CICU President Mary Beth Labate testifies during Asssembly hearing on the Environmental Footprint of New York Colleges and Universities

News Date: 11/13/2019

CICU President Mary Beth Labate testified during a Joint Hearing for the Asssembly Standing Committees on Higher Education and Environmental Conservation on the Environmental Footprint of New York Colleges and Universities. Read her full testimony below:

Good afternoon. I am Mary Beth Labate, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

Thank you, Chairpersons Glick and Englebright and members of the committee for giving me this opportunity to speak on behalf of New York’s 100+ private, not-for-profit colleges and universities.

On behalf of New York’s private colleges and their nearly 500,000 students, congratulations on passing the groundbreaking New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. We are grateful for your leadership on this issue.

Higher education in New York can be thought of as a three-legged stool. The SUNY and CUNY campuses represent two of those legs while the private, not-for-profit colleges and universities, which educate 40% of college students in the state each year, represent the critical third leg. That is why I am grateful that our sector is being included in this important conversation.

I know you will hear or receive written testimony from at least two CICU member campuses today. I know more of our campuses wanted to participate in today’s hearing, but many are attending today’s New York Coalition for Sustainability in Higher Education NY Sustainability Conference at the Rochester Institute of Technology, another CICU member.

Private colleges and universities are leaders in sustainability and environmental protection, both in New York and around the country. We lead in two important ways.

First, our campuses are at the forefront of research into sustainability and the environment.

Second, our campuses walk the walk by setting and meeting carbon reduction goals, building sustainably, developing programs to reduce waste on campus, and much more.

I’ll speak to both of those areas of leadership today.

In every corner of the state, our campuses are engaged in groundbreaking research, without which our shared goal of reducing the global carbon footprint would simply not be possible.  Whether it is the world-renowned researchers at Columbia University’s Center for Climate and Life or the student-centered research being done at Molloy College’s Sustainability Institute, New York’s private colleges are bringing the best thinking to the table.   

At the same time, we are educating the environmental problem solvers of the future. 

38 of our members offer degrees in environmental science, environmental engineering, conservation, and related fields. Many offer advanced degrees in those fields and employ PhDs who are experts in sustainability and the environment. The research they are doing is helping to lead the national conversation.

Five private college campuses in our state operate Centers for Advanced Technology or Centers of Excellence with a sustainability focus:

  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Future Energy Systems
  • Clarkson University’s Center of Excellence in Healthy Water Solutions (operated jointly with SUNY ESF)
  • Cornell University’s Centers of Excellence in Food and Agriculture Innovation
  • Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center of Excellence in Sustainable Manufacturing
  • Syracuse University’s Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems

With funding from the state, these centers are answering questions about topics as diverse, and important as: where our energy will come from in the future, how waterways and drinking sources can be safeguarded, how New York’s strong agricultural sector can continue to grow in a sustainable way, and how buildings and communities can be healthier and more resilient.

Our campuses put their research to the test and walk the walk by committing to sustainability efforts on their own campuses and in their communities. 

Buildings new and old on campus present a huge opportunity for carbon and waste reduction.  Private colleges have a commitment to invest in greener infrastructure – replacing or rehabilitating old, inefficient buildings to meet today’s and tomorrow’s environmental standards. Programs like the state-funded Higher Education Capital Assistance Program (HECAP) help in this regard. We know that in the longer term, building green makes sound economic sense and is an environmental imperative, but getting there can stretch the budgets of many of our campuses. 

Additionally, 53 of our campuses participate in NYSERDA’s REV Campus Challenge, which brings together colleges and universities that are looking to jump-start their commitment to clean energy with help from colleges and universities that have already had significant success in doing so. Since 2015, the Rev Campus Challenge has made $5 million in funding available to colleges to support clean energy activities.

I’d like to share a small sampling of the sustainability-related activities that are ongoing on some CICU campuses. This list is by no means comprehensive, but is meant to provide a sense of the breadth and depth of efforts campuses are already leading.

In 2019, Colgate University became the first college or university in New York to achieve carbon neutrality, a goal the institution had worked toward for more than a decade.

