Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Members of the Employee Assembly are pictured at a meeting in April.

October 20, 2016

Employee Assembly Advances Plans to Make Cornell Carbon Neutral

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The Employee Assembly discussed the University’s plan to make Cornell a carbon neutral campus by 2035 with members of the Senior Leadership Climate Action Group at its Wednesday meeting.

Sarah Brylinsky, the Sustainability Communications and Integration Manager of SLAG, summarized and shared with the assembly the newly released report “Options for Achieving a Carbon Neutral Campus.”

The easiest part of achieving this ambitious goal has already been executed, as the University has introduced campus engagement programs and over 40 student clubs have started work on attaining sustainability, according to Brylinsky.

“The hardest part that remains is the financial accounting on moving a large research campus like Cornell to a 100 percent renewable energy campus that’s in a really cold place without putting Cornell out of business,” Brylinsky said.

The report explores 10 different potential means to reach carbon neutrality, factoring in the social costs of each alternative. However Brylinsky highlighted an important change in the report — a fourth “bottom line” aim to achieve, in addition to the first three, which represent prosperity, people and planet.

“The additional fourth bottom line added is purpose. Purpose ensures that the project will advance Cornell’s academic purpose,” Brylinsky said.

Adding “purpose” assures the transition to carbon neutrality will provide research opportunities for faculty and students. The experiment could also allow Cornell to model a new model of sustainability to the world as living laboratory, according to Brylinsky.

E.A. Executive Vice Chair BJ Siasoco agreed that the addition of the “purpose” bottom line is integral to the greater Cornell community.

“Adding the purpose piece is huge. I know that people struggle with the culture shift, and this purpose helps tie in how people can latch onto something,” he said. “It makes people feel like they’re a part of the bigger university, which I think speaks to a lot of staff members who often feel sidelined on a lot of the projects here.”

Siasoco also suggested improvements for how to further engage faculty in advancing sustainability goals.

“We need to spell out very clearly for how this transition will occur and how it will affect staff members,” he said. “It’ll engage faculty and staff members who could be interested to contribute some of their good ideas.”

Brylinsky stressed that campus engagement is key to successfully achieving a bold carbon neutrality goal.

“We can build the greenest buildings here, but if you as an occupant don’t know how to use the green features of the building or we don’t have a culture of suitability here, we’re never going to reach our aspirational goals of carbon neutrality,” Brylinsky said.

SLAG encouraged members to participate in the community forum on Oct. 31 to further develop and discuss sustainability plans.