Following years of preparation and planning, Columbia released its first-ever environmental sustainability plan on Friday, which aims to reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent over the next three years.
The document, released on the eve of Earth Day, sets targets to make the University more eco-friendly in its transportation, energy use, and waste disposal over the course of the next three years.
The plan was developed through “focus teams” of faculty, staff, and students in each of the three fields, and was overseen by the Office of Environmental Stewardship and the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee, a group of administrators and faculty whose positions and research focus on sustainability-related topics. The development of goals was directed by the University’s first Sustainability Principles, released in September.
The majority of energy reduction will come from conservation measures in University buildings, such as optimization of heating and cooling systems, according to Assistant Vice President for Environmental Stewardship Jessica Prata, SIPA ’12.
This goal follows the University’s 2007 commitment to reduce its carbon emissions per square foot by 30 percent by this year as part of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative. As of last year, the University had reached a 25 percent reduction since 2007.
Amanda Frame / Senior Staff Designer
Many of the targets put forth in the sustainability plan involve setting up “indicators” to further data collection in each area or developing guidelines for University activities. Prata believes that this allows the University to develop future goals that are more concrete.
“As we get a better sense of where we are quantitatively with those things, we begin to say where we can be more efficient,” Prata said in an interview with Spectator. “Over time, when we have numbers, we can begin to set more clear goals.”
But some elements of the plan have tangible goalposts.
In the field of transportation, the plan calls for incentivizing low-emission modes of travel for the 60 percent of University affiliates who have a non-walking commute, including issuing public transit subsidies. It also calls for an exploration of ferry service options to West Harlem, which would better connect the Morningside and Manhattanville campuses to New Jersey.
While last year’s Earth Day involved a pilot program of commuter shuttles to New Jersey, the initiative failed to gain traction for full-time service, according to Executive Vice President for Facilities and Operations David Greenberg, SPS ’14.
“That particular pilot was very much worth doing, because it turned out that the ridership during any one peak point might have a few people, but it just didn’t pan out,” Greenberg said in an interview with Spectator.
In waste, the plan calls for a rework of product and packaging options for vendors that sell to Columbia, and auditing waste, among other programs. Many improvements in recycling and composting depend on the New York City Department of Sanitation’s infrastructure, which has only recently started composting from non-residential pickup sites. DSNY has used John Jay Dining Hall as a pilot program for composting pickups from restaurant sites.
In his foreword to the sustainability plan, University President Lee Bollinger indicated his support for its proposed changes.
“The true measure of this sustainability plan will be found not in the promises we make today, but through what we do in the months and years ahead to fulfill these commitments,” Bollinger wrote. “I am confident we will meet them.”