For several years, Barnard College has been at the forefront of climate action, having joined the NYC Carbon Challenge in 2009 and become, in 2013, one of the first institutions in New York City to reach the initial goal of 30% emissions reductions from 2005 levels. In 2017, the College signed the “We Are Still In” pledge, underscoring our effort to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. To build on this momentum, Barnard’s Office of Campus Sustainability and Climate Action hosted a series of three Campus Conversations during October and November of 2020 with a Citizens’ Assembly that included 16 members from across the Barnard College community. The conversation series, produced in collaboration with the Student Government’s Committee on Sustainability, was attended by more than 100 students, faculty, and staff — from across many different departments — who discussed ways to refine the goals initially laid out in Barnard’s Climate Action Vision

The Citizens’ Assembly identified a series of steps to increase climate action support at Barnard, including the establishment of: 

A Community Climate Pledge: With Barnard’s larger climate action vision in mind, the Assembly recommended that each Barnard office or department commit annually to specific climate action targets — with recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly and support of the Sustainable Practices Committee — to reduce emissions, to promote behaviors that are regenerative, sustainable, and equitable, and to increase climate literacy. 

A Climate Action Award: The Assembly suggested creating an award or honor, to present at Commencement, to recognize student leadership in activism, community engagement, and intellectual pursuit related to climate change, sustainability, and the human-environment relationship.

Mandatory Programming on Sustainability at NSOP: To ensure that Barnard’s commitment to climate action is clear to incoming students, the Assembly proposed that climate and sustainability programming be a mandatory part of New Student Orientation Programs (NSOP).

In addition to the steps above, the Citizens’ Assembly made recommendations in the following categories:

Climate in the Curriculum

The majority of participants (91%) believed that climate and sustainability issues should be included in Barnard’s Foundations curriculum, which primes students to think critically and to communicate skillfully. This question will be taken up during the upcoming Foundations review process. The Assembly also recommended increasing support for faculty to develop climate-related curricula. This initiative was already underway, as of spring 2020, thanks to the Center for Engaged Pedagogy (CEP) and Education Department faculty members who led a “Climate in the Curricula” with faculty from 10 different academic departments. Later that fall, the Consortium for Critical Interdisciplinary Studies introduced a new minor in Environmental Humanities, and the Department of Anthropology created a new track in Political Ecology. During the Spring 2021 semester, the CEP will continue its work with a workshop series on climate and sustainability curricula. With these additions to our course offerings, Barnard continues to develop our interdisciplinary approaches to climate change, in the Columbia community and beyond.

Sustainability and Access

Calls to reduce even more waste and increase affordability for students were shared by many on campus, who expressed the desire for expanded educational resources that are easily accessible across the community. Some of the Assembly’s recommendations for various departments include a campus-wide collaboration between departments to create resource packets, links on our website, and better access to information for students, faculty, and staff. Additional recommendations are to establish a sustainable purchasing policy to create reusable kitchen kits for all suite-style living; to incentivize the use and creation of open-source textbooks and textbook sharing; and to provide the community with information on post-consumer food waste, service items, and food donations. 

Emissions from Air Travel

To help simplify sustainable travel for students, faculty, and staff (whether it’s for term breaks or academic research), the Assembly recommends various departments from across the College work to create new pathways that will intentionally help to minimize our collective carbon footprint from travel. For one, student-facing departments could create a new carpool network system where members of the community can find and connect with travel buddies, such as for students making hometown visits. To increase access and equity for students who may be unable to leave campus during breaks and to reduce flights, a new streamlined process could be implemented to make that easier. Grants or funding could be offered to encourage every department to reduce air travel — by participating in more virtual platforms, for example — and a mandatory College-sponsored offset program that prioritizes community, women, and BIPOC-centered projects could also be established.

The full set of recommendations can be found here.

Barnard’s New Circular Campus 

In concert with the Assembly’s recommendations on sustainability and access, Barnard’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Access Barnard are partnering with Barnard Sustainability to build the nation’s first “Circular Campus,” a holistic approach based on circular economy principles. This framework aims to reduce waste, emissions, and costs; transform consumption patterns on campus; and increase access affordability for our students. 

Our first Circular Campus initiative is the launch of Rheaply, a reuse and exchange platform, specifically for the Barnard community. Starting with arts departments and Access Barnard, students, faculty, and staff will be able to post and exchange materials and supplies. In the long term, Rheaply can save thousands of pounds of emissions and thousands of dollars and will facilitate access to affordable and sustainable materials for our entire campus.

Earlier this year, Barnard was also selected to partner with and receive support from Bloxhub, a Danish hub for sustainable urbanization, after winning a competition called “Build Back Circular.” Through this partnership, the College will workshop potential sustainability solutions for our campus.

Learn more about Barnard’s commitment to climate action and sustainability here.