Colleges are often at the vanguard of social movements. The culture at large often follows in the footsteps of ideas, fashions, and technologies incubated in its educational institutions, and sustainability is no exception. From Yale’s organic dining halls and on-campus farm to Oberlin’s real-time Campus Resource Monitoring System, some of the most intriguing innovations in the green arena are happening on college campuses.
My own school, NYU, is just now jumping the sustainability game, though it’s catching up fast. The Green Arch Initiative, a coalition of students, teachers and administrators interested in advancing sustainability on campus, was founded two years ago and has been enormously successful in mobilizing the NYU community. Last fall, the University announced it would be offsetting all the electricity it purchased from Con Edison this year – some 150 million kilowatt-hours – with renewable energy credits, and a 40-member task force was set up with the charge of determining how best to incorporate sustainability across the University’s operations.
My biggest contribution to NYU’s sustainability thus far has been Greening the Urban Campus (2.5 mb PDF), a comprehensive envrionmental impact assessment of the University that I put together with four other students last semester. The report is centered around an index that tracks the environmental impacts of the University across nine categories and 41 separate indicators, such as “Local Energy Generation” and “Cans and Bottles Recycling Rate”. With the index, as well as specific recommendations and relevant case studies, Greening the Urban Campus is intended to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable NYU. Hopefully, it will be continuously updated, thus making NYU’s steps towards sustainability transparent and quantifiable.