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College Sustainability Report Card 2010

College Sustainability Report Card 2010
Cornell University
Student Survey

Name: Whitney Larsen (President 08-09) and Christina Copeland (current President)
Date survey submitted:  July 16, 2009

1) Please describe the student-run campus environmental/sustainability organization in which you have a leadership role.

Name of organization:                        The Sustainability Hub
Number of active members:                around 30
Website:                                              http://rso.cornell.edu/sustainabilityhub
Date of last meeting:                           7/7/09
Frequency of meetings:                       weekly (less regular during summer)

Key issues addressed and programs implemented since August 2008:

  • Big Red Bikes – Starting a bike share program on campus
  • Water Bottle/Back to the Tap – raising awareness about environmental and social impacts of bottled water
  • Greeks Go Green – making the more than 50 fraternities and sororities on campus more sustainable
  • Sustainable Event Planning – creating a guide for making events on campus more sustainable
  • Orientation – outreach to incoming freshman on sustainability and how to get involved on campus
  • Composting in Dining Halls – outreach to people about post-consumer composting
  • Collegetown Waste – addressing issues of restaurant sustainability and access to trash and recycling receptacles
  • Earth Day and Campus Sustainability Day – planning campus’s celebrations for these days
  • Powershift – arranging a Cornell delegation to attend, and working to make transportation and housing free
  • Sustainable Investing – using the endowment to influence companies via proxy voting

Progress made on each issue/program since August 2008:

Big Red Bikes: This is a project to create a bikeshare on campus, where students could check out a bike from a library for a 24 hour period. This project was originally a submission in an idea contest about 5 years ago.  After those students lost the contest, the project was put aside for a while, but was picked up a year and half ago and now has a totally new plan.  The original plan was high-tech - it required an electronic check-out system that was really expensive.  The current proposal works through the library system (you'll be able to check out a bike like you check out a book) and utilizes the help of Cornell transportation services for free. 
In the fall, people working on BRB’s worked with “bike specialists” at Cornell to gather general advice for the program. BRB’s then branched off from Sustainability Hub to become their own club (which entailed going through an application process and finding an advisor). Research was done on other bikeshare programs in preparation for planning Cornell’s. In the spring semester, members met with libraries to assess the feasibility of using them as the checkout mechanism.  A proposal was put together, including a cost analysis, infrastructure plans, etc. They then applied to receive funding from the Student Activities Fee, and to do so a group needs 1,500 undergraduate signatures on a petition saying they support the cause. These signatures were collected within 3 weeks, and the petition was submitted. We will know whether or not it will get funding from the SAF in the fall.

Water Bottle/Back to the Tap: This project was revived in late March, and had its own table at Cornell’s Earth Day celebration. They began a petition to increase availability of tap water on campus, and ultimately ban the sale of bottled water on campus, which has over 300 signatures. One of the project leaders gave a presentation to her environmental conservation class about the social and environmental impacts of bottled water. The group contacted Cornell Dining to get more information about Cornell’s contract with Pepsi (which will be up for renewal in two years). They ended the semester working on creating an inventory of water fountains on campus to see where more need to be.

Greeks Go Green: Late fall two member began brainstorming specific areas in which fraternities and sororities could improve environmentally. Working with Panhel and the InterFraternity Council, Sustainability Chairs were elected in each house (Cornell has 42 fraternities and 11 sororities). Over winter break website content was written as a guide for three goals that were decided upon for Greek houses to achieve. Goal one was a light bulb switch: Hillel donated 500 Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs to the program, and created a short energy presentation and went to houses throughout the semester, presenting and switching out light bulbs. The second goal was creating a comprehensive recycling program. The third goal was pick your own project, and we outlined three possibilities: composting (partnering with Cornell’s Master Composters program), energy conservation, and making sustainable food and beverage choices (focusing on no bottled water for beverages). Working with Cornell’s Sustainability Director, their webmaster made us a webpage on Cornell’s Sustainability website. Working with Panhel and the InterFraternity Council, an Environmental Chair was elected in each house, and a survey was completed by 33 out of the 53 houses about their energy use, recycling in the house, composting thoughts, etc.
In the spring semester, the program was kicked off at the A.D. White Leadership conference, which the executive boards of every chapter are required to attend. We had an hour long panel and showed a PowerPoint presentation to about 40 people. The houses were divided into three groups, and each group was assigned one of the three goals, and as the semester went on the goals were rotated through. A question about the chapter’s participation in Greeks Go Green was included in the End Of Year report that every house must complete (detailing all philanthropic and leadership events that house did during the year). Based on responses to this question, one house and three runners up were chosen to receive the newly instated (by GGG) “Most Environmentally Committed Chapter” award at the End Of Year Awards Ceremony.
Future plans include making an official GGG committee within Panhel and the IFC. We are also partnering with a local community center, who will drop off big recycling bins at all fraternities and sororities, and pick them up weekly (and then they get money from the refundables for community center programs – it is generally around $50-100 per house per week that is generated). We have also been working with Master Composters on creating a 10 minute presentation about composting to be given at chapter meetings. Another goal is doing a pilot project with three houses to do a waste assessment, which is a program Tompkins County Solid Waste has for local businesses and schools. We are working with them to accommodate the need for waste assessments for fraternities and sororities.

