What's Next in Sustainability
by Alyssa Jackson | published May. 4th, 2013
Photo: Matthew Burkhartt
Illustration: Emily Gage
It’s hard not to understand what sustainability is on a campus like RIT. Our president is known for his green initiatives, we have a sustainability building and there are almost as many recycling signs around campus as bricks. Recent advances in sustainability include the movement to end the selling of plastic water bottles in vending machines on campus and the opening of Institute Hall and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability buildings, which each have eco-friendly features.
A new academic year is approaching, and with it will come more changes and advancements in sustainability. Enid Cardinal, senior sustainability advisor to President Destler, states that many of these changes will focus more on policy and less on tangible advancements like buildings.
For instance, there will be more steps towards eliminating the use and sale of bottled water on campus. To begin the year, incoming first year and transfer students will be given reusable water bottles, much like the ones received by students who came to RIT in the 2012 fall quarter. Cardinal also hopes that more buildings on campus will have hydration stations for these water bottles so that students are more likely to choose tap water over soda. Cardinal predicts that bottled water will disappear from vending machines within roughly two years; however she cautions that the number is not set in stone.
A new project that Cardinal hopes will be ready in the coming fall is a composting area. This is an idea that was presented at ImagineRIT as an attempt to educate individuals on how much waste goes to landfills and where it can be composted or recycled.
“I think the RIT community is pretty intelligent on sustainability, but the exhibit at ImagineRIT will help educate others too,” says Cardinal. “People know that when they throw something out it goes away, but they don’t realize where away is.”
Some students are taking their knowledge on sustainability and working to apply it in action. Marcela Gallo, a second year Fine Arts Photography major, says that she tries to reuse everything from napkins to grocery bags from the store. She also looks at the chemicals in the cleaning supplies that she uses to find products that won’t negatively impact the environment.
“I think RIT is already better than other campuses [in sustainability] because they do so much with recycling. I think they should have more attention grabbing posters with tips for students though,” Gallo says.
Cardinal recognizes these concerns and explains that she has been working to come up with games and informational posters to keep students active with the process beyond the ImagineRIT exhibit. Some of these ideas include posters by light switches reminding students to turn them off when they’re not in use, stickers for laptops that remind individuals to unplug chargers when they’re finished and a game that would involve students putting signs on professor’s doorways when they find classrooms left in a way that is not sustainable.
The new buildings on campus will also encourage increased awareness of sustainability issues through their energy dashboards. These devices will display how much energy the building is using in different units that any student can understand, from kilowatts to hamburgers. Cardinal explains that there are plenty of little things that students and faculty at RIT can do to help in reducing their impact.
“Electricity emits carbon and commuting uses natural gas,” she says. “One way to offset that on campus is the amount of natural area we have around the campus, which helps absorb the carbon. As for reducing and offsetting, we’re still figuring out how to do that.”
Cardinal also mentions plans for reducing the campuses carbon footprint through the implementation of a bike program. Students would be able to rent the bikes out for free or for a small fee, and then would be able to get off of campus in an environmentally friendly way or just get to class more quickly.
Cardinal also hopes to eventually focus on the apparel industry. Students may not realize that some of the RIT apparel they are buying was made through inhumane means. RIT wishes to look into the human rights concerns in making these products more sustainable. “The majority of our clothing products are in line with this idea, but we haven’t standardized it across the board,” Cardinal says.
For now, RIT is working towards carbon neutrality by 2030 and is currently leading other universities in an environmentally friendly attitude and in sustainability. While there is more that needs to be done, the efforts currently being planned or implemented, as well as student and teacher’s contributions, are putting RIT on the right track. As far as this portion of the process goes, “We want to make it as fun and positive as possible,” says Cardinal. “There are 20,000-plus people on campus, the good things and bad things add up.