April 10, 2009

Environmental Rights Priority

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I’m sure that everyone has some mention of environmental rights in recent years. With growing concern for environmental protection, many have begun to adapt their lifestyles to limit damage to the earth. From hybrid vehicles to wind power, there is an ever-increasing focus on protecting the environment and limiting the pollution emitted by humankind. Our own Cornell University Sustainability Coordinator is in the process of developing initiatives to make the campus environmentally friendly.

Interestingly, more and more students are asking whether Cornell is environmentally friendly before making a final decision to attend the Ivy League school. “The user base is crying for it much louder here than they would if it was a spec office building or a manufacturing site,” said Dean Koyanagi, Cornell’s sustainability coordinator. With this growing demand, colleges have taken drastic measures to build environmentally friendly buildings and comply with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. Under LEED, there are different requirements needed for certification depending on the structure being built. Generally, the building must be completely constructed with environmentally safe material. The LEED website says that, “In the United States and in a number of other countries around the world, LEED certification is the recognized standard for measuring building sustainability”.

Beginning this transition, Syracuse University has served as a model for other colleges. Most dramatically, SU implemented regulations which require all buildings greater than $10 million in value to comply with LEED standards. Cornell has decided to adopt similar measures by constructing three buildings which are fully compliant with LEED standards. “Four more LEED projects are on the drawing board and should be fully designed within eight months,” Koyanagi said. Koyanagi also stated that, “we’re looking at it like we’re going to be in that building for 100 to 150 years, so we’d better build it right this time. It’s really valid for a university to look at that analysis in a different way than a corporation. The way we handle our endowment is much different than the way a quarterly report looks.” Most recently, Weill Hall has received LEED certification and serves as an indication of what will appear on campus in coming years. Just down the hill from CU, is Ithaca’s newest LEED construction, the Gateway Commons. With all apartments fully LEED compliant and supplied by wind power, the building represents an innovative approach for new construction in Ithaca.

While going green has long-term benefits for all of us, building with environmentally friendly material is substantially more expensive. This has been a hotly debated topic, as some believe the added costs are unnecessary. In times when the environment is showing damage from years of abuse, should we focus on diminishing these effects or do environmental rights only concern future generations?