Striving toward sustainability at Colgate represents an enormous opportunity with many facets. Higher education as a whole is on the frontier of rapid and profound change. A robust sustainability program can help make our institution stronger, more resilient, and a continued leader as our cultural, economic, and political systems profoundly shift towards a more just, sustainable, and low-carbon future. Colleges and universities that have invested in sustainability programs have benefited from reduced operating costs, reliable and distributed energy and food systems, increased student recruitment and retention, community-building, land stewardship and ecosystem services, fostering a strong sense of place, and most important of all, enhanced academic and co-curricular educational programs. Over the years, Colgate has recognized this opportunity and embraced it. 

Colgate's initial commitment to sustainability began in 2005 when the Sustainability Council was charged to develop a coordinated environmental vision for short- and long-term planning to ensure a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment. Ultimately, the council seeks to advise and guide the university on ways to integrate teaching, research, operations, and community engagement to address current and future sustainability challenges.

The university more formally committed to sustainability in 2009 with the signing of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), since rebranded as Second Nature's Carbon Commitment, and the hiring of the university's first sustainability director. The Carbon Commitment requires Colgate to: 1) measure its greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis, 2) develop and implement a climate action plan with mitigation strategies to reduce those emissions, 3) achieve carbon neutrality by offsetting the remaining emissions after a specified date, and 4) make carbon neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and educational experiences for all students.

In 2011, with the guidance of the Sustainability Council, Colgate produced its first Sustainability and Climate Action Plan as part of its institutional commitment to carbon neutrality. The 2011 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan established 2019 -- the institution's bicentennial -- as Colgate's carbon neutrality date, and created a five-year road map to advance sustainability and reduce carbon emissions on campus. 

By all accounts, the 2011 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan was a success. We initiated or fully implemented nearly all of the strategies detailed in the report. These included student and staff education and behavior change programs, installation of low-flow showerheads across campus, completion of numerous lighting upgrades, construction and renovation of LEED certified buildings, switching from fuel oil #6 to natural gas in our central plant, installation of a solar thermal renewable energy system on 100 Broad Street, installation of geothermal energy at Chapel House, purchasing of hybrid and electric vehicles, installation of charging stations for electric vehicles, the initiation of composting and electronic waste recycling programs, the expansion of our bike rental and recycling programs, and the creation of a student-run organic vegetable garden. 

These projects are just a few of the dozens of initiatives we have launched over the past few years. As a result, since our baseline inventory in 2009, we have reduced our:

  • net campus carbon footprint by 8,822 MTeCO2, a 53 percent reduction;
  • scope 1 and scope 2 emissions by 983 MTeCO2, a 10 percent reduction;
  • energy consumption in our central heating plant by 6,691 MMBtus, a 2 percent reduction;
  • electricity consumption by 1.4 million kilowatt-hours, a 5 percent reduction;
  • water consumption by about 15.3 million gallons of water, a 20 percent reduction;
  • landfill waste by 64 tons, an 8 percent reduction; and
  • campus-wide paper consumption by about 15,940 reams, a 45 percent reduction.

These reductions have resulted in avoided spending (savings) of nearly $385,000 annually. These metrics underscore that Colgate’s commitment to sustainability and carbon neutrality is fiscally responsible not to mention the added value of enhancing our educational programs, strengthening our institutional image, recruitment, community building, and risk management among other benefits. 

Remarkably, Colgate has been able to achieve these savings while adding over 150 students and employees on campus and constructing and operating the 15,000 square foot Trudy Fitness Center.

On the academic side, faculty who are dedicated to sustainability have raised awareness and initiated faculty development sessions on integrating sustainability in the curriculum. Today, approximately 10 percent of Colgate classes focus on or include sustainability as a major component, and 45 percent of our academic departments offer at least one course focusing on issues of sustainability. 

Colgate's senior administration and board of trustees have guided and supported the university’s sustainability program from the outset. Under their strong leadership, the university completed its Campus Master Plan and Strategic Plan updates in January 2014. The Campus Master Plan emphasized that, “minimizing the amount of energy each new or renovated building requires through high-performance design will help Colgate manage future energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Efficient space use and enhanced space management is critical in minimizing needed new construction. Ensuring sustainable building practices in campus projects—including LEED certification for all applicable construction—is generally more cost effective and easier to achieve during the initial design and construction than via future retrofit.”

Likewise, the Strategic Plan reaffirmed that, “We are on track to be carbon neutral by our bicentennial in 2019. Campus planning and building design will incorporate sustainable practices from inception to implementation.” 

In 2015, a working group of faculty, staff, and students published Colgate’s first Green Building Standards. Approved by Colgate’s senior administration, the Standards allow a consistent and coordinated design and construction process that is essential to developing high-performing, sustainable buildings, as is emphasized in Colgate’s Campus Master Plan and Strategic Plan updates.

A faculty, staff, and student Sustainable Food Systems Working group was formed in Fall 2013 and charged by the President with working to increase recognition of the paramount importance of campus food operations for sustainability at Colgate. In summer 2015, partly as a result of this group’s work, Colgate contracted with Chartwells to replace Sodexo as its campus food provider. Chartwells has committed to the importance of local food purchasing, sustainable practices, and educating students about the environmental significance of food production and consumption as central aspects of its operations. In addition, the position of Sustainable Dining Manager was created to coordinate sustainability efforts within dining services.

Colgate’s leadership also supports sustainability and climate action in ways that extend beyond campus. On November 15, 2015, Interim President Jill Harsin reiterated Colgate’s commitment to sustainability and climate action by signing the White House’s American Campus Act on Climate Pledge (Appendix 1). In her letter to the White House, Interim President Harsin joined more than 200 other colleges and universities to demonstrate Colgate’s support for strong international climate action in advance of the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris (COP-21). 

On November 19, 2015, Interim Dean of the Faculty and Provost Constance Harsh joined a select group of higher education presidents, other campus and business leaders, as well as high-ranking government officials in a roundtable discussion at the White House to discuss the ongoing effort to advance climate action in higher education and beyond.