First, waste less.
The pandemic suddenly sent most of us away from campus, and consequently, removed us from printers, copiers, and myriad other consumables. It reduced vehicles coming to campus. It kept lights off and energy use down. To be clear, we do not want college spaces to be dormant; in fact, we view our campuses as vibrant hubs of activity day, night, and weekends, too. But now armed with new skills and experiences using electronic resources, and with best practices in facilities management, we recommend the following:
- Limit printing. Blackboard, Microsoft Teams, and other tools make storing and retrieving documents easy and accessible. These tools provide ways to share lecture videos, assign homework, provide virtual science labs, proctor tests, and collaborate on documents, among other features. Even email reduces the need for printing. In 2018-2019, the college bought 21,880 reams of paper totaling 10.9 million sheets weighing 54 tons. In reemergence, we recommend cutting paper consumption by 90%, which would reduce use by 50 tons!
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Obviously, reemergence means more transportation. To combat pollution by fossil fuels, public transportation and ridesharing are good options. WCC already has a partnership with 511NY Rideshare. There may be times when travel is not necessary. Zoom makes it possible for people to connect between Valhalla and extension locations or attend professional development and training remotely. To be future-ready, the college is installing EV charging stations in Parking Lot 3 for community members and guests driving electric vehicles. Future exploration of a fully electric shuttle to and from the White Plains and Valhalla Metro North stations would ease transportation issues for those commuting by mass transit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Turn off lights. WCC is ahead of the curve with the transition of interior lighting to high-efficiency LED lights. Currently, 20% of the CFL bulbs have been replaced with new LED bulbs, and motion sensors are installed in 80% of classrooms. We are on our way toward replacing 100% of CFL bulbs with LED and installing motion sensors in all classrooms. Until then, make sure that lights and appliances are off before you leave.
- Minimize building energy use. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Physical Plant HVAC team has evaluated and overhauled the air handling and climate control systems to combat the airborne threat and provide cleaner air to breathe. This monumental task included increasing filter replacements and upgrading the filters to grade standards recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We encourage continued investments in Building Energy Management Systems, which are computer-based systems designed to help monitor, control, measure, and optimize the energy consumption needs of a building. With efficient control of energy-using equipment, operating costs are reduced, and comfort levels are maintained with safety in mind. This means minimizing building energy use thereby eliminating energy waste.
Second, reuse more.
Although not apparent, reuse reduces first-generation manufacturing, which lowers energy use, which limits industrial greenhouse gas emissions, and that in turn limits global warming. Even though climate policy works from the top government levels down, collective individual actions add up over the long term. With fewer people at our college locations, and services like dining closed, there has been a huge reduction in waste and recycling. Our eventual return represents a chance to reset and establish new standards and expectations, such as the following:
- Bring your own… water bottle… coffee cup… plate and flatware… cloth napkin. New Yorkers are already switching to reusable grocery bags. Now is our chance to step up to bringing our own materials rather than consuming them and throwing them in the trash. In 2019, the Board of Trustees eliminated plastic bottles and paper cups at its meetings, and reusable WCC travel mugs became the preferred beverageware. These practices might even be safer as we remain cautious and hygienically aware about touching surfaces.
- Fill up. The installation of nine refillable water bottle stations in six buildings has reduced the need for students to purchase bottled water. This effort has further reduced the environmental impact and demonstrated the college’s commitment to fostering an environment of sustainability. Physical Plant intends to expand the stations to each building to ensure everyone has access to a refillable water station.
- Avoid plastics. The above actions could be the first steps toward becoming one of the State University of New York system’s first plastic-free campuses. Further steps include replacing soda vending machines with soda fountains, replacing disposable materials with reusable ones, and sourcing whatever cannot be reused from compostable materials. Additional assessment is needed on the feasibility of replacing plastic materials used in classes and labs. Research shows that plastic waste is just as much a public health issue as it is an environmental issue. With only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced being recycled, the solution is to slow the flow at the source.
Third, eat green.
The way we eat affects both environmental sustainability and individual health, and the pandemic has highlighted the need to live healthier lifestyles. The problems of food insecurity and access to fresh foods are confronted by the Office of Student Support Services, with support from the WCC Foundation, with a Food Pantry that offers a modest selection of perishable items, restricted only by space constraints for refrigeration, and assists students with SNAP applications and finding local food pantries including transportation funding to get to sites for qualified applicants. By expanding these options and making changes in the way we consume food, we can have a significant impact. For some basic improvements, we recommend the following:
- Consume a more plant-forward diet. This includes leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds. Prioritize with food that is in season. Have fresh fruit and summer vegetables in the spring and summer while having hearty gourds, nuts, and grains in the fall and winter. This does not mean becoming a vegetarian or a vegan!
- Choose ethically raised meat, chicken, eggs, and fish. You will see terms such as organic, grass fed, antibiotic-free, rBGH-free, cage-free, pasture raised, wild caught, and farm raised. These terms can be overwhelming but an effective way to start is to choose organic cruelty-free animal products whenever possible.
- Choose responsibly grown fruits and vegetables. Look for fruits and vegetables that are organic (no harmful pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides) or fair trade (chocolate, tea, coffee, and bananas, for example).
- Locally source food. This reduces its carbon footprint, and with the number of local farms, we should explore expanding partnerships for farmers’ markets on campus. A farmers’ market could tackle food deserts and create a space where students have access to local foods and use funds that they have already budgeted for campus dining. Previously, WCC hosted the Mobile Food Pantry and the Fresh Market trucks in conjunction with Feeding Westchester. In reemergence, we recommend continuing these services that bring fresh foods to students.
- Grow your own. For the ultimate locally sourced food, consider growing your own. During the pandemic, many people started gardens and others worked in community gardens to service food pantries. People who do not have the space can join a community garden or use WCC’s community garden. All varieties of plants and trees also help reduce carbon dioxide and improve the climate.
- Reduce food waste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 30% of all food is wasted. We can prevent this by meal planning and acquiring only what we need and will consume. Surprisingly, agriculture, forestry, and other land use accounts for 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. All efforts to follow these recommendations will contribute to a reduction in those harmful effects.
We are optimistic about our future starting with a return to being together at our WCC spaces and expanding practices that combat climate change such as those in this letter. We have explored ways to better understand the college’s overall carbon footprint and develop a climate action plan that pulls together this information in one place, integrates with existing strategies and programs, and ensures the college remains a leader in this arena. We are eager to partner with you, learn together, and implement improvements that are to the benefit of ourselves and our planet.