The new Sustainability Committee began this semester with the focus of promoting environmental sustainability on the SUNY New Paltz campus.
The committee stems from the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which is “deeply concerned about the unprecedented scale and speed of global warming,” according to its commitment text. In response, it believes colleges and universities need to exercise leadership in order to minimize the effects of global warming by educating students. The committee provides a list of guidelines and steps that must be followed to complete this task, such as “[helping] incorporate environmental issues into the college’s curriculum, research profile and educational outreach,” according to the sustainability committee final resolution.
Brian Obach, chair of both the department of sociology and the Sustainability Committee, said the idea for the committee was proposed over five years ago to former president Steven Poskanzer, but Poskanzer was not interested in creating the committee at the time. From there, some faculty, staff and others decided to create their own Environmental Task Force, which Obach had chaired up until the Sustainability Committee was created.
“I encouraged President Poskanzer to create a formal committee for years, but he would not act on it,” said Obach. “However, in 2008 he signed the President’s Climate Commitment, [which had] a requirement to create a formal committee.”
Obach said Poskanzer encouraged the faculty to create the committee themselves instead of actually appointing one, and make it part of faculty governance.
“I was against this at the start because, as a faculty committee, key administrative people could technically not be fully involved, and I saw administrative involvement as essential for the group’s effectiveness,” said Obach.
Since then, the committee has made extra provisions in order to allow administrators and students to be involved, although some administrators cannot vote due to their positions.
“I am still not sure that this is the most effective structure,” said Obach. “No other college that I am aware of has situated their sustainability committee as a sub-committee within faculty governance. It’s a strange arrangement, but I’m hoping that we can be effective anyway.”
Now that the committee is formed, it must begin to fulfill its requirements. In order to be accepted as an ACUPCC university, New Paltz must take an inventory of carbon emissions, develop long term goals for sustainability and take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the approval to begin the committee, the guidelines read that 17 members must be elected to fill specific positions that can serve up to two consecutive two-year terms. This is comprised of faculty, staff, students and administrators of SUNY New Paltz
Student Association (SA) Executive Vice President Eve Stern was in charge of nominating the seats for the two SA representatives. Stern nominated Recycling Club Coordinator Lauren Brois and student Sen. Maxwell Lasky. The senate confirmed both nominees. Both students said they are passionate about making a difference with sustainability on campus, community and their lives.
“Two [meetings] ago I appointed Max Lasky and Lauren Brois because they are both people who are really involved,” said Stern.
Stern is not a part of the committee, but thinks it’s beneficial for the campus.
“When people think of sustainability, it’s not just a matter of recycling or even composting,” said Stern. “It goes to the extent of education courses and how facilities run buildings on campus. If you’re in a room with sunlight, you don’t need to additionally have lights on. I think people aren’t aware of all the different ways that sustainability is related to things.”
Lauren Brois already serves as the recycling coordinator and the president of Recycling Club. She was a part of RecycleMania, the Earth Day Carnival and Reuse to Reduce. This semester, the club is working on a composting program and holding a “Sustainable Crafts Fair” on Nov. 30.
“SUNY New Paltz makes a large effort to make its slogan of ‘New Paltz Goes Green’ true,” said Brois. “I think a small handful of very active and environmentally minded individuals have made a huge impact on the school.”
However, Brois has high hopes for the future.
“Now is an especially exciting time with the fairly recent SUNY laws that all future buildings have to be LEED certified and the possibility of New Paltz receiving a new environmentally-minded president,” said Brois.
Lasky was also nominated by Stern due to his ongoing commitment and interest in sustainability. Like Brois, Lasky’s job is to give input on issues and be a voice as representative for the student body as a whole.
Lasky is not involved with any other environmental groups on campus due to a busy schedule, but he has worked with sustainability in the past.
“This past summer, I volunteered 700 hours living and working outdoors in Wyoming for the Wyoming Conservation Corps (an AmeriCorps program) learning firsthand about sustainability and conservation,” said Lasky.
Lasky also volunteered for the Bureau of Land Management, the US forest service, State Parks and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“I also try to limit my carbon footprint by eating local foods and riding my bike around the village as opposed to driving places,” said Lasky. “I am also pretty big on composting.”
However, Lasky is concerned about the amount of material waste SUNY New Paltz produces.
“There are major strides that still need to be made in order to make campus carbon neutral,” said Lasky. “In the long term, I know that a lot of the infrastructure on campus could be repaired in order to reduce our carbon emissions. However, I am only beginning to take a look into these things.”
Director of Facility Operations and Management Brian Pine is the current advisor for the committee.
“I feel the college has been making great strides for sustainability and the recent committee being assembled will help to build awareness, create a greater number of classes in this discipline and through its work build a capacity for sustainability on the campus that feeds itself,” said Pine.
The committee has only had two meetings so far, but they are currently in the works of planning out their future agenda.
“We want to first address issues that can be changed with minor adjustments,” said Brois.
At the most recent Sustainability Committee meeting on Oct. 7, Meghan Coder spoke about the grant for solar/science study, which could potentially integrate sustainability into the academic curriculum.
Another proposal in mind is “Save money, Save Jobs,” which would show that environmental good could help by saving money that can be spent on keeping more jobs.
“With the budget crisis SUNY is currently facing, it really makes a lot of sense to stop wasting our resources,” said Lasky.
Currently, the committee is working on submitting a Committee Action Plan to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), as well as energy and waste reduction. The committee needs to create a comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emission on campus. Also, they want to have programs that take two to five year periods to institute small cost-effective changes.
The committee is also looking for ideas and suggestions from anyone, and is in the process of either sending an all-student e-mail survey or a Faculty-Staff e-mail.
“As compared to most schools across the nation, New Paltz ranks pretty high in the environmentally friendly category,” said Brois. “Last spring, we were named ‘an environmentally responsible college’ by the Princeton review, but there is a ton more that our campus can do.”