October 23, 2008

Day Celebrates University Sustainability Efforts

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Various environmental groups gathered on Ho Plaza and the Straight yesterday to get the spread the word about sustainable efforts and promote Campus Sustainability Day, an event sponsored by the Sustainability Hub.
In addition, “Getting to Zero” was sponsored by the President’s Climate Commitment Implementation Committee and was held at Weill Hall.
The Campus Sustainability Day exhibit displayed a number of local and student organizations.
Whitney Larsen ’10, president of the Sustainability Hub, said that the “purpose of this day is to showcase all the work being done to make our campus more sustainable and to encourage active involvement by the Cornell community.”[img_assist|nid=32903|title=Go, go, go green!|desc=Representatives of ECOS, Farah Hussain ’05 and Lisa Hogarty greet visitors at the Weill Hall Sustainability Open House yesterday|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Ashley Brown ’12 said, “[Sustainability Day shows] the ways each student can work to make their lives more sustainable.”
President of Kyoto Now! Katherine McEachern ’09 spoke of the importance of sustainable efforts. “Sustainability is such an important issue for young people,” she said. “It affects every aspect of our lives, from where we live to how we get around.”
Cornell’s Solar Decathlon team also presented at the event. Team member Edward Rifenburg grad said that their overarching goal is “making solar power available to more people for us in everyday living.”
Local groups participated in the event as well. The Sustainable Enterprise Association sponsored “Sustain Your Appetite,” an event that featured local food vendors. Ithaca Carshare also displayed one of their cars.
Coinciding with the student-oriented event with the Sustainability Hub was a broader-focused event at Weill Hall. The event was focused on educating individuals about Cornell’s Climate Action Plan. It was followed by the screening of a live webcast regarding climate change.
­­The committee unveiled Idea Exchange, which invites all students and faculty to contribute their own ideas for a sustainable future.
Prof. Tim Fahey, natural resources, co-chair of the committee, outlined a special role for individual ideas in the overall planning process.
He said, “Obviously, the people working in the business [of sustainability] will know more, but average people will see things on the ground that [infrastructure experts] won’t … students’ habits and how faculty use the labs and their workplaces.”
He added, “We’ve taken a highly proactive approach that mixes top-down and grassroots approaches. We are at the cutting edge of incorporating these kinds of interests.”
Daniel Roth, the sustainability coordinator at the Environmental Compliance and Sustainability Office (ECOS), supports Fahey’s approach, noting that it “introduc[es] people to the approach.”
Cornell’s Climate Action Plan has already produced a number of
substantive accomplishments. According to Roth, many energy-efficient appliances have been introduced, and policies have been developed to ensure that all new buildings achieve an efficiency standard known as LEED Silver.
The plan has been split into five approaches: build greener, reduce energy demand, use cleaner fuels, travel efficiently and offset carbon footprint. Stan Wrzeski, a sustainable design specialist at Affiliated Engineers, Inc., presented one of the approaches at the event. Wrzeski emphasized that sustainability is as much about technology as it is about attitudes.
“It’s not the buildings that use energy — it’s the people,” Wrzeski said.
He added that individuals need to “realize the cost” of inefficient habits, and identified Cornell as one of the few universities in which dormitory buildings are individually metered, proposing an idea that “has to be put on the table.”
Wrzeski suggested that students pay for their own utilities, namely electricity, rather than having those fees lumped into a constant cost of living. He said, “We need to educate responsibility and proper use of today’s technologies, but we also need to incentivize sustainability needs.”
Student Trustee Mike Walsh grad is deeply involved with the plan. At the event, Walsh made it clear that the environment was one of his main priorities. In response to whether the University is over-prioritizing sustainability at the expense of cost efficiency, Walsh maintained that the majority of the University’s initiatives save money.
With the exception of carbon credits, Walsh pointed out that — despite costlier initial investments — much of the Climate Action Plan saves money in the long run. He did not address the potentially high initial cost, which may be burdened on current students.
However, Walsh said that the University plans to fully exploit cost-cutting measures like conservation before resorting to costly measures like replacement.
Prof. Anurag Argawal, associate director for the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future, works to develop technologies for a greener future. She has an optimistic view for Cornell’s sustainability plan. She said, “The time has come, Cornell is invested, and our students and faculty will lead the way.”
Details about Cornell’s Climate Action Plan as well as the public ideas forum can be found at www.cornell.edu/sustainability.