathering more feedback, and refining their plans before full implementation, the students checked all the boxes for a model experiential learning opportunity. This is a project that helps Hamilton today and will continue to do so for decades to come. It’s also the exact kind of experience that Sara and I have wanted each student I’ve worked with over the last 20 years to have. In everything we do, we have wanted them to see what’s possible when you bring really smart people together to work on solving problems.

“When I step back and think about the learning opportunities our sustainability initiatives offer Hamilton students, I’m proud that we get to model the kind of collaborative environment that is necessary to bring about change here on the Hill.”

Since 2019, our student sustainability leaders (known as Hamilton Sustainability Coordinators) have been working with a wide range of faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees. In April of 2023, this culminated in Hamilton’s Sustainability Commitments — three comprehensive plans that outline how Hamilton will reduce its carbon footprint and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Our students didn’t sit on the sidelines and watch as others debated strategies and tactics top-down. In many instances, they drove conversations and redirected our energies. They offered invaluable insights we likely never would have considered. These plans are stronger because students were at the table and because everyone else saw and treated them as equal partners.

Let’s be honest: collaboration isn’t easy. While people often strive to collaborate, any number of professional instincts and interpersonal dynamics can shift to something that more closely resembles cooperation. Collaboration can sometimes elicit discomfort because it forces us to stretch ourselves and grow as we set aside our perspectives to make room for others’ in order to facilitate progress and change that benefits the greater good. The amount of trust and respect that must exist among a group in order for that to happen in an authentic way, where everyone knows their voice matters and their ideas are valued, even if people may disagree with it, is rare. And yet, we make sure it’s happening here — among students, faculty, staff, and leadership — every day.

When I step back and think about the learning opportunities our sustainability initiatives offer Hamilton students, I’m proud that we get to model the kind of collaborative environment that is necessary to bring about change here on the Hill. I’m even prouder knowing they will take what they learn and facilitate change within organizations and throughout communities as Hamilton graduates, not only by sharing their knowledge about sustainability, but by being thoughtful leaders and people who understand great ideas get even better when you involve others and are willing to listen and learn.

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