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Campus sustainability plan pools expertise, looks to future

The new Cornell Sustainability Plan, announced Oct. 21 during Trustee-Council Weekend, provides a roadmap for operations, research, education and outreach areas to collaborate in making the campus more sustainable.

Called a "guiding document," the plan specifically outlines strategies, governance, current efforts, grassroots initiatives and future opportunities. An appendix catalogs partners and stakeholders in Cornell's efforts.

"The Sustainability Plan articulates our vision of how our academics and operations will work together to create a sustainable campus and develop a living laboratory that will also aid teaching and research," says Bert Bland, senior director of the Sustainability Office.

The plan was developed by the President's Sustainable Campus Committee (PSCC), which provides broad oversight on administrative decisions that affect campus, local and regional sustainability and supports a culture of sustainability through collaborations among staff, students, faculty and regional partners.

The PSCC tracks sustainability metrics across all areas of sustainable operations; increases recognition of Cornell's sustainability efforts in the national media; helps implement the Climate Action Plan (to reduce carbon emissions to net zero -- balancing the amount of carbon released by sequestering an equal amount -- by 2050); and encourages sustainability leadership on campus.

The PSCC oversees 10 focus teams, which, along with Cornell's Sustainability Office, implement, manage and coordinate green efforts on campus across 10 thematic realms: people, water, food, land, energy, purchasing, transportation, waste, climate and buildings. Each team is co-chaired by a faculty member and a staff member.

The People Team, for example, folds sustainability into staff, student and faculty leadership development, human resource programs and policies, and engages the campus community. The team helped form the Eco-Reps Program, which this fall recruited 24 students to be sustainability educators in their residence halls. Sustainability literacy modules are being built into new employee, freshman and transfer student orientations, and in the spring a sustainability professional development workshop will be offered for managers.

The Energy Team facilitates efforts to reduce energy use by conserving, increasing efficiency, and switching to cleaner, renewable energy. Key initiatives in the works include investigating the feasibility of using renewable biomass as fuel; instituting the Energy Conservation Initiative for which Cornell has approved $45 million to fund energy conservation over the next five years; and conducting studies of geothermal and wind energy systems and smart grid technologies.

To support the focus teams, the Sustainability Office is leading Cornell's engagement in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. The Sustainability Office has collected data from across the university and is finalizing its first report to STARS in January 2012.

"Participating as a charter member of the STARS initiative, Cornell continues to raise the bar of sustainability commitments. Public reporting on standard metrics is a key step in the direction of comprehensive sustainability planning for the university," said Dan Roth, the Sustainability Office's associate director.

The university's commitment to campus sustainability was formalized in Cornell's strategic plan, which called for sustainability to be a guiding principle in all campus operations, including the implementation of the Climate Action Plan and the Comprehensive Master Plan (to provide the university with an integrated framework to guide its long-range physical development over a 30- to 60-year time frame).

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Joe Schwartz