Senior group is guiding Cornell's climate actions

Lance Collins
KyuJung Whang

At the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee meeting in November, President Elizabeth Garrett announced the formation of the Senior Leaders Climate Action Group (SLCAG), to focus on improving current climate trends by advancing public understanding of climate change and spurring innovative, cross-disciplinary solutions on campus and globally.

Led by Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering, and KyuJung Whang, vice president for infrastructure, properties and planning (IPP), the committee features an array of administrators, deans, faculty and student leaders to help guide the university’s climate-action direction.

“Cornell faculty and students are engaged in frontier research on all aspects of the production, distribution and management of energy resources. Our ‘living laboratory’ allows us to translate bench-scale innovations to campuswide demonstrations of new technologies,” said Collins. “Through SLCAG, we will develop a holistic, community approach – from the local campus quads to projects international in scope – on taking appropriate action to reduce our warming climate.”

Whang said, “Cornell is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving campus carbon neutrality as quickly as possible, and this new group will set climate-action direction and prioritize initiatives.”

SLCAG will guide development of a campuswide engagement plan that integrates climate-action strategies into campus culture. The group has appointed a subcommittee that will help prioritize campus projects in the campus Climate Action Plan, which will be reviewed annually and updated every five years. Further, SLCAG will ensure communication of Cornell research and demonstration projects to policymakers and the public, as well as organize initiatives involving federal and state government, private industry and utilities.

The university has made progress on decreasing its carbon footprint. Since 2008, Cornell has reduced campus carbon emissions by 30 percent, and in 2014 the university activated its first solar farm in Lansing, New York. Cornell’s Geneva, New York, solar farm goes online this spring.

SLCAG member Todd Cowen, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and faculty director for energy at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, noted the university’s history of integrating faculty, students and facilities staff to advance sustainability.

“Cornell’s IPP group is truly unique in the academic world,” he said. “The IPP staff work with the faculty as partners to create what we now formally call a living laboratory. And this is a two-way street, because in my role with the Atkinson Center, I frequently reach out to them for partnership on projects – most recently the energy smart community New York State REV project with whom we are collaborating with Avangrid (formerly Iberdrola USA). No other university that I am aware of has this type of partnership.”

In addition to Collins, Whang and Cowen, the group’s members are:

  • Beth Ahner, professor of biological and environmental engineering, and senior associate dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;
  • Jeffrey Bergfalk, doctoral candidate in the field of mathematics;
  • Robert Bland, associate vice president for energy and sustainability;
  • Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology;
  • Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the Graduate School;
  • Michael Kotlikoff, provost and acting president;
  • Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life;
  • Joel Malina, vice president for university relations;
  • Alan Mathios, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology;
  • Mark Milstein, clinical professor of management and director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management;
  • Mary Opperman, vice president and chief human resource officer;
  • Tishya Ravichander Rao ’18, who majors in urban and regional studies in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning;
  • Paul Streeter, vice president for budget and planning; and
  • Sarah Zemanick, director of the Campus Sustainability Office.

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