Project Made by: Kelly Vizgan, Maya Kirsch, Kasia Allen
In this project, our group is tasked with discussing ways college students, specifically Brooklyn College students, can contribute to the decarbonization of the school. When considering what we should research, we thought about students’ current and potential future efforts of decreasing their carbon footprint on campus. We inquired about what our college and college students are doing in terms of sustainability, ie, the resources Brooklyn College makes available to its students and how they encourage student involvement in these resources. We also questioned if our college was doing enough and compared our practices to other colleges such as Princeton University and University of Buffalo. We want students to be able to use this project to learn about more ways they can decrease their carbon footprint, and we hope these changes will help our climate.
Our world’s climate has significantly suffered due to the rise of greenhouse gases and carbonization; Climate change is a major global issue that needs to be tackled by civilians, students, administrators, people in power, and essentially every individual. Our superiors are aware of this and fortunately various countries, states, and cities have set goals and released plans to counteract the issues before it becomes too late. Our class aims to delve into CUNY, more specifically Brooklyn College’s, efforts for decarbonization by combining the knowledge and research of four separate areas/projects; the structure of energy management in CUNY, training to build “energy experts,” comparing Brooklyn College to greener campuses, and focusing on how students can get involved. Due to the mandated decarbonization goals that our college needs to reach, it’s an all hands on board situation right now. We are all working towards the same goal: analyzing energy consumption to help find ways to decarbonize the environment. The focus of this specific project is to examine what opportunities are available to us as a student, how we can take advantage of these opportunities, and a few tips and tricks to decrease our carbon footprint we can take with us and implement even after we graduate.
To obtain the answers to our questions, we first reached out to multiple professors, student groups, and other professionals who work/are active in the field of sustainability. Unfortunately, most couldn’t get back to us in time, but we were able to reach and interview Brooklyn College’s present Student Government. Following our interviewing process, we researched Brooklyn college’s energy usage and compared that to other universities energy usage. Then, we dove into what CUNY’s and Brooklyn College’s plans are to combat the large energy usage, lessen their carbon footprint, and reach their mandated goals. Next we looked at BC’s and other universities’ sustainability and student involvement pages on their website and examined the website layout and how available the information is to the students. We looked into what opportunities our college, CUNY, and rivaling universities offer for students to get involved in, and finally, we researched what we can personally do to decrease our individual carbon footprints while at campus and subsequently anywhere we go.
From our interview with Brooklyn Student Government’s Student Advocate, Chika Otisi, we learned that the Brooklyn College administration is working with the student government to help find more ways to make the college more sustainable. Otisi has worked with CUNY Climate Change Coalition, BC Campus Energy Working Group, and other students to come up with ideas such as using solar energy farms, CUNY’s divestment in fossil fuels, and investing more in renewables. Though, as he explained, a lot of change relyies on BC’s budget and how much the college is able/willing to spend on these plans.
From researching, we found CUNY’s energy usage and the energy usage from a competing university, Princeton. CUNY is spread throughout NY and has about 15 campuses, therefore they cover more square feet than Princeton. While CUNY has about 16,050,757 net assignable square feet (counted from their fall 2017 statistics report), and Princeton has about 9.5 million square feet, both exert a lot of energy and are working to become more energy efficient. From the STARS Reports, we can only use the CUNY report that’s still valid, John Jay’s, and compare that to Princeton University. CUNY is considered and treated as one university, so we can assume that the scores and statistics from different locations are similar to and help represent CUNY as a whole. Based on their reports, John Jay scored a silver ranking, while Princeton scored a gold ranking. At Princeton, the energy supply is mostly from the campus’ power plant, while little comes from solar energy panels. Their goal is to become completely carbon neutral by their 300th anniversary, 2046. As of right now, they’re at the level of using 100,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. By 2046, they hope to decrease their usage to the point where they have a net of zero CO2 emitted.
The only statistics we have in regards to greenhouse gas emissions by BC are those shown above from NYC in 2016. As the chart shows, 39.2% of emissions are from the commercial and institutional sector. Commercial meaning offices and institutional meaning private and public institutions such as schools, community centers, etc. Reducing emissions in this sector, which we can do by reducing CUNY’s GHG emissions, would greatly decrease GHG emissions as a whole. Brooklyn has been one of the most energy demanding colleges out of CUNY, according to data from 2016.CUNY expends a lot of energy, and fortunately CUNY is well aware of this and seeking to take action. According to the CUNY sustainability website, CUNY aims to reduce energy usage and become more energy efficient, as well as raise awareness and educate students and faculty, and ultimately reduce GHG emissions. There are seven main areas of focus in terms of developing new ways to become more sustainable; Energy, Water, Transportation, Procurement, Recycling, Sustainable Education and Outreach, and Sustainable Nutrition. Brooklyn College specifically, released their 10 Year plan in which they focused on completed, working, and future goals in regards to energy, water, transportation, recycling, procurement, sustainable dining, and education. The goal is to raise awareness and participation in reducing the carbon footprint through campus based education, research, opportunities.. Some things that are being done include expanding the recycling program, transitioning to electronics to limit paper, equipment upgrades to reduce water use, photovoltaic panels on various flat roofs around campus, replacing plastic with biodegradable containers, and promoting more sustainable transportation such as biking.
