Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory


The Lamont campus of Columbia University, situated on roughly 180 wooded acres in Palisades, NY, is home to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), a world-class Earth and Environmental Science research organization. Employing more than 200 scientists and graduate students, LDEO maintains a diverse portfolio of cutting-edge research exploring the processes of the Earth’s core, mantle and crust, the circulation of the oceans and atmosphere and the flux between, and the solar effects on the globe due to the Earth’s orbital and axial positioning. These processes are studied with varying perspectives, over long periods of time past, over the present term, and looking forward into the future. There are few institutions around the world with the depth and breadth of scope to compare with LDEO in its field. Perhaps none are so well poised to understand the causes and effects of climate change, and to provide the scientific basis for problem-solving that is so desperately needed.

LDEO is a foundational member of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, housing two of its most prominent entities, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). LDEO is the home of research offices and laboratories for the faculty and doctoral students of the University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, the nation’s top ranked graduate school in its field. Many LDEO scientists participate on the faculty of the Earth Institute, providing sustainability education to graduate and undergraduate students within the University, as well as other departments such as Engineering, Applied Physics and Mathematics, and the Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology. LDEO scientists collaborate with researchers at top ranked institutions around the world. The institution is primarily supported by public and private grants, with little to no burden on University resources.

LDEO fully supports the Sustainability Principles articulated by President Bollinger, and has participated in the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee and its Focus Teams.

LDEO began tracking its energy use, along with other sources of carbon emissions and GHGs, in baseline year 2005. In 2006, LDEO established a goal of 30 percent reduction by 2017. In the interim, however, it was necessary to replace all of the wet research labs on campus, which included the construction of a brand new laboratory building, greatly expanding the physical and carbon footprint in the process. These new LDEO laboratories have high ventilation requirements to protect the occupants from hazardous fumes, along with precise temperature, humidity, boron, cross contamination, spill prevention, and particle count requirements. Maintaining such environmental controls is energy intensive, and despite best engineering practice, replacing obsolete facilities in which these controls are lacking necessitates movement in the opposite direction on the energy demand curve.

In addition, there has been tremendous growth in Information Technology (IT) at LDEO over the same period as the bandwidth of the campus data network has increased by no less than one order of magnitude. State of the art research requires server clusters with the ability to manipulate large data sets and run global scale computational models. IT requires significant energy as a direct input, and nearly twice as much energy to remove the heat generated by high- performance computing within the data centers. Even modest renovations within office buildings, most of which were built prior to 1974, require an increase in energy intensity to meet modern expectations of comfort and healthful ventilation for the occupants. Such industrialization challenges have proved frustrating to meeting our sustainability goals and are expected to continuously frustrate in the future. Continuous innovation will be required to meet this challenge.

Due to the tremendous modernization of Lamont laboratories over the past decade, a reduction in GHG emissions and Energy Use Intensity (EUI) was not obtained between 2005 and 2016. The construction of the Comer Geochemistry building alone increased the campus square footage by 20 percent, and accounts for 44 percent of electric and 35 percent of natural gas usage on campus currently. Due to this expansion, fully occupied in 2008, and the modernization of the Core Lab building, occupied in 2012, the GHG emissions on campus increased by 50 percent and EUI increased by 16 percent at their peaks in 2014. In 2014, we added a Facilities Engineer to the staff, and charged him with exploring long-term projects and short-term countermeasures to
meet our sustainability goals. We are steadily decreasing our GHG emissions from their 2014 peak, and our EUI is nearly back to its 2005 baseline. These metrics point to the success of sustainability countermeasures employed to date including the replacement of all incandescent bulbs, replacement of all T-12  fluorescent bulbs with T-8 and T-5 bulbs, improved building management systems, occupancy sensors, commissioning and retro-commissioning measures, and replacement of heating and cooling equipment—at the end of useful life—with more energy efficient options. The campus has also engaged undergraduate students from Barnard College to prepare informational posters and conduct a building energy challenge contest to elicit a behavioral response from the community. A number of major long-lead projects were explored, including rooftop and ground-based solar and cogeneration projects, but only the remote net metered solar farms have met the economic and operational challenges to date. While not timely enough to meet our 30 percent by 2017 reduction goal, we are on track to exceed this goal by 2020.


