Columbia University Medical Center


Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) began its first major sustainability effort in 2008 with the introduction of a comprehensive, campus-wide recycling campaign. Recycling rates have since risen from a 1 percent average in 2008 to 26 percent at the conclusion of 2015, with CUMC’s research buildings diverting more than 350 tons of recyclable materials from landfills annually.

In 2009, CUMC Facilities created the role of Campus Energy Manager in order to spearhead efforts to reduce the University’s environmental footprint across electricity, natural gas, oil, and utilities purchased from the neighboring NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. CUMC’s Energy Manager and the Facilities Engineering team initiated a master plan that led to a campus-wide energy audit in 2011 and a related Local Law 87 compliance effort in 2014.

In order to expand community engagement, the CUMC Green Team was created in 2013 as a quarterly open forum to discuss sustainability projects and brainstorm new ideas for minimizing the campus’s environmental footprint. Beginning in 2016, key CUMC staff participated in the Sustainability Planning Process led by the Office of Sustainability, with representatives serving on each of the Energy, Waste, and Transportation focus teams. In early 2017, CUMC introduced additional staff, student, and faculty members to the draft Sustainability Plan in order to ensure greater community input and awareness of CUMC’s proposed strategies and actions.

CUMC has recently experienced an expansion, welcoming two additional buildings to the campus, the Vagelos Education Center and the under-construction Columbia University School of Nursing building.

Both buildings are targeting LEED®BD+C Gold certification.

After careful review, CUMC sought an alternative to direct participation in the NYC Mayoral Carbon Challenge. CUMC concluded that its research-focused facility pro le was reliant on a wide range of energy intensive base-building and laboratory systems, which could not be updated in time for the 2017 carbon goal deadline without compromising productivity and safety in the research environment. Seeking to remain committed to carbon reduction, CUMC authorized an internal carbon reduction goal in 2010 of a 30 percent carbon reduction by 2025. To date, CUMC’s energy consumption and carbon reduction e orts have focused on improvements to chilled water and steam distribution systems, total phase-out of #6 heating oil, and expansion of centralized building management and automation capabilities.

CUMC’s Building Management System (BMS) is a computer- based automation system that allows for increased control and monitoring of energy consumption and comfort in CUMC-managed buildings. First implemented at the William Black Building in 2011, CUMC’s BMS is now interconnected with building systems in Hammer Health Sciences Center, the College of Physicians and Surgeons Building, the Russ Berrie Pavilion, the Haven Residential Towers, the Vagelos Education Center, and the Irving Cancer Research Center. CUMC Facilities’ aims to continue to increase the number of BMS-connected buildings and spaces.

In 2012, CUMC Capital Project Management completed construction of a LEED Commercial Interiors (CI) Gold-rated renovation project on the 11th, 12th, and 13th floors of the Allan Rosenfeld Building. Resource-saving features include water-conserving bathroom fixtures and toilets as well as sophisticated lighting control systems that take into account occupancy and the presence of natural light.The CUMC campus’ two largest current construction projects—the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center and the new Columbia University School of Nursing building are also targeted for LEED Gold Status.

The 100 Haven Avenue boiler plant conversion was a major renovation project kicked o by CUMC Housing Services in 2013. In addition to a comprehensive boiler tune up, the rst phase of this project also included modifications necessary to support the transition from using No. 6 oil to cleaner No. 2 heating oil as the primary fuel. During the second phase, CUMC partnered with Con Edison to extend high-pressure gas service to the boiler plant, allowing the operation to switch to even cleaner natural gas as the primary fuel. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, the gas conversion has also had a positive impact on other aspects of local air quality and allows for greater fuel redundancy and reliability.


CUMC plans to align with the Morningside campus plan and other Columbia campuses by setting an aspirational goal to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. A review in the short term will be necessary to establish whether available data can also support aligning this goal with the 2005 baseline (as opposed to CUMC’s currently used 2010 baseline).


