Columbia University Sustainability

Why Columbia University Is A Leader In Sustainability

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted February 3, 2012

Located in the center of Manhattan, New York is Columbia University. Columbia University has been one of the leaders since the creation of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC to make New York City a more sustainable city. Therefore, the university has created a number of sustainable initiatives to aid in helping the university achieve its goal of being one of the most sustainable universities not just in New York State, but also throughout the entire United States. Here is a list of just a few of the sustainable initiatives Columbia University has taken on to make their campus much more sustainable and to teach the students and employees about sustainability for the future.

1. Environmental Stewardship Office. The Environmental Stewardship Office at Columbia University looks to have everyone on the campus work together “to reduce our consumption of resources in the classrooms, offices, and residences, [to] begin to develop a culture of respect for the environment.” The office works to implement a number of practical programs that will reduce the environmental footprint of the university and promote a strong culture valuing the environment and protecting it. The office sets up a number of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary working groups as well as joint programs to achieve all sustainability goals.

2. Administration. In 2007, Columbia University joined with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC Challenge, making toe pledge to reduce the total carbon dioxide emissions coming from the university by a minimum of 30 percent by the year 2017. The university’s Environmental Stewardship Office has a full time and part time staff that is dedicated to this by creating a number of policy recommendations as well as principles of sustainability.

3. Climate Change and Energy. Columbia University recently created a new policy that will reduce cooling and heating consumption throughout all residential buildings and classroom buildings. The university is doing this with the help of a computerized building management system that they are currently launching. Known as the Cool Columbia campaign, energy audits are conducted throughout off-campus housing, providing information on energy-efficient appliances and how to get them at reduced prices. The campaign also encourages the residents to take a three step pledge in an effort to reduce overall energy consumption.

4. Food and Recycling. Columbia University has made the commitment to purchase a percentage of its food locally. Currently, this percentage is at 16 percent. There is an organic student co-op in one of the campus dining halls well campus-grown produce is sold. As well, all food venues service fair trade coffee. As well, twice a week the campus has a farmer’s market right on the campus for people. All to-go containers in the dining halls are biodegradable. There is also a reusable mug program that offers discounts on the price of coffee to all participants.

5. Green Building. Currently, Columbia University required at all new construction projects on campus meets the standards of LEED Silver Certification. Right now the campus has five registered LEED projects currently in work. In 2008, Columbia University launched the beginning of its very first green residential dormitory. This dormitory features items like an automated energy monitoring system, energy efficient windows, and energy efficient boilers.

6. Student Involvement. There are a number of sustainability-related opportunities that are directed toward the students. This includes internships at the Environmental Stewardship Office and a number of Eco-Reps programs. There is an Eco-Reps program at Columbia’s medical campus. There is also the Green Umbrella Program, which is collaboration between the various environmental student groups to provide a voice to environmental sustainability and get more students involved in making the university a sustainable one, such as offering information of what students are doing at home. In the student-led RecycleBank program, students earn various rewards, including free meals and university apparel, for recycling items on campus.

7. Transportation. The entire Columbia University campus is serviced by an inter-campus shuttle that makes stops near major subway stations and bus stations. Columbia University also provides employees to purchase mass transit tickets with their pretax dollars. The university has also set up numerous bike racks for students to bike to classes rather than taking other transportation options. Eventually, the university will also be adopting a brand new policy for telecommuting.

8. CUIT. The Columbia University Information Technology center has also made the commitment to reduce their carbon footprint by creating a new project that will make various energy efficiency improvements to Columbia University’s Morningside Heights Data Center. The project is being supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

9. Clean, Give + Go Green. During December, Columbia University has the Clean, Give + Go Green recycling and donation drive. Hosted by the Environmental Stewardship Office along with other departments in the university, the drive collected more than 5,000 pounds of clothes, as well as hundreds of pounds of canned goods, computer equipment, toiletries, and other items for nonprofit organizations and homeless shelters. The drive also provided the opportunity for people to shred paper and recycle it rather than just rip it up and throw it away. The goal was to aid in bringing sustainability awareness to Columbia’s campus. It occurred at the end of the semester, providing students with a place to donate items they did not need while moving out.

10. Energy Conservation Pilot Programs. Columbia University has created a number of innovative pilot programs to test the different ways to improve overall energy efficient across the campus using LEDs, microturbines, as well as “dashboards” web interfaces that track energy. For instance, LED lights were installed throughout locations within the School of International and Public Affairs because the LED lights last longer and use much less energy than the regularly used fluorescent light bulbs. In another example, the facilities at the School of Social Work use the dashboards in an effort to track the heat and electricity being used in the business on an hour-by-hour basis, allowing the school to see data required to create strategies that will reduce energy consumption.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at