Since the release of the University’s first Sustainability Plan in April, Columbia has begun implementing new sustainable programs and initiatives including cleaner transportation options and renovations, while setting new goalposts for greenhouse gas consumption.
Centered around three principles of academic leadership, strategic sustainability, and cultural sustainability, the Sustainability Plan is a three-year, operations-focused set of strategies seeking to advance sustainability on campus.
One of the newest strategies is an expanded intercampus shuttle service, including a park and ride commuter option from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory campus. With 20 people already signed up for the service and 20 more on the waitlist, the shuttle buses serve as a sustainable and convenient transportation alternative to faculty who typically drive.
“We’re really looking find out what works for the Columbia community and faculty,” Vice President for Campus Services Scott Wright said. “Once we understand what works and why it works, then we will replicate it in places like other parts of New Jersey where a lot of our folks commute through.”
The committee has also negotiated with the shuttle bus company to convert the shuttle buses to electric buses, thus limiting carbon emissions.
“So as soon as the shuttles are made, we’re also putting a charging station in … so we can cycle them for charges throughout the day,” Wright said. “Converting our shuttles over to electric and being the first university in the Northeast to do it is really exciting.”
The electric buses are expected to be in place by next summer, with charging stations expected to be installed outside of campus.
“We track all of our fossil fuel use and essentially, it goes to zero,” Wright said. “These are not high rate buses, they’re electric, so our fossil fuel use will go to zero.”
Following the announcement of the Sustainability Plan last spring, Sustainable Leaders Networks were established to encourage cultural change across departments. With a student, faculty member, and administrator from each school, the SLNs serve as a platform where different schools at Columbia interact to discuss school-specific action and policies to realize sustainability goals.
“The end goal of this group on a macro level is to change the culture of the University and to establish sustainability within it,” Manager of Planning and Outreach for Environmental Stewardship Allie Madison Schwartz said. “On a shorter term, to create a set of action that the school can easily look at and follow to be able to say: How can I actually plan to be more sustainable?”
Joining other institutions in New York City, Columbia has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, exceeding the original 30 percent reduction target in the mayor’s NYC Carbon Challenge.