Lisa Gamsu, vice president of administration and capital planning, has already begun changing the way Barnard College operates. Her eventual goal is to change the way students and the entire campus community think and, ultimately, the way they live. Gamsu oversees a daunting array of initiatives meant to reduce a large and sprawling institution’s impact on the earth. Among other initiatives, new practices she’s helped to foster require the College to recycle items such as paper, waste plastics, and even office furniture; maintain its existing infrastructure with energy-saving upgrades; purchase ecologically friendly furniture, “green” cleaning supplies, and Energy-Star appliances. The College has installed energy-effi ient fluorescent light bulbs and motion sensors in several key areas that turn the lights off when space is unused. Thermostats in all campus buildings are set to 74 in the summer and 68 degrees in the winter.
The most notable new project in the area of sustainability is the Nexus, a 70,000-square-foot multi-use building and Barnard’s most ambitious undertaking in decades. The College is seeking a “LEED” Silver certification from the United States Green Building Council through innovations such as plumbing, lighting, and mechanical systems to increase efficiencies and a “green” roof to reduce runoff and help regulate the building’s temperature.
These changes, and others still to come, are all necessary steps toward reducing Barnard’s environmental impact. None will be sufficient to meet the College’s ambitious sustainability goals (Barnard has signed on as a partner with a New York City program that challenges its large institutions to reduce carbon emissions 30 percent by 2017) without the active participation of its students. In the end, the amount of energy that Barnard uses, and thus its impact on the planet, is a function of an aggregate of the countless mundane individual decisions—whether to take short showers, leave electronics plugged in when not in use, or use the stairs rather than the elevator. “What we [need to] keep talking about is how to make sustainability a part of everybody’s life,” says Gamsu.
Helping to fuel awareness, two new recycling centers—one outside the Altschul elevators at ground level; the second, at the Sulzberger Hall basement elevators—accept commonly recycled glass, metal, and plastic. These centers also accept batteries, lightbulbs, and computer waste that pose an even more dangerous environmental threat. They will also become information hubs with posters and literature to raise awareness within and inform the entire campus community about recycling and energy efficiencies. Throughout the campus, several drinking fountains now offer filtered water. These water stations have been outfitted with bottle fillers to encourage students to use refillable water bottles. A publicity campaign is also being designed to persuade the campus community to abandon plastic-bottled water.
The bottled-water campaign exemplifies a voluntary choice that Gamsu is determined to promote across campus. Her goal is to publicize the recent finding, by the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, that New York City water is among the purest and best tasting in the world. The College’s catering service carries no bottled water and no College institution buys it. “Why would anybody pay $2 when you can have New York City water for free?” Gamsu asked. “I challenge anyone to taste the water at Altschul and Barnard Hall and tell me that there’s some better water out there.”
To help influence voluntary individual decisions, the College launched Barnard’s sustainability Web site in April. The Web site provides a clear and complete overview of what the College is doing to make itself more sustainable, and a set of recommendations for what students, staff, and faculty can do to join the effort. It will also serve as a medium of communication to identify ways to make the College more environmentally friendly. Student volunteers in the EcoReps program teach environmental awareness in the residence halls, and work with the administration to tailor its practices and to publicize them to the campus community. “The Web site really shows that there is commitment to sustainability coming from the top down,” affirms Gamsu.
-by Wesley Yang, illustration by Jennifer Daniels
For more information, please visit the sustainability Web site at: barnard.edu/green.