Ongoing sustainability initiatives are a step for lasting change

Ongoing sustainability initiatives are a step for lasting change

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Syracuse University reformed its sustainability plan so that the university will become carbon neutral by the year 2040. The university is currently implementing several important changes to campus and must be proactive in balancing the multitude of demands in order to improve the student experience.

A fallacy persists in environmentalism that claims individual actions cannot make enough of a difference to improve the state of the environment. Individual actions, such as taking shorter showers and turning off lights, cannot make a significant difference. But with everyone on campus consciously working toward a collective goal, these actions do add up to make an impact.

“We have approximately 22,400 students enrolled, and approximately 5,281 staff and faculty on campus. If all the students in the residence halls take shorter showers and turn off their lights, the electrical use would decrease,” said Melissa Cadwell, a sustainability coordinator at SU. “We lower our office temperatures during the evenings in our buildings and offices.”

Young adults have grown up hearing that environmental issues are critical and it is now important to these generations that something is done about combating the massive issue of climate change. This could serve as an explanation for why universities such as SU are trying to rectify the issue of carbon emissions.

“Universities are pushed because they have a very unique clientele. The students of today are very interested in making sure that they are part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Paul Crovella, assistant professor of forestry and natural resource management at SUNY-ESF.

For SU, this plan has been in the works since before 2007, when then-Chancellor Nancy Cantor signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. This agreement serves to address climate change and initiate more sustainable methods and has been signed by 697 colleges and universities nationwide.

SU has plans to become one of a handful of universities that have reached carbon neutrality. The plan is to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2040, through the updating of its CAP (Climate Action Plan). In the past decade, seven universities have announced they have become carbon neutral.

“The downside is that it will cost money to do all of this. It will be a big priority for the university, I think, to try to do it without having an impact on tuition,” said Peter Wilcoxen, professor of public administration and international affairs at SU.

Crovella is in the process of researching and utilizing different methods that are more acute to environmental conservation to construct buildings.

“Traditional steel and concrete construction have a significant carbon impact, from producing those materials. But recently wood products have been developed, which are able to capture carbon,” said Crovella.

In order to withstand these additional charges of environmental technology and the offsets of remaining emissions, there are possibilities of lowering the price in the process. One example of this is mass timber. Crovella explained that buildings constructed of mass timber are actually more quickly built than buildings constructed of steel concrete. While it may cost more initially, it eventually balances out during the construction period.

The university is balancing many important issues and changes to the campus at the moment. One of the biggest is the crucial changes to current diversity initiatives and inclusion. The university cannot cease working on every other important issue to focus on becoming carbon neutral, which is why the goal is 20 years away.

“They (SU) have to balance how fast they move forward with this against how fast they move forward with diversity,” Wilcoxen said.

The issue of carbon emissions is not one that can be fixed overnight. It is one that is years in the making at SU and will take many more years before the goal is truly achieved. The balancing act between environmentalism, diversity, and every other issue must be maintained at a steady pace so as not to drop one of the other paramount issues. Change has to be implemented in intervals and not all at once so that the changes will stick.

Kailey Norusis is a freshman English literature and history major. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at [email protected]. She can be followed on Twitter @Knorusis.

Source: The Daily Orange