Working Groups Met Virtually over Spring, Summer to Prepare Plan 2030

August 17, 2020

Last Fall, the Office of Sustainability began the rigorous planning process for Plan 2030, a more robust sustainability plan launching next year. Campus content experts – faculty, administrators, and students – formed five cross-functional, multi-disciplinary working groups to generate content in the areas of Energy, Transportation, Sustainable Events, Sustainable Design and Construction, and Retail Tenant Alignment.

The working groups met periodically through the final months of 2019 and early 2020, until the COVID-19 pandemic shifted all work from in-person to virtual. Despite the new ways of working, all five groups continued their efforts, culminating in a presentation to the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee (SSAC) at the end of April.

“The tenacity of the groups to continue to meet and look toward the future sustainability of the university has been impressive,” said Jessica Prata, Assistant Vice President for the Office of Sustainability. “Even despite the public’s priorities shifting largely away from sustainability to place public health at the forefront, these groups persisted.”

In a Zoom call, the five working group leads dictated their findings and recommendations. They asked for input from the SSAC on their proposals, which included not only high-level goals, but also a list of strategies for achieving them.

The goals of both the Energy and Transportation groups focused on putting Columbia on a path to carbon neutrality by reducing emissions, without the use of offsets, by 2050 or sooner. They proposed a variety of strategies ranging from building energy use reduction to changing the behavior of Columbia’s drive-alone commuters by offering more incentives for sustainable travel.

The Sustainable Events group proposed that all Columbia events should be zero-waste by 2030. They advocated for the creation of a Sustainable Procurement Policy to facilitate decision-making for event planners, as well as educational resources and infrastructure to teach people how to host low- or zero-impact events on campus.

The Retail Tenant Alignment group and the Sustainable Design and Construction group both proposed to enhance and cement Columbia’s current sustainable practices and publish a public-facing list of standards. By standardizing and publicizing the best practices already in use at the University, the groups aim to improve compliance, data tracking, and governance across all construction projects and retail partnerships.

As the Academic Year approaches, the Office of Sustainability is in the process of synthesizing the focus groups’ efforts into one overarching sustainability plan for the University.

"This plan will be larger and more all-encompassing than the prior plan," said Prata. "It will also include the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, not only about the planet’s resilience, but the adaptability of human beings and our ability to change our behavior. That quality lends itself to sustainability."

Plan 2030 will be released in April, 2021.