Sustainable Event Planning - This project had the goal of facilitating sustainable event planning on campus.  There are so many speakers, conferences, concerts, etc. that could benefit from a streamlined system by which it would be easy to obtain green supplies and manage waste more easily.  The system had to be holistic as well.  For example, there was one event where compost receptacles were present, but all of the sandwich toothpicks had plastic on them and were being tossed into the compost.  The food providers had to be aware of where all their products would go.  A group of students developed an awesome presentation on this subject, which was presented at a small student leadership conference on campus.  We were able to reach out to some really key campus leaders.  However, the project died there due to legal reasons.  Since Cornell property is tax-exempt, local businesses weren't allowed to "advertise" on campus or on Cornell websites.  In other words, a list of businesses that provide essential services could not be put on a Cornell website.  We’re not sure how to further pursue the goal of facilitating sustainable event planning, but it may be possible to work on it some more from within the administration.

Orientation – Freshman orientation is a weeklong event at Cornell, and it is filled with events and speeches that new freshman can go to. We are working with Mike Hoffman, the director of Cornell’s Agricultural Experimentation Station, on an hour long panel about sustainability, Cornell’s Climate Action Plan, and student involvement in sustainability. This panel will be open to freshman during orientation week. We are also working with Campus Life to plan sustainability presentations, focusing on providing energy tips, to the Residential Advisor’s during their RA training.

Composting in Dining Halls - The dining halls have been composting behind the scenes for many years, but only in the last 2 years or so did post-consumer composting take off in the a la carte dining facilities.  This was partially due to pressure from other groups (especially the Society for Natural Resource Conservation).  It was also due to the hiring of a very environmentally-friendly dining director.  Cornell Dining hired one and then two student interns to push composting in the dining halls.  Over this past year, the Hub has helped those student interns publicize new composting facilities.  We would station ourselves at the trash, recycling, and composting sites and explain to people where to put their things, and then offer "I composted today" stickers that were actually quite popular.

Collegetown Waste - This is more of a theme than a project.  There are so many issues in Collegetown (an area right outside of Cornell’s Campus that is almost exclusively Cornell student’s apartments and restaurants) that needed to be addressed, such as waste management in restaurants, trash on the streets, greater access to recycling, and beginning small compost systems.  As a club, we started engaging restaurants, landowners, and the city on these issues.  We developed a questionnaire for restaurants and encouraged them to adopt better practices, and also let them know that their customers pay attention to things like the types of containers they use to serve take-out.  Hub members met with owners of restaurants and conducted these surveys. One student also hopes to get the city to put recycling receptacles on the street, next to ones for trash.  To minimize vandalism, she is hoping to have them decorated as elementary school art projects. 

Earth Day and Campus Sustainability Day - On these two days, (one in the fall and one in the spring), the Hub organizes festivities in the main plaza.  All of the environmental groups and many others have tables, posters, and activities.  Some academic departments and facilities groups table as well.  We have a live band on Earth Day to add to the fun.

Powershift - This is a national youth conference on climate change that occurred in the fall of 2007 and spring of 2009.  It was attended by over 12000 people from across the country this spring.  The conference has awesome speakers from national environmental groups, awesome panel discussions on dozens of topics, and lobby day training, followed by a huge lobby day on Capitol Hill. The energy was amazing, and so many people returned from Powershift eager to get involved on campus. Several members spent most of spring semester helping to organize a huge Cornell delegation (about 90 people), and working with local colleges and high schools to form a Central New York Delegation.  Figuring out the logistics was incredibly difficult (fundraising, transportation, housing, registration, etc.), since the goal was to make attending Powershift free (no cost for transportation or housing for the weekend).  However, the event was highly successful and worth the effort.

