Circularity means shifting from a linear model — where we extract resources, use things, and then toss them — to a circular system, where we use things for longer, repair them, share and exchange them, and ultimately feed them back into a healthy system

Sandra Goldmark

During Climate Week NYC (September 20-26, 2021), members of Barnard’s Office of Sustainability held the panel event “Building a Circular Campus” to discuss the College’s innovative and aggressive approach to achieving net-zero carbon emissions on campus, with a focus on reducing Scope 3 emissions.

Scope 3 emissions make up 60% of Barnard’s carbon footprint, but they are tricky to track. Scope 1 emissions come directly from fuel combustion on site, and Scope 2 emissions refer to indirect emissions from purchased electricity, heat, steam, and cooling. But Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions that result from the activities of an organization but come from energy sources not controlled by the organization itself. These encompass the food the Barnard community eats, the purchases we make, the way we care for our grounds, the waste we send to landfills, and how we travel for business. For example, the College doesn’t control the ways that its students and employees commute to campus, but the emissions from those commutes would fall under Barnard’s Scope 3 total.

To discuss reducing these emissions, Sandra Goldmark, director of campus sustainability and climate action at Barnard and an associate professor of professional practice in theatre, moderated the panel, which included Garry Cooper, the CEO and co-founder of Rheaply; Jemima Gedeon, Barnard’s associate dean for student success; Cammie Jones, director of Barnard’s Office of Community Engagement and Inclusion; Laura O’Connell, associate vice president of facilities and capital planning on campus; and Gary Mirich, a principal at Energy Strategies.

Portrait photograph of Sandra Goldmark
Sandra Goldmark

“Circularity means shifting from a linear model — where we extract resources, use things, and then toss them — to a circular system, where we use things for longer, repair them, share and exchange them, and ultimately feed them back into a healthy system,” said Goldmark of her office’s vision for Barnard’s campus. (Goldmark’s 2020 book, Fixation, shares her research on consumption and how to create a more sustainable world.) “We believe that circularity offers an approach that can reduce waste and save the College money, while also supporting access, affordability, and environmental justice.”

Part of Barnard’s approach to achieve this goal of circularity is a partnership with Rheaply, an internal reuse platform founded by Cooper. “We are thrilled to be working with Barnard College to fulfill its aim to become the nation’s first ‘circular campus,’” said Cooper. “Rheaply’s technology enables Barnard students, faculty, and staff to more easily view and share resources. At the same time, working with Barnard is helping us refine our technology so that we can continue making other campuses circular. By implementing and scaling reuse at Barnard, Barnard and Rheaply are taking important steps toward creating a more sustainable, equitable, and just world.”

A graphic sharing how Rheaply is a platform to catalog department resources and easily share them among a campus network in order to create a more sustainable and low-carbon campus

In addition to discussing how to track, measure, and reduce Scope 3 emissions on campus, panelists also focused on how Barnard’s emphasis on circular and regenerative principles aligns with the College’s commitment to environmental and social justice.

Headshot of Jemima Gedeon
Jemima Gedeon

For Gedeon, part of the Access Barnard team, the circular campus model doesn’t just help the Barnard community to produce less waste, it also allows community members to share resources with others who may struggle to afford certain items. “A lot of the time, first-generation and low-income students are having to navigate this expensive world of New York City and all the expenses they have to manage while they’re here at Barnard,” said Gedeon during the panel event. “To be a successful student, it’s very important for us to alleviate a lot of those stressors that students have. Being able to get [those items] at a much lower cost is a huge help. And so platforms like Rheaply are stellar, simply because it removes some of that shame that students have about not being able to afford certain items for their dormitory or being able to get the supplies that they need for certain classes.”

Students interested in getting involved with the sustainability program on campus should visit the office’s web page and email with questions or comments. Similarly, faculty and staff looking to raise their level of engagement can email the Office of Sustainability to join the Campus Community Commitment and attend workshops designed to help develop internal mission-based goals specific to your team.

Finally, for more on Climate Week at Barnard, check out interviews with Professor Martin Stute on climate change and Professor Terryanne Maenza-Gmelch on forest ecology.

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