We then studied the layout of the BC website and took note of what BC offered and then compared that information with more sustainable schools and what they offer. Compared to Princeton University and Buffalo University, the Brooklyn College student involvement sustainability page is harder to follow with multiple separate links and opportunities on the side bar. It makes it harder for the students who want to get involved. We are aware that the college website is currently under going a design change and by the looks of it, they are making it more accessible for students to explore. As of right now, the sustainability site is still the same, but we hope that it will have the same makeover.
We dove into each aspect of the BC website with the goal being to assess what we do well and what we need to work on. BC does a lot in terms of sustainability and shares a bunch of way you can get involved. According to the BC website, BC wants to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum (which it does since they just announced 3 new concentrations in an urban sustainability degree program and have a list of majors/concentrations/courses to further your sustainability knowledge), support research, and partner with business leaders. The website mentions the 7 pillar areas and the specific ways BC addresses each area with examples such as reducing the use of bottled water and increasing the use of water fountains, placing bins in hallways to increase paper/cardboard, recycling, changing light switches to motion sensors, reducing the use of plastic/Styrofoam in the cafeteria, and so forth. They offer direct ways students can get involved in a group setting, by becoming a compost food scrap volunteer, joining the sustainability club, and on an individual level by offering tips such as considering if you really need to print that document and if you do making sure to do it double sided, use paperless notebooks, open the window to get in fresh air before turning to the air conditioner, using a stainless steel water bottle, and so forth. There is also a list of resources where you can go to get more educated and a list of sustainability programs as well as events to take part in such as Earth day. We paid attention to what BC offers but also tried to come up with ideas they were missing by comparing what they had to offer with other campuses, such as the College of Atlantic. Some examples COA does that BC could implement include adding more sustainability related courses such as agroecology, climate justice, land and climate, Natural resources, use composting toilets, enforce tree free paper, sponsor a community energy center where students can do hands on projects, and look into workshops such as the Samso energy workshop in which students can learn from the Samso community and their transformation to a renewable energy island. BC can also provide more opportunities for funding to test new innovative ways to help decrease carbon footprints on campus like Princeton’s High Meadow’s Foundation Sustainability Fund. Another program BC could learn from is the CUNY Energy Institute at City College, where research is done to try and find sustainable energy sources for the college as a whole to use. Their goal is to strategically find better sources of energy, such as solar and turbines, that could decrease the college’s carbon footprints and help the environment. They also want to educate the next generation of students that will continue their work or work with them in the future. BC can learn from these programs and implement their own programs with similar goals. These new additions and programs do require some funding, however they will be beneficial in the long run.
What We Recommend
As students, the most important thing we can do is to educate ourselves on global issues due to anthropogenic contributions and figure out ways we can contribute to the decarbonization of the world. The goal is to consider Brooklyn College as a lab; The campus is the setting where we can experiment and implement techniques later on in life. While Brooklyn College does offer a variety of ways to get involved, which we will discuss later on, it’s important to make sure students are willing to actively participate in these opportunities. One potential way of motivating students to get involved in sustainability is to offer some sort of financial incentive. A scholarship could be offered to students who prove to cut down the most on their energy emissions by supplying some sort of proof, maybe by electricity or heating bills. Another potential idea is to make it a CUNY competition, while again offering a reward. A number of students from each campus can receive recognition for their sustainability efforts and compete between CUNYs to see which specific students are the most educated, involved with, and make progress in the sustainability effort. Another way to motivate students to get involved is to make them think about their future dreams and goals and explain to them this may not be attainable if they do not act to protect the environment now.
Aside from the efforts Brooklyn College is currently making and offering there are a number of additional things students can do, both at home, on the way to school, and at school. On the way to school, students should look into taking public transportation or carpooling some days a week. Then at school and at home, students should pay attention to where the composting bins are, recycle more, see if they really need the heat/air conditioner, use stainless steel water bottles and fill them up at the fountain, make sure to turn off and unplug electronics when they are not in use, close the windows when they leave the room as well as turn off the light, see if they can use natural light and open shades instead of light bulbs, take notes on their computer, get involved and learn more about climate change and your impact on the world, and be a role model for others.
We are a large based college and with our population size comes more energy consumption while on campus. The best thing we can do is to start being mindful of how much energy we use and if there’s a way we can lower our carbon footprint. If we all implement the tips we’ve listed and make small changes and sacrifices in our lives, we can keep the planet at a stable climate. Change is inevitable if we’re going to slow down our effects on climate change. It may take time, but if we all work towards the same goal we can hope for a bright possible future for us all.
- Otisi, Chika. Student Advocate for Brooklyn Student Government
- “Take Action: Students | Office of Sustainability.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, https://sustain.princeton.edu/take-action/students.
- Sadovnick, Carrie. Sustainability, Climate & Energy at Brooklyn College, Oct. 2019.
- Sustainability at Brooklyn College https://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/about/initiatives/initiatives/sustainability.php
- College of Atlantic Sustainability https://www.coa.edu/about/environmental-commitment/
- Brooklyn College 10 year Plan http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/web/abo_initiatives_sustainability/brooklyn_college_sustainability_plan_final.pdf
- “Get Involved” at Buffalo https://www.buffalo.edu/sustainability/get-involved.html#title_0
- CUNY sustainability https://www1.cuny.edu/sites/sustainable/
- John Jay STARS Report https://reports.aashe.org/institutions/city-university-of-new-york-john-jay-college-of-criminal-justice-ny/report/2021-03-04/