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Colgate University Is Leader in Green

Colgate University is a small liberal arts school in central New York State that features big time academics in a small town setting. With a student population of about 2,800, the school is abounded on all sides by farmland, and with the Great Lakes just a few hundred miles to the northwest, lake-effect weather causes the quiet campus to be under a blanket of snow from October to April. As part of what Newsweek deemed the “New Ivy League,” the prestigious school has decided to involve itself in a huge new undertaking: Going green. Although the university has always been environmentally conscious (its location in the middle of vast tracts of farmland and forest make it difficult not to be), in the last few years, professors, administrators, and staff have converged to form the Colgate Environmental Council to facilitate the University’s widespread environmental initiatives.

Professor Ian Helfant, Chairman of the Environmental Council, has enumerated the long list of Colgate’s green achievements and goals in his newly published article “Getting Going: Colgate University’s Sustainability Path.” Helfant, a Russian professor who has been known to host dinners for students with locally grazed and grown meat and produce, is just one of the diverse body of Colgate professors who takes the University’s green policies home with them. Said Helfant, “historically, many individuals across our campus have had a personal or professional stake in sustainability” adding, “these range from faculty whose academic expertise and teaching relate to this area, to buildings and grounds and dining services personnel who have been greening campus operations, to student activists.” In his article, Professor Helfant stressed the importance of publicizing Colgate’s green efforts both to encourage other institutions to follow in the school’s footsteps, and to inspire students and alumni to join in the fight for sustainability.

Helfant also emphasized the need for large institutions to get serious about their environmental efforts by hiring outside professionals to take charge. Hence, John Pumilio, Colgate’s freshly hired Sustainability Coordinator arrived on campus in April. Pumilio, who sports a master’s degree in environmental studies and has worked as a field biologist for the National Park Service, feels that “it is critical for institutions like Colgate to focus on sustainability.” From a marketing standpoint, Colgate must “embrace sustainable thinking and planning and implement sustainable practices”, because potential students “will scrutinize how we measure up on the sustainability side of the equation.” Pumilio is adamant that, above and beyond factors that will make Colgate more attractive, “it is a moral obligation for Colgate to embrace sustainability,” pointing out that “at Colgate, we understand this challenge and are trying to do our part… We are striving to be a model for sustainability”

When asked about Colgate’s future plans, Pumilio identified four key areas that frame the University’s approach to sustainability: Creating A Culture of Sustainability in which “all Colgate employees and students accept responsibility for advancing sustainability”; Sustainability In Practice, which literally will translate sustainability rhetoric and ideas into procedure on campus; Sustainability In The Curriculum And Co-Curricular Opportunities, which will bring the science and practice of sustainability into the classroom and campus activities; and Fostering Community Partnerships, which describes the campus- wide goal to build local and regional relationships that will help Colgate become part of a larger environmental community, allow increased field experience for students, and support local business that practice green policies.

So what has Colgate actually done to be more sustainable? They have:

· Contracted a professional forester to plan a 10-year stewardship of Colgate’s 1100 acres of undeveloped open and forest lands

· Created a “campus sustainability fund”, to which the class gift of the Class of 2008 donated and was matched by trustee contributions

· Designed and currently hold an environmental studies senior seminar

· Planted 60,000 Willow tree shoots in a 10- acre “pilot plot” that will yield 900 dry tons of biomass to help fuel Colgate as part of an initiative to reduce oil use on campus

· For years, Colgate has sported a steam-generating wood-burning facility that generates 70% of the university’s heat and hot water

· Bought a fleet of “Greek Bikes” for students to utilize instead of driving cars to campus and town

· Designed a “local buying” plan for dining services

· Signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2008

· Held a Green Summit, an annual event for students and locals to discuss and implement ideas for increased sustainability. (At last year’s summit, students planted 200 trees and held a vegan, locally- bought BBQ.)

