Campus as a Lab Part 4: In Defense of Failures; Happy New Year!





Source: iStock Photo

I know that the title makes for a strange combination! This blog is being posted on the second day of the Jewish New Year. Similar to other New Year postings (see the September 22, 2020 one for Rosh Hashana or the December 31, 2019, posting for the Common Era New Year, that took place days before COVID-19 was escalated from epidemic to global pandemic) I am wishing everybody a better future in the coming year. Why, then, do I combine these wishes with ones for failures and with Campus as a Lab?

Given the current world situation, it is not enough to wish for a better future; to achieve it we have to work hard together. Working hard doesn’t help, though, when we don’t know exactly what to do to confront the threats that surround us—so we have to experiment. University campuses have to lead in the experimentations, with the knowledge that in doing so we will inevitably encounter many failures. As we know from science, those failures are necessary so that we can eventually learn what leads to success.

Last week’s blog started with a figure of the “Magic Triangle” of Curriculum, Research, and Campus Operation (Administration) interacting with the two overlapping spheres of Institutional Sustainability and Living Laboratories. Underneath these spheres, the figure contains suggested specific focus areas such as:

Stormwater projects

Native Landscapes

Energy efficiency

To which I added:

Mandated decarbonization

Mandated decrease in the use of single-use plastics

Testing of sewage for early detection of viral threats

Running schools with decreased enrollments

You may already have thought of more areas to add to this list (feel free to post them in the comments). Clearly, these focus areas include sustainability and well-being, with substantial overlap between them.

All of these areas require the participation of both top-down and bottom-up efforts—in other words: we all need to work together. Whenever I talk or write about how to address this issue in the context of my classroom or the administration’s participation in my school’s activities, I am asked to provide examples. Well, during the last meeting regarding my school’s attempt to address single-use plastic, the CUNY administrator in charge of the process shared how the State of New York has recently begun to address this issue. The governor issued a sustainability and decarbonization executive order on September 20, 2022 that calls on state agencies to lead by example:

WHEREAS, State government can and should continue to lead in environmental stewardship through the use of green procurement and sustainable management practices; and

The order lists 75 affected entities in New York State, including CUNY and SUNY, the two New York public universities. The order is only aimed at state facilities and is meant to serve as an example for others (private sectors, federal facilities within the state, and local facilities).  I am including selected excerpts below but I strongly recommend that you read the full order:

II. Green NY Council

There is hereby established the GreenNY Council (the “Council”). The Council shall be comprised of the Director of the Division of the Budget (“DOB”); the Commissioner of the Office of General Services; the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”); the Commissioner of the Department of Health; the Commissioner of Economic Development; the Commissioner of Transportation; the Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation; the President of the Environmental Facilities Corporation; the President of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (“NYSERDA”); the President of the New York Power Authority (“NYPA”); the President of the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York; and the Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

III.  Training, Staff, and Support

  1. Each Affected Entity shall, no later than 30 days from the issuance of this Order, assign an employee to serve as its Sustainability Coordinator. Sustainability Coordinators shall be given management support and provided with the necessary resources to enable the Affected Entity to comply with this Order. Sustainability Coordinators shall serve as the Affected Entity’s liaison to the Council.
    1. Affected Entities are encouraged to create a Sustainability Team in-house to support the work of the Council. This Sustainability Team should be comprised of appropriate staff involved in identifying, approving, and implementing sustainability or energy projects, and environmental justice matters. The Sustainability Team should include an executive sponsor at the Deputy or Associate Commissioner, or Vice President level or equivalent.

IV. Reporting

  1. All Affected Entities shall furnish such information and assistance as the Council determines is reasonably necessary to accomplish its purposes. All Affected Entities shall share data in the most efficient manner identified by the Council for purposes of informing any progress reports, and the Council shall follow applicable NYS Data Governance procedures regarding any interagency data sharing or collection.

V. Exemptions

  1. Exemptions from any of the specific targets, goals, or other requirements under this Order may be granted by the Council co-chairs, provided, however, that any exemptions to Section VII.A of this Order may only be granted by the President of NYSERDA in consultation with the Chief Executive Officer of the New York State Department of Public Service (“DPS”) and Director of Budget.

