Top Ten Sustainable Initiatives for Cornell University

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Cornell University is located in the upstate New York town of Ithaca. Surrounded by lush wooded areas and beautiful gorges, the university has taken a number of steps to ensure the sustainability of the campus as well as the surrounding environment. Cornell University has taken on a number of sustainability initiatives, making it a powerhouse throughout New York State. Cornell University has created a number of teams that look after very specific aspects of university life, from purchasing to land use. The overall objective for Cornell University is to become fully sustainable, not endanger the surrounding environment, and provide students and employees with information about sustainability that they can take home with them and use outside of the university as well.

1. Cornell University Sustainable Campus Office. The Cornell University Sustainable Campus Office supports the research, development, and practical application of knowledge that will aid in addressing environmental sustainability. It was created by the Cornell University Strategic Plan, which looks for sustainability to become a guiding principle throughout all campus operations at Cornell University. The office supports a number of initiatives throughout the campus, including building, climate, energy, food, water, waste, and transportation.

2. Administration. Cornell University has a ten year strategic plan when it comes to sustainability throughout the campus. The President’s Sustainable Campus Committee created their own climate action plan that outlines all the goals the university has set in regards to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, increasing the level of recycling done on campus, as well as the increase in the use of energy efficient products and ideas.

3. Climate Change and Energy. Since 2008, Cornell University has been able to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by seven percent. The overall goal is to become a carbon neutral campus by the year 2050. There are two solar hot water systems on campus generating an estimated 100 million BTUs per year. The campus also features a one megawatt hydroplant as well as 17 kilowatts of photovoltaic solar arrays around the campus. There is also a renewable cooling system on campus saving around 25 million kilowatt hours annually and providing more than 90 percent of all the cooling energy throughout the campus.

4. Food and Recycling. At Cornell University, more than ten percent of its annual food budget is spent on local products. The university also follows the guidelines for sustainable fisheries for all purchases of seafood products. Approximately 85 percent of all dairy products and ten percent of all beef products do not contain any hormones. There is fair trade coffee available and students receive discounts from the cafes on campus when they use their own mugs rather than getting a cup from the café. All preconsumer food scraps are composted at all meals. The campus actively engages in collecting electronics to be recycled.

5. Green Building. All new buildings being put up at Cornell University need to meet the standards of at least LEED Silver Certification and then (there’s more!) exceed these established standards by being a minimum of 30 percent more energy efficient. So far, the campus boasts three LEED-certified buildings with another eight on the line awaiting certification from the United States Green Building Council. To ensure a reduction in water use, all buildings around campus are properly metered. A majority of building have low-flow fixtures for plumbing as well.

6. Student Involvement. The students who live in the Ecology House organize regular educational outreach program designed for the entire university community, including not only the students, but also faculty, administration, and staff. There are a number of students working on environmental initiatives as well as over twenty different student grounds that are focused on a wide range of sustainable issues, including climate neutrality, reducing the use of bottled water, creating a bike-sharing program around campus, building an organic farm, or brining sustainable foods to the campus cafeterias.

7. Transportation. All employees at Cornell University as well as first-year university students receive a free bus pass to get to the university rather than drive themselves. Returning students can get bus passes at a heavily discounted rate. Faculty and staff are also offered discounts as well as preferred parking for those who opt to carpool to the university every day rather than take their own car. In a recent study done on the Cornell University campus, it was determined that over 90 percent of students and approximately 45 percent of all university employees use environmentally preferable methods to get to school. During the spring and summer months, and even the fall, biking is extremely popular and students can receive discounts around campus for riding their bike to school.

8. Green Cleaning. Cornell University’s Department of Building Care ensures a much more sustainable future by offering a number of results, including the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products and equipment. To become less dependent upon chemicals, the department reviews all their products to ensure they are “Green Certified.” Aside from this, the department provides necessary training to all employees to aid them in achieving sustainable cleaning without ever compromising the safety and the health of the students, faculty, and administration.

9. Computing. The Cornell University Facilities Services purchases all their computers and laptops from Dell as the company is known for designing and engineering products that prevent further pollution and conserve natural resources throughout the life cycle of the system. The Facilities Service Department has also set a number of standards to buy green. All systems are RoHS Compliant (Restriction of use of Hazardous Substances), lead free, Energy Star Certified, and EPEAT registered (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool).

10. Farm to Cornell. The Farm to Cornell club is a student venture to celebrate local foods. One of the primary objectives is to collaborate with the Cornell University dining facilities as well as other student groups to utilize sustainable, local foods. Another goal of this club is to host a number of campus-wide events educating students about agricultural and food related issues and engage individuals in local food based activities like visiting the Ithaca Farmer’s Market and creating local food potluck meals.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at shawn@watershedcapital.com.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

  • Mark

    17 kW of solar panels hardly deserves mention in an article on Cornell’s sustainability.

    That amount of solar power would not even be noticed as a rounding error in the total power consumed by a University.