News | Student Life

USenate working to create sustainability committee

The University Senate is looking to make Columbia a more sustainable place, with senators setting up a sustainability committee and discussing the possibility of a green-loan fund.

Richard Sun, CC ’13, is leading the initiative to put together a senate committee of professors, administrators, and students who will work to create a more sustainable campus. While the exact actions and role of the committee have yet to be determined, the senators hope to put together a diverse group, including student council members and members of green clubs.

“We’re the University Senate, and we’re looking for a University-wide approach,” Sun said. “It is more than just focusing on housing—we want a 30,000-foot view of the issue.”

Sun envisions the advisory board as having a revolving-loan fund at its disposal, to fund projects that deal with resource efficiency. The projects, Sun said, would vary in size and would have to show a positive return on investment over a period of about five to 10 years.

Earth Institute professor Jason Smerdon, one of the directors of the undergraduate sustainable development program, called a loan fund a good way to “pursue sustainability on campus.”

The fund would “spur innovation and ideas on campus to make the operations and the facilities and the way we do our everyday business here more sustainable,” Smerdon said.

Some administrators, though, are more skeptical. Scott Wright, vice president of campus services and the interim head of the Office of Environmental Stewardship, has met with Sun about the fund.

“There’s a fundamental basic question, which is, ‘Where would the money come from?’” Wright said. “We would have to take it away from something else.”

Another challenging aspect of the fund described by Sun is that it would need to be revolving, meaning the projects being funded would need to pay for themselves in the long run.

“If it’s truly a revolving fund, there has to be a return on investment,” Wright said. “Then, how do we measure that return on investment? Who is the one tracking that data?”

The senate is trying to answer these questions and investigating how to measure projects’ returns on investment by looking at other universities with revolving green funds. Wright and Sun are having another meeting this week to discuss the project.

While it’s unclear what other projects the committee would work on, Earth Institute professor Steve Cohen said he is glad that the senate is getting involved in discussing sustainable development, as it could increase student leaders’ interest in sustainability.

“There are a lot of things that are going to have to happen in the next 10 or 20 years to build a sustainable economy,” Cohen said. “And the more people that are paying attention to it, the better.”

Smerdon, too, said that senate’s involvement is a good way to continue the conversation about sustainability between administrators and students.

“I think the issue is that we have to continue to have this discussion and dialogue,” Smerdon said. “We also have to think about continuously improving what we are doing and figuring out more and better ways to really bring us to that nebulous point in the future that we think about as sustainable.”


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