VI. Buying and Operating Green

  1. The Council shall develop and issue sustainable procurement specifications (procurement specifications) for use by Affected Entities in the procurement of commodities, services, and technology, or where applicable, in the development of new public works solicitations and contracts.
    Any procurement specifications developed, approved, or issued by the Interagency Committee on Sustainability and Green Procurement under Executive Order 4, issued on April 24, 2008, shall carry forward in full effect as if issued by the Council until modified by the Council.

VII.  Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  1. By 2030 and thereafter, subject to available supply, 100% of the electricity used by Affected Entities for their own operations, except electricity needed to support the generation of electricity by an Affected Entity in accordance with its enabling authority, shall come from energy systems that are eligible under the CES (“Eligible Systems”) as part of an all-of-government approach to meet the goals of the Climate Act in a cost-effective manner.

VIII.  Reducing Waste

  1. The Council shall create a waste diversion plan template that Affected Entities shall use to complete their plans. All Affected Entities shall create a waste diversion plan and file such plan with the Council that outlines how they will meet the following goals:
    1. A decrease in waste disposal of 10 percent every five years from a baseline of Fiscal Year 2018-19, until reaching a goal of 75 percent.
    2. Waste data reported for these goals should be broken out into the following categories: recycled materials; compostable materials and other organics; material sent to landfill (including construction and demolition waste); and special waste (including hazardous waste).

IX. Reducing Use of Toxic Substances.

  1. Affected Entities shall evaluate and incorporate toxics use reduction strategies into their operations, to the extent practicable, to achieve pollution prevention. The Council will, at a minimum, provide agencies with information on healthy buildings, green cleaning and disinfection, integrated pest management and green procurement.

XI. Low Impact Development

  1. Affected Entities shall evaluate, and to the maximum extent practicable, incorporate green infrastructure concepts to reduce all stormwater runoff and improve water quality in new construction or redevelopment projects submitted for permitting by Affected Entities regardless of disturbance threshold. These include activities such as the reconstruction of parking lots and the addition of new landscaping.

XII.  Promoting Biodiversity and Habitat Protection

  1. Affected Entities that have jurisdiction over real property shall, where practicable, seek opportunities to enhance the ecological integrity of their real property to support native biodiversity and the NYS Pollinator Protection Plan, protect threatened and endangered species, and increase climate resilience and natural carbon storage. This includes prioritizing the use of native plants and minimizing the use of non-native plants in landscaping and other planting efforts and other activities that may be identified in the New York Natural Heritage Program conservation guide and its management recommendations regarding listed plants.

XIII.  Disadvantaged Communities

  1. Each Affected Entity shall, to the maximum extent practicable, lower the impact of its operations on Disadvantaged Communities, and shall incorporate lowered environmental impact in these communities into the plans developed by Affected Entities pursuant to this Order.

XIV.  Innovative Solutions

  1. The Council shall continuously evaluate the potential of new technologies in order to assist Affected Entities in continuing to reduce their environmental footprint and increase climate resilience (mitigation and adaptation) of its operations, and wherever feasible, test new technologies and equipment to determine if such technologies or equipment is practicable for adoption in Affected Entity operations.

Cost is a factor in the order, but only as one aspect to be weighed against other considerations.

WHEREAS, it is the State’s policy to promote cost-effective methods to reduce energy and resource consumption, and reduce or eliminate the use of hazardous substances and the generation of hazardous substances, pollution, and waste at the source; and

It is also brought up in the sections VI. Buying and Operating Green, VII. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and VIII.  Reducing Waste.

Well, this executive order covers most of the focus groups that we need to incorporate in all our institutions, but not all. The next blog will focus on our ability to learn how to connect these disparate elements through learning from global experiences.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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2 Responses to Campus as a Lab Part 4: In Defense of Failures; Happy New Year!

  1. Melanie Tam says:

    “ As we know from science, those failures are necessary so that we can eventually learn what leads to success”.

    Failures are part of the road to success. Life is never easy. We have to push through challenges to succeed. Everyone has a starting point, and on their way, they will face challenges. If you fail, keep going. Basically, failure is also a part of what lead to success.

  2. Seida Radoncic says:

    It’s true as you say: “Given the current world situation, it is not enough to wish for a better future; to achieve it we have to work hard together.” It reminded me of Mohandas Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Meaning, people must realize that hoping will not be enough if they do not begin to exert effort to get the desired results. You have to start somewhere if you want to be successful. Words alone aren’t enough to bring in results one has to incorporate words into actions.

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