Foreword by President Lee C. Bollinger

At Columbia, we have long understood the profound threat climate change poses to the future of our planet and the role our community should play in confronting it.

As part of that effort, at the beginning of this academic year we adopted a new set of principles aimed at improving the environmental sustainability of the University. Developed by a group of Columbia University Earth Institute faculty and University Facilities and Operations—and strengthened by students, faculty, and staff who participated in a series of town hall meetings—the principles focus on three areas: advancing our educational, research, and outreach missions; improving energy efficiency and reducing the environmental impact of campus operations; and fostering a University culture that embraces sustainability.

With this Sustainability Plan, we are taking a major step toward turning those principles into practice. Our University extends over 332 acres and 172 buildings and includes approximately 31,000 students and 16,000 employees. This large footprint describes the scale of our opportunity for lessening the impact we have on the environment, from reducing the energy we consume and the waste we produce, to minimizing the carbon dioxide we add to our warming planet. The first major step in turning the previously announced principles into practice will focus on improving the sustainability of the Morningside campus’s operations through a targeted, three-year plan. Our other campuses will later be incorporated into the process. Columbia’s leadership must continue to be reflected not only through the towering scholarship of our climate experts, but also through the ways in which we consume energy in—and travel to and from—the buildings where we live, learn, and conduct research.

This Sustainability Plan commits the University to a series of goals; here I will highlight a few of the most important ones: Starting in 2018, we will make public comprehensive data on our greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with best international practices, providing critical information about our carbon footprint and how it is generated. By 2020 we will reduce by 35 percent, from 2006 levels, the University’s greenhouse gas emissions in two critical areas: the stationary combustion of fuel for our buildings and purchased electricity. Ultimately, our long-term goal is to align with the New York City target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The adoption of the Sustainability Principles and the creation of our first Sustainability Plan are parts of a University-wide approach to addressing the existential threat posed by climate change. Most significant in this effort is the basic research conducted by Columbia’s faculty and actively engaged student body working in schools and
departments across the University. In addition, through our actions, policies, and behavior, we provide a model for the kind of global response we seek. Examples include the University Trustees’ decision last month to divest from companies substantially engaged in thermal coal production, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s
recent commitment to use solar power for 75 percent of its electrical energy needs.

I am grateful to the students, faculty, staff, and administrators who participated in the working groups that made this Plan stronger through their contributions. In particular, I want to thank Professor Michael Gerrard and Executive Vice President David Greenberg, who led this effort along with other members of the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee and the Office of Sustainability.

As with all plans, the true measure of this Sustainability Plan will be found not in the promises we make today, but through what we do in the months and years ahead to fulfill these commitments. I am confident that we will meet them.

Lee C. Bollinger
President, Columbia University in the City of New York