Admins Talk Carbon Neutrality, Hamilton Dodges Gentrification Questions at Sustainability Town Hall

A panel including President Andrew Hamilton discussed NYU’s sustainability practices including the university’s goals to reduce carbon emissions during a town hall on Tuesday.

SGA Chair Jakiyah Bradley introduces Chief Sustainability Officer Cecil Sheib, Adriana Moreno, Chair of Sustainability Committee, and President Hamilton. (Via Twitter)

Students and administration discussed the university’s efforts toward sustainability, including carbon emission reduction and LEED certification of NYU buildings during a town hall with President Andrew Hamilton on Tuesday.

Attended by more than 30 NYU community members, the town hall was presented in the form of a panel moderated by Student Government Association Chairperson and Gallatin senior Jakiyah Bradley, featuring a presentation from Student Sustainability Committee Chair Adriana Morena and Chief Sustainability Officer Cecil Scheib. 

Upkeep of NYU buildings contributed to 96.5% of NYU’s carbon emissions in 2009, and so it was unsurprising that Scheib emphasized re-evaluating the resource-efficiency and sustainable design of buildings on the Manhattan and Shanghai campuses in steps toward sustainability. He said NYU would seek to do this through LEED certification — a green building rating system based on energy efficiency.

“We currently have 10 LEED projects on the way,” Scheib said. “This includes working on our waste and composting efforts with a lot of effort to integrate sustainability principles throughout the dining services contract.”

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Scheib mentioned the university’s goals of 50% carbon emission reduction by 2025 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, citing that around 1% of New York City’s carbon emissions come from buildings owned by NYU.

The successes of some of these efforts are reflected in a 2014 reconstruction of Brittany Residence Hall, which involved the addition of an air conditioning system to improve student comfort, Scheib said.

“We cut the carbon emissions and the energy cost of that building almost in half, even when you include that we added [air conditioning],” Scheib said. 

During the Q&A session of the town hall, students took the rare opportunity to directly ask Hamilton questions by bringing up topics not directly related to sustainability. One student asked if NYU would issue an apology for laborers whose wages were stolen while working on the construction of NYU Abu Dhabi. Hamilton did not answer the question, nor did he answer one concerning NYU’s role in gentrifying neighborhoods it has expanded to, especially Greenwich Village, and owning buildings on indigenous land.

“NYU very proudly and effectively reaches out to local communities,” Hamilton said in response to the question on gentrification. 

When numerous audience members raised complaints about NYU’s expansion, Hamilton said he found NYU to be very efficient in its use of building space, noting that it struggles to find classroom space as is.

“We educate our students in half of the space that our sister institution Columbia does and one-fifth of the space that Yale does,” Hamilton said.

The panel also discussed cooperation among students and administration through 17 clubs geared towards environmental friendliness, NYU’s plan to stop spending money on disposable water bottles and the Green Grad Pledge —  a global initiative in which students promise to lead environmentally sustainable lives upon graduation.

Scheib and Hamilton compared NYU to universities on more traditional campuses, likening it to actress Ginger Rogers who wore high heels during a dance with actor Fred Astaire in the film Swing Time. This analogy means that while NYU’s efforts into sustainability may be matched by other universities, they are much harder to execute in NYU’s urban and historic setting.

“Don’t forget about Ginger, she did everything [Fred Astaire] did but while wearing heels,” Scheib said. “If you have friends who go to other schools and they’re on a campus where they have a green field and can build a brand-new building ground up, that is totally different from what we do […] we’re doing that, but in heels.” 

Email Lisa Cochran at [email protected]

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