As the Cornell community continues to debate the possibility of a climate neutral campus, Ithaca College has already taken the first step toward greater sustainability.
Yesterday, Ithaca College President Peggy R. Williams signed a letter of intent to become a participant in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, a collaboration between the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Second Nature, and ecoAmerica.
The AASHE is an association of institutions of higher education in the U.S. and Canada that aims to advance sustainability, which its website defines as, “encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations.”
Second Nature was founded in 1993 in Boston by a group including Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA) and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. The group seeks to make vital changes in society, combining justice and sustainability.
“We began with efforts to catalyze change that would have universities produce students prepared for character and citizenship as well as commerce and career in the 21st century,” states the group’s website.
Prof. René Borgella, biology, Ithaca College, also noted the importance of student awareness regarding environmental issues, and the similar need for faculty to support Williams’ action.
“The letter is a formal declaration to recognize that the human impact on the environment is significant,” he said. “We can’t ignore it, and we need to get on board. Whether you are going to be a scientist or an artist, this is something you need to understand.”
The letter represents I.C.’s first step towards joining the ACUPCC, with the eventual goal of achieving climate neutrality by reduction of hazardous emissions on the college’s campus. By signing the letter, Ithaca expressed its intent to become one of the charter signatories for the commitment.
“We are certainly pleased to be among the institutions invited to take part in this,” said Dave Maley, associate director of media relations. “We believe it’s an important step to take, to be among the leaders of the colleges and universities committed to sustainability.”
Several leaders of I.C. student environmental groups were present at the signing. One was Daniel Carrion, the co-chair of the organization Students for Sustainability. He explained that Ithaca has a history of environmental activism.
“Ithaca several years ago was known for an awesome composting program,” he said. “From there it’s gone to having more of a sustainability curriculum. Sustainability has been gaining a lot of energy and momentum — this seems like the next step.”
According to Carrion, the letter signed by Williams yesterday was pushed by several student groups, who, after garnering support at several campus events, have themselves developed proposals. He explained further that the President has been reviewing climate commitment, but a visit from Anthony Cortese, a representative for Second Nature, catalyzed previous student efforts.
“I think it’s the role of educational institutions to exemplify good citizenship in showing the community what it looks like to be a beneficial part of the environment and civil society,” he said.
Zack Ford, president of the student government association, also present at the signing, explained that, “while [the letter] didn’t come directly from the students, it was quite in line with the very things students have been advocating for.”
“The fact that the Ithaca College majority are the traditional 18-22 year old college age range emphasizes our responsibilities to educate future generations about climate control and how to best address the situation,” he added. “We are the ones who are going to have to deal with it.”
“What is the job of Cornell or Ithaca College or any other institutions of higher education? To train the leaders of tomorrow … to nurture the minds and spirits of the students so that they are open to ideas and communal ways of looking at the world,” Borgella said.