· Planned and will this year start the Eco- Rep program, where students are trained to help others go green in residence halls, office areas, and in planning events.

· Signed on to participate in RecycleMania, an inter-college competition to increase recycling on campuses across the country and Canada

· Worked with the Outdoor Education program (OED) on campus to bring green speakers to campus and offer a library of outdoor- related books

· Colgate OED has held the Banff Film Festival featuring movies about environmental issues

· Students involved in OED represent a large portion of students living in the school’s environmentally friendly housing

In all, Colgate has emerged as a leader in the fight against climate change because of its growing commitment to sustainability in every aspect of campus life, from the classroom to the local community of Hamilton, where the school is located.

ENN spoke to Teddi Hofmann, a rising senior, member of Colgate’s prestigious Konosioni Honor Society, and Outdoor Education member, who spoke to her school’s environmental consciousness, saying “[Colgate] students do not only work diligently to succeed in academics, but are motivated to be leaders. The involvement of Colgate students in green initiatives shows how young men and women on campus effectively use their scholarship and social skills to organize environmental related events and programs, and then successfully execute them. Colgate students are not only concerned about local community members and issues, but look to influence populations outside of Hamilton, NY.”

To view the full interview with Colgate Sustainability Coordinator John Pumilio, check out our comments section below!

ENN Wants to hear about your school! Share below and tell us about your alma mater’s green initiatives, or comment on Colgate’s environmentalism!


by M. Molendyke

  • Molly
    Jul 13th, 2009 at 11:47 | #1

    For those of you who wanted to see the full interview with John Pumilio, Colgate’s new Sustainability Coordinator, here it is! Enjoy.

    Molly: Why is it important for institutions like Colgate University to have a Sustainability Coordinator and an Environmental Council?

    John: It is critical for institutions like Colgate to focus on sustainability for two overarching reasons.

    First, to maintain a competitive advantage, institutions like Colgate must embrace sustainable thinking and planning and implement sustainable practices. Society is at the front end of a huge and rapidly progressing cultural shift that is focused on sustainable values, practices, and day-to-day living. Today’s young people are growing up in a world where “green” consciousness abounds. By the time they reach college a growing number of applicants are basing their final enrollment decision according to the institution’s commitment to campus sustainability. According to the 2009 Princeton Review Hopes and Worries Survey, 66 percent of potential students want to know what the college or university is doing for the environment and 25 percent of them are selecting schools primarily on their sustainability record. These percentages have been increasing and this trend is expected to continue.

    Colgate is not immune to this trend. Among our peer institutions there is a big disparity between those committed to sustainability and those who are not. A growing number of students are impressed by energy efficient buildings, solar panels, green roofs, composting, a robust recycling program, landfill free events, local food options during meals, a sustainability-themed residential house, course offerings in sustainability, and student groups committed to environmental activism. As potential Colgate students compare our campus among others in our peer group, they will scrutinize how we measure up on the sustainability side of the equation.

    Second, it is a moral obligation for Colgate and other institutions to embrace sustainability. Civilization as we know it is at a cross-road: global population is increasing, natural resources and life support systems are all in decline, rates of consumption and resource extraction are increasing, and half of the world’s population lives in poverty. This trend cannot continue. How the coming years play out will define our place in history and effect our quality of life. It is society’s ultimate challenge and the sustainability movement is attempting to overcome it. At Colgate, we understand this challenge and are trying to do our part. More specifically, our community thinks critically about our institutional practices and about the theoretical underpinnings of what a sustainable society would look and feel like. We are striving to be a model for sustainability.

    To facilitate our progress, Colgate needs a sustainability coordinator who is dedicated to the work. Someone who can implement new programs, organize and motivate community members to action, effectively communicate our challenges and progress, and someone who can cut across institutional structures in order to get people talking and working together who may not have had a connection before.

    Molly: What have the Outdoor Education and Environmental Studies programs on campus done to help Colgate’s green initiatives?

