September 13, 2007

Sustainability Center Aims to Unite C.U. Researchers

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The City of Ithaca has a history of being passionate about living sustainably, as evidenced by the presence of various environmental groups and rallying around issues such as Redbud Woods and recently, the Cayuga Lake Cooling Project.
Cornell is adding to the efforts by creating the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future to integrate research efforts dealing with sustainability across and beyond the Cornell community. The need for the center arose in part as a response to President David Skorton’s signing of the President’s Climate Commitment to a climate-neutral campus last year.
Prof. Frank DiSalvo, physical science, alluded to the growing concern regarding sustainability in the past few years, both locally and globally. DiSalvo serves as interim head of the center.
Research working toward building a more sustainable world is being conducted in almost every department on campus, from economics to engineering to plant sciences.
“Many of [the people on campus] are working individually. Some of them in small teams. But very few know what other people are doing,” DiSalvo said.
The center will facilitate collaboration between researchers throughout Cornell, as well as provide an access point for other universities and research institutions to get in touch with the sustainability efforts.
“The sustainability topics that the center will focus on are energy, environment, and economic development,” DiSalvo said. “We will put out a call for some proposals in both education and research that connect to [those topics].”
The first year budget for the center is $1.6 million, some of which will go to initial organization and set-up. The remaining funding will go to research.
In addition to bringing the Cornell community together to work for a sustainable future, the center will also be a resource for students.
“Students who want to be enrolling in … courses [about sustainability will be able to] learn about them,” said Prof. Barbara Knuth, senior associate dean of CALS and a member of the steering committee that proposed the center.
“We anticipate that there will be funding opportunities for graduate assistantship … and undergraduates [will be able to] be exposed to more than one researcher,” Knuth added.
The location of the center is not yet known. Within a few months it should have a temporary home, likely on central campus “to get collisions between people who would normally not collide,” according to DiSalvo.
In addition to DiSalvo, there will be three associate directors, an executive director and two advisory committees running the center.
DiSalvo added that the center should be fully functional by this time next year.
In regards to the interim time Knuth said, “Short term benefits we should see later this semester [are] having individuals identified who will take responsibility for trying to bring together and nurture faculty, staff, and student groups who have interests [in sustainability].”
The center will also manage campus-wide outreach programs and boost current state-wide programs.
Carlos Rymer ’08, president of the Cornell Sustainability Hub and vice president of Kyoto Now!, said that when most people think sustainability, they think, “probably green … [not] necessarily about energy, population, social capital and how that plays into sustainable development.”
Outreach programs will allow the community to understand the necessity of sustainable living.
“I saw the scale of [the sustainability problems] and how important … it is that we take the appropriate approaches to actually solving them if we want to have a progressive society,” Rymer said.
The Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future is unique in that it covers numerous sustainability issues. DiSalvo claims that the resources it has to offer “will be an incubator for research.”