Rochester Institute of Technology is home to the New York Pollution Prevention Institute, which receives state funding to help businesses, communities and nonprofits solve the practical challenges related to sustainability including food waste reduction, supply chain sustainability, and sustainable manufacturing. The Institute has several other university partners including Clarkson University, Cornell University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Binghamton University.

Clarkson University is working toward its goal of net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2025 and has preserved more than 200 acres of forest and wetlands on campus as “forever wild.” You will receive written testimony from Clarkson with much more detail on their work in these areas.

Cornell University, continues to be a preeminent leader in the field of environmental sustainability. Charlie Kruzansky from Cornell is slated to testify later today and will share more details about their efforts.                              

New York University, also slated to testify today, has committed to cutting its carbon emissions in half by 2025 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. They are already on track – in 2017 NYU achieved a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent five years ahead of schedule. Their testimony today will touch on important changes they’re already making on campus to move closer to those goals.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Jefferson Project, a collaboration with IBM and The Fund for Lake George is harnessing powerful data analytics and environmental science to create models and analyze data from Lake George. The project aims to develop a deep understanding of the lake’s food web and water quality – an understanding that will then be applicable to lakes and rivers across New York and the world.

Hofstra University uses green power for 30 percent of its campus electricity needs.

Bard College operates a farm that grows 20,000 pounds of food each year and was recognized as 3rd in the nation for sustainably sourced campus food.

Fordham University is one of many New York private colleges that has committed that all new buildings on campus will be designed to the stringent LEED environmental standards. Already, Fordham has used HECap funds to help finance construction of two LEED-certified buildings on campus. In July, Governor Cuomo recognized Fordham’s progress and leadership toward campus sustainability when he chose the university as the site to sign the landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act into law.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg (that we must stop from melting). CICU is committed to amplifying the successes our campuses have had.

I am pleased to announce that earlier this week we signed an MOU with NYSERDA to support those efforts.

Per the MOU, we will work with NYSERDA and our member campuses to increase education about sustainability programs offered by the state and connect campuses that are at the beginning of their sustainability journey with those that have more experience. We hope to provide mentorship so that every private college campus in New York, be it large or small, urban or rural, is working toward the same sustainability goals.

CICU is also forming an Energy Committee comprised of our member colleges to identify and address emerging energy issues and opportunities for private colleges. The committee will provide a direct conduit for NYSERDA to engage with stakeholders around the state to develop strategies for distributing information about sustainability.

There are important ways the state can help nurture the efforts that are already underway on private college campuses.

  1. Harness the expertise on campuses: As I shared, New York’s private colleges are already at the forefront of sustainability research, state leaders should call on these experts to help inform and guide state policies related to sustainability. Many CICU campuses have set, or already met, sustainability goals that are more aggressive than the goals outlined in this new legislation. Fulfilling the state’s ambitious goals will require harnessing the expertise that already exists on private college campuses. There is a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and leadership available at New York’s private colleges that the state should tap into.
  2. Provide additional funding for research efforts including those at our CATs and COEs: The Centers for Advanced Technology and Centers of Excellence the state funds on college campuses have already proven their ability to innovate and find sustainable solutions to industry problems. The state should increase their funding to $1.5 million per center to enable the centers to build on their already strong foundations.
  3. Increase funding for the Matching Grants Leverage Program: New York’s colleges and universities could attract more federal and private research funding dollars if the state had more skin in the game. The Matching Grants Leverage Program provides matching grants to colleges and universities that receive federal or private R&D grants and also requires that the colleges provide at least $2 for every $1 they receive in state funding. The state should grow this program by increasing funding to $8 million for the current level of $6 million.
  4. Provide funding streams like HECap to help campuses become greener: The biggest barrier to making all college campuses more sustainable and environmentally friendly is financial. The state should create new funding streams, similar to the HECap program, that would help private colleges and universities achieve their sustainability goals faster and would serve as an example for other industries in the state.

Thanks once again for allowing me to testify and for giving voice to this incredibly important issue.  I look forward to an expanded partnership between the state and our colleges as we work together to make a sustainable future.