The Lamont campus will reduce GHG emissions by 50 percent from 2016 levels by 2020, with an aspiration to match the University’s commitment to reach the NYC 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions goal by 2050.


While not required to report transportation emissions to the NYC Mayor’s office, Lamont recognizes the value in collecting and publicizing this significant impact to constituents to effect positive changes in behavior. There are three components of particular interest: campus fleet operations, commuting, and business travel.

Lamont’s campus fleet includes a backhoe, two dump trucks, and a number of utility vehicles used for building and grounds maintenance operations, including snow removal from campus roads and parking lots, and intercampus mail and package deliveries. These emissions are included in Lamont’s carbon inventory based on the purchase of gasoline and diesel fuel.

LDEO is a suburban campus located outside of New York City, not especially well supported by public transportation. While approximately half of the employees live outside of NYC and commute to campus using single-occupancy vehicles, the other half employ an unusual reverse commute from the urban housing of NYC to the suburbs. This reverse commute is made practical by the Lamont Shuttle Service, which is operated by the Morningside Transportation department. The shuttle service consists of two motor coaches, each capable of carrying 72 passengers during peak times, which travel between the campuses hourly from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. each weekday. On peak days, the shuttle service has grown to provide more than 500 rides to and from the Lamont campus. Not presently quantified are the additional rides provided between Morningside, the Medical Center, and Parker Plaza in Fort Lee, New Jersey. This shuttle service provides a vital link between these four campuses, and LDEO was recognized for the outstanding achievement of over 21,000 vehicle miles traveled by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council in 2008, with the Regional Commuter Choice Award. In 2013, the shuttle service provided service to nearly 86,000 passengers, for over 1.3 million miles, and o set over 550 metric tons of CO2 equivalent attributable to single-occupancy vehicles.

While public transportation in the area is limited, there is local bus service between the Port Authority Terminal at the George Washington Bridge in NYC and Stony Point in Rockland County that passes by the Lamont campus entrance. While it is not heavily used by LDEO employees, Lamont has established a bus stop at the campus entrance and has erected a bus shelter.

Tracking business travel is a significant challenge for the University and LDEO, but it is desirable to do so. Because Lamont is an Earth Observatory, much of its research requires that the LDEO scientists travel to all continents on the globe, including Antarctica, and remote islands in between. To attempt to curtail this travel would also be analogous to requiring NASA to launch fewer spacecraft to reduce its GHG emissions. However, some behavioral changes might be inspired by raising awareness of the impact of business travel. Some travel might be avoided by teleconferencing, and some travel miles might be reduced by scheduling travel to multiple destinations without return trips home in between. Care will need to be taken to ensure LDEO travel is appropriately segregated from Morningside travel and not counted twice. This may be challenging as many employees and students at LDEO also have housing and offices at Morningside, and some entities, such as the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) and the Earth Institute (EI) are split between campuses.

LDEO has significantly downsized its operational fleet, replacing pickup trucks for inter-building maintenance with smaller utility vehicles, and replacing the intercampus mail van with a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle. LDEO has also eliminated the use of fertilizers and watering to promote lawn growth, requiring less frequent mowing, and has allowed forest to overtake former lawn areas to reduce the area requiring maintenance. New standards impose less frequent mowing, allowing lawns to grow to a greater height between maintenance intervals.

LDEO has tracked shuttle ridership to and from Lamont each day for over a decade, and reported outcomes to the University Transportation department to right-size the service and equipment. This data has helped Transportation make an informed choice to combine the midday Lamont Shuttle Service with
the Fort Lee Shuttle Service, saving costs and reducing vehicle miles traveled. LDEO is also piloting a small program to permit Columbia University employees and students to park at Lamont and use the excess shuttle capacity for the direct commute into Morningside. If the pilot is successful, this may be expanded in the future to provide an alternative mode of transportation for suburban commuters, reducing single-occupancy vehicle com- muting to Morningside.

