Columbia Kicks Off the Strategic Planning Process for its Next 10-Year Sustainability Plan

As Columbia’s first campus-wide sustainability plan will come to a close in 2020, the Office of Sustainability launched the planning process to build the next iteration. Plan 2030 – a larger, more ambitious 10-year plan encompassing all four of Columbia’s campuses – will provide a roadmap for the University to take progressive, urgent action around climate change.

October 25, 2019

The strategic planning process began with an event highlighting the accomplishments of the university since the first plan was implemented in 2017. Some of the milestones include gaining Climate-Registered status through The Climate Registry’s (TCR) best-in-class program, achieving 100 percent renewable electricity, diverting over 20,000 pounds of organics per month, winning “Best Overall Program” from the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT), and receiving a STARS Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Executive Vice President for University Facilities and Operations David Greenberg congratulated everyone who played a part in executing the strategies laid out in the first plan. “We have accomplished or are on track to accomplish every goal we set out to achieve,” he said. “Columbia has already exceeded our principal goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent by 2020, and we are not finished yet.”

Earth Institute Director Alex Halliday spoke about University President Lee Bollinger’s recent announcement of a Climate Change Task Force at Columbia. Halliday, who serves as the chair of this task force, spoke about the significance of addressing climate change at an institutional level. He underscored the importance of campus sustainability planning and confirmed that members of the Earth Institute faculty will be engaged in the process. 

Plan 2030 will expand upon the first plan and include content in the following operational focus areas: Campus Energy; Transportation; Sustainable Construction and Design; Retail Tenant Alignment; Sustainable Events; Water. Two new committees are also in the process of being created: an Earth Institute faculty committee to propose new ways for the Columbia campus to serve as a living lab, and a student committee to propose and lead strategies that integrate sustainability into campus culture.

Working groups with stakeholders from each campus will generate content and submit proposals to the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee (SSAC). The Office of Sustainability will manage the entire process as the prime liaison between the groups and the SSAC. Each of the groups will include students, faculty, and staff.                                                            

The kickoff event concluded with a visioning activity, led by Assistant Director for the Office of Sustainability Allie Schwartz, in which groups discussed changes in the sustainability landscape – political, environmental, and personal – since the first plan was implemented in 2017. The groups also shared their enthusiasm to be a part of the planning process and noted the relevance of an ambitious sustainability plan in today’s increasingly climate-conscious world.

Each of the committees will meet in November to begin the planning process, which will continue through the spring. In April 2020, all committees will submit their proposals to the SSAC and the Office of Sustainability to begin formalizing the path forward.

Jessica Prata, Assistant Vice President for the Office of Sustainability, acknowledged the important work members are committing to and asked them to trust the planning process. “This plan must position Columbia to take bold action and address what we know lies ahead,” she said. “Now is the time to put big, bold ideas on the table. This process will require great effort, but the time is now. It is crucial that we step up to the table to accomplish this together.”