February 29, 2008

Skorton Honors Cornell’s Pledge of Sustainability

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As President David Skorton spoke in honor of the one-year anniversary of the signing of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commit­ment, groups from across the University showcased projects and plans aimed to promote a more sustainable campus.
On Feb. 22, 2007, Cornell became one of almost 80 schools to pledge that they “recognize the need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by 80 percent by mid-century at the latest.” The agreement commits the University to developing a plan to achieve carbon neutrality and promote other sustainable movements.
[img_assist|nid=28374|title=Climate change|desc=To demonstrate his commitment to the environment, President David Skorton arrives at Duffield Hall via an electric car for the Presidents’ Climate Commitment Anniversary Event yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The signing built on earlier sustainability efforts by the Cornell community, Skorton said yesterday. The student group KyotoNOW! has promoted these efforts since its founding in 2001.
“[We’re excited] that after the signing we’re continuing to talk about it,” said Katherine McEachern ’09, president of KyotoNOW!.
Recent University sustainability efforts include a decision by the Board of Trustees to make all building projects that exceed $5 million try to achieve Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. Silver is the second level in the LEED rating system.
McEachern said that the group is pleased with the new building standards, particularly since there is so much construction at Cornell.
The Alice Cook House was the first LEED-certified residence hall in New York State. Weill Hall, the new life sciences building under construction on the Ag Quad, is attempting to receive silver LEED certification.
KyotoNOW! also hopes that within the next year there will be a full plan for the University to become carbon neutral. Skorton also said that as campus continues to grow, the University wants to make use of the area more efficient.
“Campus at large must scrutinize our actions” to ensure the commitment is kept, he said.
In light of these promises, the University has also created a new Center for a Sustainable Future, which aims to bring together faculty from the sciences and humanities, according to Associate Director Anurag Agrawal.
“We know to solve the problems we have to have implementation,” said Agrawal, who is also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Cornell is trying to be a leader among universities, he added.
“I think Cornell is making great strides right now,” said Alderman Syvante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward).
The City and Cornell have combined efforts, he said, but more could be done between cities and towns around the county. The members of the Common Council are conscious of environmental issues but are not yet talking about carbon emissions, he added.
The event included food catered by GreenStar Cooperative using mostly local products, according to Kyu Whang, the co-chair of the President’s Climate Com­mitment Implementation Commi­ttee, and all of the plates, napkins, utensils and cups at the event were compostable. The food tables sat among signs publicizing projects and plans for sustainable development and activity.
Earlier this year Stephen Golding, executive vice president for finance and administration, and Carolyn Ainslie, vice president for planning and budget, appointed the PCCIC, including undergraduate and graduate students, members of the administration, utilities and faculty.
One group represented at the event was Sustainability Hub, which works on campus outreach, reducing the environmental impact of the University and promoting collaboration among student organizations, according to president Carlos Rymer ’08.
Sustainability Hub project plans include a bike-sharing program called Big Red Bikes and an arrangement with the dining halls to turn used vegetable oil into biodiesel. They have also been raising awareness about the environmental impact of water bottles and working on a project called Green the Greeks.
Another board showed initiatives by Transportation and Mail Services, including the Transportation-focused Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which collected and analyzed data in order to develop a more sustainable transportation plan. The University used this information in part to create the transportation impact mitigation strategies five to ten-year plan that will be finished this summer.
TMS’s aims to reduce the number of vehicles traveling to and from the University to lessen the environmental impact on communities around Cornell, according to Assistant Director David Lieb. Cornell, Ithaca College and local governments have set up a plan for vanpooling to begin this fall. The vanpooling, which will tentatively be hosted through TCAT, will provide people who live further away a more cost effective and environmentally-friendly way to travel to Ithaca. Twenty-five percent of Cornell’s faculty and staff live outside of Tompkins County, said Lieb, who is also a member of the President’s Climate Commitment Implementation Committee.