The Lamont campus is bicycle-friendly, and in fair weather a number of employees bicycle between the campuses, and to work from the suburbs. Bicycles also provide for recreational activity on campus, and it is permitted to transport bicycles between campuses in the cargo hold on the Lamont Shuttle. In addition to providing bicycle racks around campus, a number of new bathrooms built in recent years are equipped with private changing and shower facilities in support of bicycle and outdoor recreation enthusiasts. LDEO anticipates that a bicycle repair station will be installed on campus in the near future, as well as bike lockers, and it remains a goal to obtain a rating from the League of American Bicyclists for the Lamont campus.

Pursuant to obtaining LEED® Silver and Gold ratings on two significant construction projects, LDEO has identified preferred parking spaces for fuel-efficient vehicles and car pools. Lamont intends to make recharging stations available for electric vehicles in the future.

LDEO, in collaboration with the Earth Institute and the Environmental Stewardship office, is already engaging students in developing a project to track aviation miles and identify offsets.


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

Waste and Materials Management

LDEO has been tracking waste since 2005—and more than 20 di erent waste streams on campus since 2012. The segregated waste streams include trash, cardboard, paper, co-mingled bottles and cans, scrap metal, electronics, construction debris, lead-acid batteries, lithium batteries, NiCad batteries, alkaline batteries, hazardous waste, ethylene glycol, uorescent bulbs, regulated soil, kitchen grease, motor oil, oil debris, PCB ballasts, mercury items, nonhazardous waste, and radioactive waste.

Conspicuously absent from quantified waste stream is yard waste, all of which is collected, composted, and reused on site. Grass cutting is primarily performed with mulching mowers to return nutrients to the soil and minimize material handling. Excess grass cuttings, along with mulched leaves and branch chippings, are passively composted at a remote reach of the campus. A small active compost bin is maintained on campus by volunteers to generate topsoil for the community garden.

LDEO is justifiably proud of its award-winning recycling program, recognized for its excellence by the Rockland County Office of Solid Waste in 2013. In 2007, the Lamont campus entered the EPA-sponsored Recycle-mania competition, a nationwide contest of 250 colleges and universities. LDEO won first place in two categories: the Per Capita Challenge and the Targeted Materials: Paper Per Capita. Lamont achieved a 56 percent recycling rate that ranked third place in the competition. The contest promoted and perfected Lamont’s recycling program on campus and has allowed LDEO to enjoy an average recycling rate of over 50 percent.

LDEO has a few years of quality waste metrics to use for understanding the waste stream and identifying trends. LDEO has an outstanding program to segregate waste streams at the source and maximize diversion from landfills.

The Lamont campus can also use the ongoing EPA Recycle- mania contest to establish per-capita metric quantification standards for waste minimization.

LDEO has already identified opportunities for waste minimization and increasing post-consumer recycled content by purchasing Green Seal cleaning and custodial paper products. Other potential strategies include revisiting the procurement of copier paper to optimize recycled content if economically feasible. Negotiations have begun with the LDEO cafeteria vendor to install soft-drink dispensing stations to reduce bottle and can waste.

The Lamont campus aggressively and routinely reuses furniture until it reaches the end of its useful life, including laboratory casework during renovations.

Lamont bene ts from University-wide Purchasing Agreements with organizations such as Staples, which understands the University’s desire to minimize packaging and emissions associated with deliveries, and Steelcase, which champions the use of recycled content in manufactured furniture. Major construction projects at Lamont seek to attain a LEED® Silver or better rating, and the LEED® process establishes targets for recycling, reuse, and waste minimization in construction.


LDEO will quantify its waste stream by both absolute and per-capita metrics, and benchmark its performance against peer institutions by 2020. It will also establish targets for per-capita waste minimization out to 2050.