In 2019, Colgate's Bicentennial celebration provided an important moment to reflect on and critically embrace the university's history. Colgate's Bicentennial was also an opportunity to look ahead, refocus, and develop a long-term plan to enhance its standing as one of the truly great academic institutions in the nation and around the world. The outcome was a long-term, forward looking strategic plan. The Third-Century Plan was the result of many conversations and broad collaboration between numerous institutional governance committees, senior leadership, and the Board of Trustees.
The Third-Century Plan challenged trustees, administrators, and Colgate's faculty to focus, over a significant period of time, on the following fundamentals for academic and organizational excellence:
- Attracting and supporting truly outstanding students, faculty, and staff.
- Strengthening Colgate’s academic enterprise.
- Enriching the student experience across residential life, campus programs, and athletics.
- Sustaining and improving an already beautiful campus and village.
Additionally, the Third-Century Plan specifically challenges the university to enhance its physical campus and decrease the burdens it places on its environment.
Prior to approving the Third-Century Plan, Colgate’s faculty ratified the 13 Goals of a Colgate Education. Among them, they specified that a Colgate education should enable students to “recognize their individual and collective responsibilities for the stewardship of the earth's resources and the natural environment" and graduate as “engaged citizens who strive for a just society.”
A robust campus sustainability program will help Colgate meet the important goals and aspirations of the Third-Century Plan and the 13 Goals of a Colgate Education. How? Students want to attend, and faculty and staff want to work at, an institution that models sustainable practices. The concept and pedagogy of sustainability is inherently interdisciplinary and enhances learning and strengthens the ideals of a liberal arts education. Moreover, student engagement in sustainable values and principles fosters community and enriches the Colgate experience through the nexus of curricular and co-curricular activities. Finally, the way we tend to our buildings and grounds, landscape, and natural heritage can profoundly reduce our impact on the local environment and ensure that our beautiful campus remains welcoming, healthy, clean, and vibrant in perpetuity. These are among a few of the benefits of modeling and teaching sustainability at Colgate that directly relate to our core institutional priorities. Others include reducing operating costs and boosting efficiencies, improving public relations, creating additional pathways for alumni engagement, and strengthening community and interpersonal relationships, on and off campus. Simply put, advancing campus sustainability is necessary if the university is to achieve its highest ambitions.
Of course, Colgate University exists within the broader context of civil society and cannot ignore today's most profound social and environmental challenges. Modern society's consumptive patterns and the design of our linear material economy consumes natural resources, energy, and minerals at ever-increasing rates. Our current cultural, economic, and political systems encourage intensive and extensive use of natural resources their extraction and consumption which accelerate the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity and create increasing levels of plastic waste and industrial pollution. The design of our manufacturing, industrial, food, energy, and transportation systems also contribute climate change and will intensify climate impacts if we continue our current practices. While no one alive today is free from these risks, the impacts are felt most profoundly in disadvantaged and marginalized communities here in the United States and abroad. These are a few of the repercussions of our current way of living. Overcoming the challenges of sustainability and climate change will take a focused and prolonged effort that is intergenerational in nature. Colgate’s Third-Century Plan implores us to take the long view:
"As Colgate enters its third century, it is incumbent on those who steward the institution and those who enjoy its current benefits to determine which initiatives will best strengthen the University and then to vigorously pursue those initiatives over many years. The legacy of the founders of the University demands that we be ambitious. The mission of the University requires that we enter a period of sustained boldness."
Is Colgate adept enough to meet our short-term challenges and forward-thinking and bold enough to embrace the challenges of sustainability and climate change? How Colgate addresses these challenges, in practice and in its pedagogy, will help define the university in the years ahead. As we continue our pursuit of a more sustainable campus, the journey itself has important institutional value. Sustainability teaches important principles that prepare our students for success in civil society and in the workplace while achieving the best expression of Colgate's ambitious university-wide goals.
This Third-Century Sustainability Plan (the “Sustainability Plan”) highlights several key areas to advance campus sustainability and climate action over the next few years. However, it is important to emphasize that this sustainability plan is a living document as new research, policies, incentives, partnerships, organizational structures, and technologies will create opportunities not available today. For this reason, we must remain vigilant and open to reevaluating and revising our strategies when better ones emerge. Our progress will be updated annually and shared with the broader Colgate community and Board of Trustees.
The Third-Century Sustainability Plan was spearheaded by the Sustainability Council and dozens of faculty, staff, and students contributed their time and effort to the strategies outlined in this plan. In the summer of 2020, campus sustainability was elevated as a core institutional priority and identified as a key initiative to help meet the goals set out in Colgate’s Third-Century Plan. This plan would not have been possible without the guidance, support, and strong leadership of President Brian Casey and the President’s Cabinet.
Finally, hundreds of Colgate students contributed tremendous effort and enthusiasm to this plan through research in their courses, internship in the Office of Sustainability, volunteerism in the Sustainability Representatives (S-Reps) program, or service on one or more of the many sustainability-oriented student groups on the Colgate campus.
This Sustainability Plan is truly the result of a campus-wide effort lead by Colgate’s Sustainability Council.