    John: The Environmental Studies program has been instrumental in raising awareness and getting students involved with campus sustainability. The Environmental Studies Senior Seminar is a prime example. Students often take on projects related to campus sustainability including wind, biomass, and other renewable energy feasibility studies, campus carbon footprints, transportation surveys, and others. Some of these projects have moved forward and are now in the implementation phase. For example, the willow biomass pilot project is the result of a recommendation made by students who completed an economic and ecological feasibility study.

    The annual Green Summit is another example of how Environmental Studies is helping to spearhead the campus “green” movement. Every year students, faculty, staff, and community members come together to brainstorm and then implement campus sustainability practices. They take on projects as diverse as waste minimization, alternative transportation, energy conservation and efficiency, biofuels on campus, banning water bottles, trayless Tuesdays, introducing sustainability in the first year experience, and many others.

    Molly: What are the Environmental Council’s future plans to make Colgate more green?

    John: As Colgate strives towards a sustainable future, we must operate as a fully integrated institution that models the interdependence of Colgate’s unique culture, our operations, the socioeconomic and ecological condition of central New York, and our pedagogical mission. Knowing that community members (and especially our students) learn from everything around us, these interdependent objectives form a complex web that embodies the Colgate sustainability experience. With this being said, we are focusing on four key areas that frame our approach to sustainability:

    1) Creating a Culture of Sustainability. Creating and maintaining an environment where all Colgate employees and students accept responsibility for advancing sustainability may be the single most important initiative to undertake. Imagine if every employee and student considered Colgate’s purchasing decisions, energy use, food consumption, waste generation, commuter behaviors, and day-to-day activities through the lens of sustainability. Progress would occur in pervasive and substantial ways. For these reasons, it is important to educate, create new opportunities, make recommendations, and foster new on-campus and community partnerships that help facilitate a culture of sustainability.

    2) Sustainability in Practice. Colgate should focus most of its sustainability efforts in the first few years on further “greening” campus operations. This includes focusing on energy use, waste management, dining services, transportation, and water use. We need to strive to create a laboratory for sustainability otherwise it will be impossible to teach its principles in the classroom or be a model for our community and in higher education. In other words, the first step is to practice what we hope to preach.

    3) Sustainability in the Curriculum and Co-Curricular Opportunities. Colgate understands that promoting sustainability is an important aspect of its educational agenda. From a pedagogical perspective, we realize that every student deserves the opportunity (both inside and outside the classroom) to explore and contemplate what sustainability means and how it can be applied. Sustainability principles and practices are infiltrating the workplace and any student who graduates from Colgate without a basic education in the concepts of sustainability will be at a disadvantage. From a societal perspective, we recognize the critical need for well-educated and motivated professionals who aspire to solve society’s most complex and pressing challenges. Overcoming these challenges requires an education that encourages interdisciplinary thinking, collaboration, lifecycle analysis, and systems thinking. Nowadays, with teaching and learning narrowly focused and problem-based, sustainability presents a wonderful opportunity to bring together experts from across disciplines. Finally, as we strive to model sustainability in our operations and in our community partnerships, we realize that most of the value of these efforts would be lost if Colgate’s faculty and students were not an integral part of the process.

    4) Fostering Community Partnerships – Local and Regional. By advancing Colgate’s efforts and progress in sustainability we can increase collaboration and build new partnerships with our neighbors, state government, local municipalities, businesses, non-profit organizations and other institutions of higher education. Focusing on these relationships is a vital component of sustainability and must be hand-in-hand with our university’s sustainability objectives. In doing so, we fulfill two important missions of the university: 1) being an interactive partner with our regional community and 2) creating new and meaningful learning opportunities for our students.

