For over 150 years, Cornell University has earned a reputation for energy innovation in research and campus operations. That reputation carries on today. In 2007 Cornell President, David Skorton formed the Presidents Climate Commitment Implementation Committee (PCCIC) comprised of faculty, staff, and students. The PCCIC, with a matching grant from the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), oversaw two years of planning that established a goal of climate neutrality by 2050. The participatory process included outreach, working groups, and an online idea exchange. The process culminated in endorsements by the Board of Trustees and all five campus assemblies. Aiming to reach beyond the campus community, the Climate Action Plan (CAP) Web Portal was created to openly share the entire planning process, triple-bottom line decision-making, and the portfolio of endorsed actions.
The momentum from the CAP led to the establishment of the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee (PSCC) that brought another level of senior administration support to sustainability initiatives. Within the first 8 months of CAP implementation Cornell:
- Dedicated a new 30MW Combined Heat & Power facility (50,000 metric tons annual reduction)
- Committed to the elimination of on-site combustion of coal by July 2011 (20,000 metric tons annual reduction),
- Allocated $6 million for 2010 and 2011 energy conservation projects (6,000 metric tons annual reduction)
- Secured roughly $2 million dollars from NYSERDA toward these combined projects
- Added four new permanent staff positions for continuous maintenance and re-commissioning of building energy systems.
Academically, the CAP process included the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future (CCSF) and the Climate Neutrality Faculty Working Group. The Faculty Working group engaged faculty to integrate climate neutrality planning into 15 courses over two years. In support of the CAP, CCSF co-funded five research projects that examined behavior-related energy use, carbon capture technologies, forest sequestration, smart-grid technologies and the attitudes of 1500 county residents on CAP actions. In addition the Cornell University Renewable Bioenergy Initiative completed a feasibility study for a facility to demonstrate energy production from the integration of multiple technologies able to utilize diverse bioenergy feed stocks.
Highlights in campus education are the student-led Focus the Nation and New York State Powershift events, a faculty-led ‘climate controversies’ seminar series, and public lectures by Senator Timothy Wirth, Bill McDonough, and James Hansen. Student governments initiated a student-fee funded bike sharing program and a Lights-Off campaign. Additionally a comprehensive energy conservation behavior change project was initiated by academic staff. An ongoing focus on outreach off-campus includes the creation of a youth energy conservation corps, assisted in the formation of the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, a partnership with National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to develop the website Climate Neutral Research Campuses, and a new climate change web portal.