As part of Barnard College’s ongoing initiative to address climate change and sustainability, the College hosted a Climate Week Symposium on September 20, with Columbia Climate School. In recognition of the biggest global climate event of its kind — Climate Week NYC 2022 (September 19-25) — the Climate Week Symposium was led by Sandra Goldmark, Barnard’s Director of Campus Sustainability and Climate Action and recently named Senior Assistant Dean for Interdisciplinary Engagement at Columbia Climate School.
The on-campus event featured a keynote address from Manhattan Borough President, Mark Levine, who recently sponsored proposed legislation that would require the NYC Department of Sanitation to conduct a comprehensive study of new waste policy initiatives. He was previously the council member for the 7th District, which included Morningside Heights.
“I don’t think there’s any institution, at least not in New York City, that is doing more to create a circular community than Barnard College,” mentioned Manhattan Borough President Levine in his keynote address. “You are going beyond the walls of this campus to start to build in the surrounding community, working with Morningside Area Alliance and Rheaply. Now we have to go citywide.”
The theme for Climate Week NYC is “Getting It Done," something Barnard does well through its sustainability and climate action initiatives and embedded sustainability pedagogy for students. The College has been steadily reducing waste emissions and is aiming to become the country's first “circular campus.”
“This summer, we partnered with the Morningside Area Alliance to provide our Rheaply reuse platform at no cost to five local community organizations,” Goldmark wrote in a recent email to community members. “On campus, our annual Give and Go Green move-out initiative diverted over 21,000 pounds of dorm supplies from landfill, much of which went to incoming Barnard students or FGLI students from around the City.”
Professor Goldmark, author of Fixation: How to Have Stuff Without Breaking the Planet and founder of Fixup — a social enterprise dedicated to repair, reuse, and circular economy alternatives to overconsumption and waste — charts the paths of the next frontier in the environmental movement by talking about the power of circularity in climate crisis responses.
“Why circularity?” asked Goldmark, in her opening remarks. “Here’s what I found: Circularity is a powerful driver of emissions and waste reduction. Circularity can build jobs, build community connections, and resilience. It’s a way for individuals to start making changes right now. Starting to compost or shifting to buying more used goods, [circularity] is a way for communities to share resources and direct them to where they’re needed. It’s a way for cities to transform the flow of materials and waste — and address their indirect emissions, which far too often go undercounted. Circularity has a funny way of helping us connect the dots from the small to the large.”
In addition to the keynote speaker, the symposium featured a panel of science, business, and community leaders from across New York. They included Ngozi Okaro, founder of Custom Collaborative, which supports immigrant and low-income women launching sustainable fashion careers; Kate Daly, who leads the Center for Circular Economy at Closed Loop Partners; Rahsaan Harris, CEO of the Citizens Committee for New York City; and Professor of Professional Practice Bruce Usher, who is also the Elizabeth B. Strickler ’86 and Mark T. Gallogly ’86 Faculty Director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School. Michelle Tulac of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation moderated the panel.
“Without collaboration, you can’t get anywhere,” said Daly. “Circularity is not something that you can just slap on the end of a project. But fortunately, it also means it's not something you can cut out at the end of the project. [Circularity] is something that is foundational and has to be done from the core. It's something that has to be embedded in that moment of design, before you create anything.”
Okaro envisioned policies that encourage environmental education in local communities. “I think that a fundamental part of this is education because it affects everybody,” she explained. “There are so many hands that we could help bring to this conversation, that can help solve these problems. If we can just educate people about what [circularity] is and where their places are in it, I think we would all feel a bit less despair.”
Climate Action on Campus
Ending the event’s roundtable discussions on a note of optimism and camaraderie, environment and sustainability major Delaney Wellington '23 said, “Regardless of what discipline you're in, everybody is impacted by climate change and we all need to uplift each other.”
Leading up to Climate Week NYC, the Student Government Association (SGA) hosted a Climate Week Celebration kickoff at Futter Field on September 17 and a Plant Your Own Microgreens event on September 19.
At the annual Fall Move-in Green Sale — a College-wide effort to support sustainable programming for a circular campus — incoming Barnard students purchased, at discount prices, gently used goods donated by students who moved out the previous academic year. Watch the video below, in which mini fridges are noted as prized purchases.
Students know that climate and sustainability awareness is par for the course on campus. When Barnard took on the NYC Carbon Challenge in 2009, the College was one of NYC’s first institutions to reach a 30% reduction in emissions. With an aggressive move toward a greener campus and a comprehensive 2021-2022 End of Year Report, Barnard has become a key player in this year’s climate conversation. It has tripled the number of courses related to climate and sustainability, increased campus engagement by 12 times, and committed to 100% wind renewable energy credits (RECs) for its electricity. In its climate-focused intention of infusing praxis with pedagogy, Barnard’s Center for Engaged Pedagogy (CEP) will offer a Fall-Faculty Co-Teaching retreat on September 23, with syllabus-design workshops to follow. A current list of fall sustainability-related courses can be found here.