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CUAES ‘Culture of Sustainability’ Is a Model for Campus

By Krishna Ramanujan

The threat of global climate change coupled with Cornell’s commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 has inspired one Cornell unit to serve as a model for change from the bottom up. The Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station (CUAES) has adopted a culture of sustainability that welcomes ideas from everyone in the organization.

CUAES director Mike Hoffmann seeks to catalyze changes across campus in accordance with the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment that Cornell President David Skorton signed in 2007.

Jean Koski in a greenhouse.
Anja Timm
Jean Koski, a sustainability action team member and greenhouse grower, works under new, energy-efficient lights in Guterman Complex Greenhouses.

The CUAES has already instigated such changes as using a biodiesel blend in tractors, retrofitting greenhouses with energy–saving light fixtures, and stabilizing a creek bank.

By offering “top–down support for bottomup ideas,” the unit has created a sustainable action team of 10 people, including greenhouse and farm staff, mid–level supervisors, and managers, who brainstorm strategies and then offer ways to implement their ideas, Hoffmann adds.

For example, CUAES, which manages seven research farms and CALS’ large greenhouse complex, relocated two workers to a campus lab from a research farm near Freeville, shutting down a large, underutilized building for the winter and saving $1,500 a month.

Also at the Freeville farm, the staff stopped mowing a hillside and planted 5,000 mixed hardwood and softwood trees, which will sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

This spring, an energy–conservation pilot study in selected CALS buildings will be launched to better understand how human behavior influences energy conservation.

“The pilot project brings to bear the best scientists we have at Cornell to address practical issues we face on campus,” said Lauren Chambliss, assistant director for CUAES communications, who leads the effort.

Also, CUAES is completing a feasibility study for the Cornell University Renewable Bioenergy Initiative (CURBI), an ambitious plan to harness 57 campus waste streams and other biomass resources for generating bioenergy for Cornell’s use.