The CUMC campus is in close proximity to several MTA bus and subway lines, and it receives internal extension to commuting options via Intercampus Shuttles and the Fort Lee Shuttle serving New Jersey–based members of the community.

Based on the makeup of campus resources and the small size of the CUMC eets, the channels of focus for CUMC Operations include: (1) encourage electric and hybrid vehicle ownership among CUMC vehicle commuters; (2) support the community of cycling commuters and cross-campus usage; and (3) reduce the number of ride-alone vehicle commuters originating from surrounding counties.

A free shuttle bus connects the Medical Center with the Morningside and Manhattanville campuses as well as CUMC’s affiliate, Harlem Hospital. The inter-campus shuttle runs Monday through Friday, excluding University holidays.

Bike racks are located on the CUMC campus for daily use. Bike rack information, as well as safety and security tips, can be found on the CU Public Safety website which features specialized mapping to help identify bike rack locations. With new LEED-certified green buildings joining the CUMC landscape, bicycle parking resources are also being expanded in strategic academic locations. As construction progresses, new bike racks will become available at both the Vagelos Education Center and the new School of Nursing building.


CUMC will develop protocols and policies to support the measurement and subsequent decrease in GHG and particulate matter emissions associated with campus-related and commuter travel by 2020, with an aspiration to support the University’s commitment to reach the NYC 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions goal by 2050.

Waste and Materials Management

CUMC’s waste management is handled by a private-sector hauler (the current contract is with Action Carting, one of the largest in the area). Because of this different partnership in waste collection, CUMC receives monthly site-specific metrics on waste and recycling tonnage. CUMC’s hauler collects recyclables as well as trash and sorts it at its facility in the South Bronx.

CUMC has set up a robust infrastructure of waste management of conventional trash and major recyclables. Labeling and bin selection is consistent with the Morningside campus, and waste streams are largely aligned with the residential waste sorting requirement in place in the homes of most members of the CU community. CUMC diverts approximately 26 percent of conventional waste to recycling rather than land ll, which is significantly greater than the NYC average of 17 percent. CUMC’s two new buildings, the Columbia University School of Nursing and the Vagelos Education Center, are registered LEED® projects under review by the U.S. Green Building Council. These projects have already diverted a combined 8,000 tons, or over 90 percent of construction waste.

Since the launch of CUMC’s comprehensive recycling campaign in 2008, recycling rates across the campus have risen from a 1 percent average in 2008 to 26 percent in 2015, compared to the New York City average of 17 percent over the same time period. Additionally, in 2015, CUMC’s research portfolio diverted over 350 tons of recyclable materials from landfills.

CUMC’s two new LEED buildings, the Columbia University School of Nursing and the Vagelos Education Center, have closely monitored and managed waste throughout the construction process. This has resulted in diversion of a combined 8,000 tons, or over 90 percent of construction waste. In an effort to cut plastic bottle waste, CUMC Facilities, in partnership with the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion, has installed water-bottle  ll stations for members of the Medical Center community. These re ll stations can be found on select floors of Bard Hall, the Hammer Health Sciences Center, Mailman School of Public Health, and Russ Berrie Medical Science Pavilion and on every floor of the Vagelos Education Center.

In coordination with CU Environmental Health & Safety, CUMC is piloting a comprehensive training and bin expansion program in order to reduce the generation of Regulated Medical Waste (“red bags”) in research environments. In addition to encouraging conventional disposal of minimally contaminated waste, participating labs are able to increase recycling diversion as well. Additionally, Lab Managers may request additional bins from CUMC Facilities to collect large quantities of #5 plastic waste resulting from pipette tip boxes and certain types of rigid plastic bottles.


CUMC will expand waste management efforts with the purpose of setting and achieving an aggressive waste reduction goal and calculating a more comprehensive waste diversion rate. CUMC will work toward the long-term aspiration of aligning with NYC’s OneNYC waste-to-land ll goal by 2030.