    With these four key areas in mind, this year we will be implementing a campus-wide Eco-Rep program where students are trained to help other students and employees to green their residence halls, office areas, and events. We will also be participating in RecycleMania and hope to use that event as a springboard to implement a robust waste management program. We also hope to increase our purchase of local/organic foods to serve in Frank Dining Hall, decrease our paper consumption and institute a campus-wide policy to purchase recycled paper, we hope to reduce our energy consumption by 5 percent through energy conservation and efficiency measures, explore composting opportunities, complete our first comprehensive carbon inventory, host landfill free events, and implement an e-waste recycling program.

    Molly: What sets Colgate’s green initiatives apart from those of other colleges and universities? Are there any other schools that you would like to commend for their green efforts?

    John: For over 20 years, Colgate has been utilizing locally produced woodchips as our primary on-campus energy source. This renewable resource saves Colgate an estimated $1 million per year and has prevented approximately 500,000 tons of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere.

    Molly: Has Colgate modeled it’s green programs after any other notable institutions (companies, colleges, etc.), or is everything we are doing homegrown (no pun intended)? If we have taken queues from other bodies, who are they and what are they doing that is notable?

    John: As we plan for a sustainable future, we frequently keep tabs on what other institutions and doing and how they are doing it. At times, we grab onto bits and pieces of great ideas and mold them to fit Colgate’s unique culture. However, there is no one particular institution that we are modeling our practices after.

    Molly: As Colgate is in a rather isolated part of New York State, what are we doing to ensure that we limit transportation costs (both fiscal and environmental) of necessities such as food, technology and fuel? What can faculty and students do as individuals to help reduce these costs on their own?

    John: Colgate’s rural setting is conducive for sustainability. We live in an area that is rich in wind resources, agriculture, and the grandeur and beauty of the Adirondack region which permits outdoor recreation.

    One of the initiatives we are taking to reduce our ecological impact through dining services is to purchase more locally grown food. Colgate is proud of our relationship with Dan Purdy and Sons of nearby Sherburne, N.Y. As the only USDA federally inspected local agricultural processors of meats, poultry and seafood in the region, Purdy and Sons streamlines Colgate’s purchase and consumption of locally produced food for our dining halls. Moreover, Purdy and Sons specializes in working with farmers who demonstrate responsible and organic farming practices.

    Molly: Classically, the environment has been pitted against the economy, especially when new environmental legislation is concerned. How does Colgate plan to continue its green initiatives on the same trajectory when many potential contributors are limiting their spending? (It is my understanding that most of Colgate’s green activities are funded by outside donations and programs, not from any tuition).

    John: The perception that you have a choice between the environment or a strong economy is false. On the contrary, advancing sustainability is lending itself to economic resiliency and security. For example, purchasing local woodchips (rather than fuel oil) buffers Colgate from the wildly fluctuating prices associated with purchasing fossil fuels from the open market. In fact, there are many things we can do to advance sustainability while saving money. Another example includes selling our spent vegetable oil from dining services to be processed and returned to Colgate to run or diesel vehicle fleet. This practice not only reduces our carbon footprint but can save Colgate money. Composting is another possibility. We are actively looking to implement a composting program that promises to cut our landfill waste in half. Again, this would reduce our carbon footprint while saving the university money in landfill tipping fees. These are but a few of many examples where we can have both sustainability and economy.

  • Matt
    Jul 17th, 2009 at 21:07 | #2

    As a Colgate graduate and public school teacher, I feel very, very proud. Colgate students, professors, and administrators are thinkers and doers who unselfishly give time, energy, and financial support to better the Colgate community and the world. With so much negativity in the media on any given topic on any given day, Colgate’s efforts should be applauded. It is definitely a step in the right direction and may it bring much success. Thank you, John Pumilio, for helping to keep Colgate at the forefront of environmental activism.

  • Andrew
    Jul 24th, 2009 at 13:07 | #3

    This is great, but there are many other schools that are so far ahead of Colgate on sustainability. Colgate is just getting started, I only assume they have a good PR person. Consider looking at schools with more developed sustainability plans in the future.

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