May 23, 2024
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After winning the gold for sustainability efforts, Binghamton aims for platinum

Faculty, staff and students play a crucial role in lowering campus’ carbon footprint

The Office of Sustainability hosted the first Binghamton 2 Degrees Live, a local arts and musical festival about climate change at Conflunce Park in downtown Binghamton on Saturday, August 26, 2023. The Office of Sustainability hosted the first Binghamton 2 Degrees Live, a local arts and musical festival about climate change at Conflunce Park in downtown Binghamton on Saturday, August 26, 2023.
The Office of Sustainability hosted the first Binghamton 2 Degrees Live, a local arts and musical festival about climate change at Conflunce Park in downtown Binghamton on Saturday, August 26, 2023. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

When it comes to sustainability, the Binghamton University campus has again won the gold. Whether it can achieve the platinum, however, comes down to you — that is, the individual efforts of faculty, staff and students to safeguard the environment.

For the second time, the University has received a gold rating in the Sustainable Campus Index (SCI), issued by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The SCI recognizes top-performing colleges and universities by country, institution type and in 17 sustainability impact areas, as measured by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). Used by hundreds of colleges and universities, STARS helps institutions measure, report and strengthen their contributions to global sustainability.

“We’re almost halfway between gold and platinum,” said Pamela Mischen, Binghamton’s Chief Sustainability Officer and a member of the Sustainable Communities Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence (TAE) steering committee. “We’re putting together our campus sustainability plan right now and one of our goals is to achieve platinum status in the next three years.”

Currently, only 12 universities have achieved a platinum rating, Mischen said.

The 17 sustainability impact areas measured by SCI cover a wide range of topics, from investments, purchasing and grounds to buildings, curricula, energy use and more. Binghamton was recognized as a top performer in both sustainability research and water quality.

Binghamton’s commitment to water quality is exemplified by the Bartle wetland, planted in July 2019 to treat stormwater runoff from the adjacent parking lot. Located in the front of campus, the wetland attracts wildlife such as geese and songbirds.

It’s time to step up

The University continues to make headway on sustainability initiatives. New this year is the Office of Sustainability, as well as the Binghamton 2 Degrees project, which promotes discussion of climate change and climate resilience through campus and public events.

“We’re really trying to step up our sustainability profile and draw more involvement from students, faculty and staff,” Mischen said.

Currently under development, the sustainability plan will outline the University’s specific goals and objectives over the next three years. The plan will go beyond tackling institutional goals and also consider individual behaviors through such initiatives as a peer-to-peer education program.

Topics of interest include green purchasing. Mischen offered an example: By executive order, all the University’s paper is supposed to be 100% recycled, but only 15% of purchase orders achieve that goal. With decentralized purchasing, educating faculty and staff about these initiatives is key to addressing the compliance gap.

The University is currently circulating two surveys: one on sustainability literacy and culture, and the other on climate change. Incoming data from the latter suggests that people care deeply about climate change, but haven’t changed individual behaviors such as taking shorter showers, adjusting their thermostats, buying used clothing or a zero-emissions vehicle, composting, or putting solar panels on their homes.

Sustainable choices aren’t limited to the administration or department heads, Mischen emphasized.

“Approximately a third of the points that we don’t get in STARS relate to individual behaviors such as the percentage of students, faculty and staff who come to campus in something other than a single-occupancy, fossil fuel vehicle; the percentage of waste diverted to recycling or composting; energy use; and the percentage of students who participate in community-engagement activities,” she said. “You and your decisions matter. They matter to the University. They matter to the world.”

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