February 20, 2007

Students Push Energy Efficiency

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From global warming to carbon neutrality agreements, energy efficiency is in the news at Cornell and around the nation. As of Feb. 8, these issues hit even closer to home in Cornell’s dining halls, where two students, Brad Lipovsky ’08 and Steve Zelno ’09 are the newly-named Student Sustainability Coordinators.

In climate change, small steps make a tremendous impact, according to Lipovsky. By implementing sustainable dining, he said, Cornell hopes to raise the bar for its peer institutions, with the goal of creating a nation-wide trend among universities.

Lipovsky said his motivation lies in the ability to make a difference.

“There is a difference between activist and re-activist,” he said. “This job is more than just picketing and petitioning, it’s the opportunity to make an actual proactive change.”

As Cornell takes on this sustainable dining initiative, it aims to make dining ecologically sound, socially responsible and economically feasible.

To do this, Lipovsky and Zelno will work to educate the community on sustainability — and to analyze more efficient methods of composting.

“It’s an ideal job for a student interested in environmental and social issues. There’s lots of potential to make a change and a high level of commitment from the campus president, deans, heads of dining, and the campus green team,” Lipovsky said.

About two-thirds of post-consumer compost never actually makes it to composting. If so much as one plastic fork is seen in the bag marked for compost, Lipovsky said, the whole bag is treated as regular trash. To solve the problem, Lipovsky and Zelno are researching the possible use of biodegradable utensils.

“We’re investigating compostable alternatives to plastics in biodegradable utensils, which may be a bit more expensive, but we hope to work with major producers because Cornell would be a large purchaser and therefore a beneficial client. We haven’t made any commitments yet, but are avidly researching alternatives,” Lipovsky said.

Lipovsky and Zelno said they were investigating the use of the utensils in the new sustainable café planned for Mann Library.

In addition to researching alternatives, and hopefully expanding the post consumer composting programs to other dining facilities such as the Ivy Room and Bear Necessities, the student sustainability coordinators are striving for greater student education. During the week of Feb. 26, the lobby of Trillium will be buzzing with sustainability interns, master composters and Zelno and Lipovsky, who will be spreading the word on the dos and don’ts of composting. They will be there advocating for better composting habits and assisting in the separation of trash and compostable material in order to further student education on the topic of waste management.

Where food preparation is concerned, Cornell Dining will aim to minimize its ecological footprint by purchasing more local foods and presenting a greater amount of vegan products to minimize the overall energy consumption associated with meat production.

“Everything is interconnected, ” Zelno said. “If we can reduce our waste and ecological footprint we will make a positive contribution to the fight against global warming. [This job] is a great opportunity to apply what we learn in class to something practical on campus.”