In 2008, Colgate University publicly committed to the teaching and practice of sustainability when it became a signatory of the Second Nature Carbon Commitment . With the final approval of our 2011-2015 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, Colgate pledged to achieve carbon neutrality in our bicentennial, 2019, and to make carbon neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experiences for all students. Colgate shifted its focus to integrating sustainability throughout campus culture and operations in its Bicentennial Plan for a Sustainable and Carbon Neutral Campus in 2017 and became the first institution of higher Education in New York to achieve carbon neutrality in 2019. While we celebrate our recent achievements, Colgate sees carbon neutrality as an important milestone – not an end goal. Colgate chooses to take responsibility for its impact on our changing climate and the associated environmental justice implications by continuously working to reduce our campus emissions and committing to offset our remaining footprint each year. April 22nd, 2019, our campus carbon neutrality date, was the start of this bold commitment. The Third-Century Sustainability Plan serves as an update to the Bicentennial Plan for a Sustainable and Carbon Neutral Campus. The Third-Century Sustainability Plan includes bold measures that will equip Colgate to continue its proud tradition of sustainability leadership well into its third century.
Sustainability and Carbon Neutrality at Colgate 2005-2020
Colgate's initial commitment to sustainability began in 2005 when the Environmental Council was charged by Colgate’s senior leadership to advise the president’s cabinet on issues of campus sustainability. After signing the Carbon Commitment in 2008, the Environmental Council was renamed the Sustainability Council and broadened its charge to include developing a coordinated environmental vision for short- and long-term planning to ensure a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment. As Colgate’s commitment to campus sustainability deepened, the Council worked diligently to hire a sustainability director and measure our annual campus carbon footprint beginning in 2009. This initial 2009 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory determined our campus baseline of 17,812 MTCO2e (Figure 1 demonstrates gross and net campus emissions since 2009).
Colgate’s path to carbon neutrality has not been a straight line – every year brings certain challenges and opportunities that impact our campus carbon footprint. For example, in fiscal year (FY) 2019, the university used an above-average amount of natural gas because our wood boiler went offline to perform a necessary efficiency upgrade to our carbon neutral wood boiler. Although this upgrade improved the efficiency of our wood boiler and was an intentional decision to improve campus sustainability, the upgrade itself caused an increase in gross emissions compared to 2018. This example demonstrates how long-term sustainable decisions can appear to have the opposite effect in the short term. In FY 2020 we also faced unique circumstances that drastically decreased our campus carbon footprint. Many students and employees transitioned to remote work in March of 2020 in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic which nearly eliminated university sponsored air-travel and commuting emissions for a quarter of the fiscal year. Especially cold or above-average warm winters can have similar impacts on energy use and corresponding carbon emissions further fluctuating our annual carbon footprint. Nevertheless, the goal of our campus sustainability and climate action work is to reduce emissions over time and look for downward-pointing trends.
Since 2009, Colgate has reduced gross campus carbon emissions by 49% 2. Colgate’s gross emissions combine emissions from campus heating, campus-sponsored travel, fertilizer use, employee commuting, paper consumption, forest management, and electricity among other sources. Colgate’s net emissions subtract carbon offsets and renewable energy credits from our gross emissions (see the section on Offsets). While measuring and managing our campus carbon emissions is a critical component of Colgate’s overall sustainability program, we also work diligently to reduce our impact on environmental degradation and associated social injustice through additional means.
Waste, for example, is not a large part of our campus carbon footprint, but Colgate recognizes the devastating up- and down-stream impacts of overconsumption and single-use plastics on human health and wildlife. Over the last decade, we have improved waste management practices; however, we recognize the operational benefits and ethical obligation to move our campus closer to zero waste. In this plan, we outline ways in which our community can reduce waste and act as better stewards of our resources.
Our institution also recognizes water as a valuable resource that should be conserved. Through the implementation of our 2011 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, we were able to make great strides toward reducing our water usage. With the implementation of our Third-Century Sustainability Plan, we will be able to continue these reductions saving our institution not only water, but also energy and money.
The presence of sustainability in our curriculum has also grown over the last decade. Faculty who are dedicated to sustainability have raised awareness and initiated faculty development sessions on integrating sustainability in the curriculum. Today, over 12% of Colgate classes focus on or include sustainability as a major component, a 2% increase from 2016. These courses span 50% of Colgate’s academic departments and programs, a 5 percent increase from 2016. 9 Colgate’s sustainability program has profoundly impacted the lives of hundreds of Colgate students and dozens of students have studied and researched issues of sustainability through our formal curriculum. Their contributions through research and class projects have directly advanced our campus sustainability program. Additionally, over 130 students have worked in the Office of Sustainability as student interns since 2009 and many more as volunteers. A growing and impressive group of students have gone on to continue their studies or pursue careers in the field of sustainability.
This Third-Century Sustainability Plan highlights actions and initiatives to address each of the issues mentioned above. This Sustainability Plan also provides a focused framework for continuing to advance sustainability in food and dining services, purchasing decisions, campus culture and individual engagement, university-supported transportation, and others. In Colgate’s third century, we will challenge ourselves to continue this proud tradition of sustainability leadership. In its current state, this living plan lays out goals from 2021-2025 that will continue to guide us in pursuit of a campus sustainability program that adds academic value to our students and faculty, strengthens our sense of community, reduces our social and environmental impacts, and reduces operating costs over time.