Sustainable Investing - About two years ago, a group of leaders from a variety of environmental groups came together to form the Cornell Sustainable Investment Coalition.  The goal was to get the University to use its massive endowment (then almost $7 billion) to influence the companies it’s invested in via proxy voting.  Shareholder resolutions can be about corporate governance, energy efficiency, or even climate change. We eventually brought our goals to the University President and others high up in the administration.  An ad hoc committee was formed to look at the issue.  The committee has students, faculty and staff.  Unfortunately, a year and half later, the committee has made little significant progress.  If anything ever comes out of it some sort of new committee will be formed which may be able to direct how Cornell votes on shareholder resolutions, among other responsibilities.

2) Does your group organize any sustainability challenges/competitions for your campus and/or with other colleges?

[ X]  No, however, the group ESW (Engineers for a Sustainable World) has organized several challenges, such as the Drive Not to Drive and the North Campus Residential Resource Battle.  See their website at http://www.vicky707.com/esw/index.html for more info.

3) Does your student government include a specific position or committee dedicated to campus sustainability issues?
[  ]  No
[ X]  Yes. Please describe:  The Student Assembly has an Environment Committee which meets approximately biweekly.  This Committee was influential in lobbying for funding for Big Red Bikes.  It has been working to get some or all student groups to write environmental impact statements to receive funding. 

4) Please describe any additional campus sustainability activities or projects that you or your group has initiated at your school: 

Biodiesel - The Cornell dining halls produce about 6,000 gallons of waste vegetable oil per year.  Three years ago a group of students put together a proposal for that oil (which is currently shipped away at a cost) to be turned into biodiesel for the use of Cornell farm services vehicles.  This proposal was actually embraced and accepted by the administration, and integrated into a larger plan for waste management.  Unfortunately, since Cornell is partially a state-funded school, the entire plan got caught up in Albany “Big Red tape” somewhere.  But, while the plans are out of Hub’s hands, this plan is going through and should be instituted in the next few years.

Focus The Nation - This event was part of a national teach-in on global warming solutions.  It involved several panel discussions with faculty members and a roundtable discussion with local government leaders, including Congressman Hinchey who appeared on video.  Unfortunately, the event was not well attended.  The roundtable discussion, this time called a Community Town Hall, was repeated the following year by a different group (KyotoNOW!).  Supposedly it was much better advertised and very successful the second time around. 

5) Please list and briefly describe any other student-run organizations related to campus sustainability at your school, and provide URLs if available (e.g., student groups; student government committees; student-run food co-ops, gardens/farms, bike co-ops) and provide contact information of the student leaders, if possible: 

Sustainability Hub http://www.rso.cornell.edu/sustainabilityhub
contact Whitney Larsen wbl5@cornell.edu or Christina Copeland cpc53@cornell.edu
Focuses on projects for a more sustainable campus.  Also organizes campus events such as Earth Day.  Largest environmental group on campus.
Big Red Bikes
contact Pat Farnach paf52@cornell.edu
Recently branched off the Hub to focus on creating a campus bikeshare system.

contact Fil Eden wje6@cornell.edu
Campaigned for the President's Climate Commitment several years ago.  Focused on energy and political activism. 

Society for Natural Resource Conservation
http://www.rso.cornell.edu/snrc/ (outdated)
contact Sherry Martin at sm674@cornell.edu
Small group that has focused on double-sided printing, composting, and most recently plastic reduction.

Engineers for a Sustainable World
contact Nick Chisholm at noc3@cornell.edu
Active group of engineers with several innovative projects - see website for lots of details.

Roots and Shoots
contact Lura Salm at lss67@cornell.edu
Focused on environmental education.  Runs an Earth Day 5K and volunteers at the local ScieneCenter

Cornell Organization for Labor Action
contact Fil Eden wje6@cornell.edu
Activism for labor rights on campus and nationally. 

Dilmun Hill
Student-led organic farm.

Sustainable Enterprise Association
Undergraduate component of the graduate group NetImpact connected with the Johnson business school.

Automotive X-Prize
Project to design, build, and market a car that will get 100+ mpg.

Solar Decathlon
Project to design and build a solar-powered house.

6) Please list any regional or national networks with which your group is affiliated (e.g., Energy Action Coalition/Campus Climate Challenge, Sierra Student Coalition, a state PIRG, a state student sustainability coalition):  none

PLEASE NOTE: Some schools have requested that more detailed descriptions of their sustainability programs be made available to readers of the College Sustainability Report Card. Accordingly, we plan to post the completed surveys on www.GreenReportCard.org as a link from each school's profile. If you would prefer that the full text of your survey not be published, please let us know. (As in previous years, we will continue to publish relevant excerpts in the school profile.) To opt out of online publication of your full survey response, please enter your name here: