What Is Brooklyn College Doing?

Incorporating Sustainability

Because our campus is situated in an urban environment where social, economic, and environmental factors must be considered together, Brooklyn College views sustainability in a much broader context than just the natural environment. While we examine our air and water quality, we also consider how the protection of natural resources affects people’s livelihoods and whether the costs of protection are distributed equitably across social groups. For instance, in contemplating how to make manufacturing more green, we must also investigate whether changing factories or production methods will impact prices and the workforce. In considering how to make our public transportation system cleaner, we must also consider which neighborhoods are served and who pays for the improvements.

Brooklyn College is working to incorporate this approach to sustainability into the fabric of the campus by integrating sustainability into the curriculum, supporting research, and partnering with civic and business leaders. The college will use the lessons it learns through its many sustainability activities to improve the lives of its students and the broader citizenry of Brooklyn, and promote economic development opportunities for the future. With these measures, Brooklyn College will champion the changes that our community and our society require for a viable and sustainable future.


In 2009–10

The Provost’s Task Force on City-Based and Sustainability Education:

  • created a functional inventory of faculty teaching and research projects, and college resources related to urban engagement and sustainable futures;
  • convened the spring 2010 Building Bridges Conference (PDF) that brought together faculty, community partners, and students around the theme of urban engagement and sustainable futures;
  • researched curricular and structural models of interdisciplinary, urban-engaged programs in sustainability studies; and
  • crafted a proposal for an organizational structure to institutionalize and resource city-based, sustainable education.


Brooklyn College is pleased to announce new concentrations in an urban sustainability degree program:

  • economic and business management
  • environmental sciences
  • sociology

Ongoing Action Around Campus

An increasing number of faculty are getting involved in interdisciplinary projects to further the college’s sustainability movement.

Sustainability Roundtable

Since 2007, faculty who conduct sustainability-related research have met each semester to organize events that showcase their work to the college and to the borough. More than 20 faculty have contributed to the Sustainability Notes seminar series, which presents short seminars summarizing their work for the campus community. The group has also organized evening seminars for the borough of Brooklyn on topics including the economics of renewable energy and urban aquaculture.

7 Pillar Areas

1. Waste Management and Recycling

Initiatives seek to reduce waste generation and divert what is sent to landfills and incinerators. The college has improved recycling signage and deployment of bins. Goals in progress include waste reduction promotion with incoming students and increasing office paper recycling.

Sustainability in waste management and recycling focuses on:

  • food composting;
  • recycling bottles, cans, cardboard, and other materials in the cafeteria and across campus;
  • recycling paper, batteries, and printer cartridges in offices;
  • composting of landscaping waste into mulch for use on campus; and
  • minimizing waste and post-consumer purchasing.

Waste-management and recycling initiatives reduce the amount of landfill and incinerator waste produced by CUNY and lead to a change in culture and behavior among students, staff, and faculty in the way they discard materials both on and off campus.

Brooklyn College is addressing these issues by:

  • increasing paper and cardboard recycling by placing bins in offices and hallways;
  • increasing glass and plastic bottle and metal recycling by the entire campus community in partnership with New York City Department of Sanitation and Metropolitan Food Service; and
  • raising campus awareness around these initiatives by encouraging people to dispose of waste properly.

2. Water

Water is a vital and precious resource. Brooklyn College is taking measures to promote this resource and cut water consumption and waste. Completed goals include the BCFixIt app to streamline reporting of leaky fixtures and installation of water-bottle refilling stations throughout campus to cut plastic water bottle usage.

Sustainability in water focuses on:

  • attention to physical, chemical, engineering, and infrastructure issues;
  • concern for surface- and groundwater quality and availability;
  • water and land use; and
  • physical, chemical, and ecological characteristics in wetlands, watersheds, and habitats.

According to the national Advisory Committee on Water Information, “This great variety of water-resources must be related not only to other environmental and natural resources, but also to all the aspects of our national economy and culture.”

CUNY believes that measures to reduce the consumption of water, limit the production of waste water, and reuse “gray” water for nonpotable purposes will lessen the burden on the city’s water supply and water treatment facilities.

Brooklyn College is addressing these issues by researching ways to:

  • reduce water overuse,
  • reduce the volume of discharged effluent,
  • decrease use of bottled water and increase use of water fountains,
  • lessen our carbon impact, and
  • decrease the burden placed on New York’s sewer system.

3. Energy

Energy is a critical issue for reducing the university’s impact on the environment. CUNY is made up of 23 million square feet of space, including 295 buildings of various ages and sizes, and accounts for 1% of the energy load of New York City. Energy use in CUNY buildings accounts for approximately 80% to 90% of total greenhouse-gas emissions across the university. As such, measures to increase energy efficiency and use clean renewable energy are a clear priority under the CUNY Sustainability Project.

Brooklyn College contributes to CUNY’s 30% emissions reduction target through various projects.  Goals in progress include replacing science building fume hood fans and Whitehead Hall windows with energy-efficient models.

Sustainability in energy focuses on initiatives to improve efficiency and conservation as well as on efforts to obtain energy from renewable sources, including:

  • monitoring energy consumption,
  • retrofits of appliances and power plants, making use of energy-efficient technology,
  • conducting a carbon-emissions inventory and committing to emissions reduction goals, and
  • making use of renewable energy, either through direct purchases of renewable energy credits or through onsite installation of clean energy resources.

Brooklyn College is addressing these issues by:

  • conducting education/awareness-raising campaigns encouraging the campus community to conserve energy,
  • switching inefficient light fixtures/bulbs and motors to efficient equipment,
  • changing light switches to motion sensor/infrared technology,
  • replacing existing window air conditioners with “Energy Star” efficient units, and
  • working with the Office of Information Technology Services to ensure that computers switch to automatic sleep mode when not in use.

4. Procurement

Through purchasing products designed to have a small carbon footprint, such as energy efficient electronic devices, recycled, reusable and biodegradable items CUNY is enhancing sustainable practices on their campuses. Goals in progress include increasing the quantity of “green” products purchased.

Sustainability in procurement involves greening the purchasing processes and policies. There is a misconception that green purchasing conflicts with traditional purchasing, but sustainable business actually uses resources more efficiently. The immediate financial value of using green office products is easy to quantify, with sustainability practices extending into longer-term savings. Sustainable purchasing is more than just being green—it is also a consideration of the lifecycle of a product, how it is used, and how it is recycled at the end of its life. While there may be a larger initial investment to buy a recycled product, the overall cost savings to the buyer manifest over time.

Sustainable procurement, therefore, looks at the “triple bottom line”: environmental impact, social implication, and, of course, financial impact/cost. The issue of ethics and profitability is critical in this area, and many have found that “doing the right thing” can be great for business. As institutions go green in terms of procurement, they are approaching cost with the belief that they can operate in an environmentally sustainable manner and still be financially successful.

Procurement of recycled, reusable, and biodegradable products—as well as products designed to have minimal impact on the environment, such as energy-efficient computers and copiers—will enhance sustainable practices at CUNY. The university’s significant collective purchasing power can be used to influence the nature and number of green products available in the marketplace, and a lifecycle costing approach can be adopted to better compare upfront cost with the relative duration and sustainability of a product.

Brooklyn College is addressing these issues by:

  • making a strong effort to purchase recycled or reusable products, including:
    • copy and computer paper;
    • paper towels, tissue paper, and toilet paper;
    • toner cartridges;
    • cardboard boxes and other packaging supplies; and
    • janitorial and cleaning accessories, such as buckets, pails, and mops.
  • asking the campus community to reduce waste by purchasing items that do not come in or with extra packaging, and requesting no extra packaging whenever possible; and
  • compiling a directory of green vendors, suppliers, and contractors, and encouraging the campus community to use them whenever possible.

5. Food and Nutrition

Sustainable dining not only means promoting health, nutritious and affordable food, it also aims to minimize the impact on the environment. Completed goals include offering locally/sustainably grown produce through a farm share program, eliminating foam products in the cafeteria, and including sustainable practices in the dining service contract.

Dining facilities have a significant impact on the carbon footprint of colleges, which often purchase food that is grown with petrochemical-based pesticides and herbicides, uses significant water resources, and travels hundreds of miles to reach the campus. Traditional dining facilities send an enormous amount of waste to landfills, including both pre- and post-consumer food, cooking oil, packaging, and paper goods. Conventional dish-washing practices send massive volumes of soapy hot water down the drain. Large quantities of conditioned air at cooking stations and lighting are significant energy wasters, and kitchens are often dark and hot working environments.

The concept of “sustainable food and nutrition” includes locally bought and farmed, “mindfully raised,” “less processed,” and “fresh” food. Many mass-farmed foods are not genetically diverse and don’t have sufficient nutrient content; rather, they are farmed for their appearance and shelf life. Eating locally grown food is not a new concept, but in the 20th century, as farms moved west and many local farms were paved over, New Yorkers have been consuming brown lettuce and hard tomatoes while local farms went bankrupt. Locally, Greenmarket was a natural solution to a twofold problem: By selling their homegrown crops in New York, local farms could both stay in business and bring fresh food to city neighborhoods. What began with 12 farmers in an empty lot in 1976 has grown into the largest network of its kind in the country, with rigorous “grow-your-own” standards.

Sustainable food goes beyond the edibles themselves. Greening in this area also involves containers in which food is served (ceramic and glass instead of Styrofoam, plastic, etc).

Sustainability in food and nutrition shortens the supply chain of food stuffs purchased by the university and improves the nutritional content of food prepared and offered at CUNY, in turn improving the health and eating habits of students, staff, and faculty. By purchasing a greater amount of seasonal and organic foods and sourcing these from local suppliers, supply chains will be shortened, reducing the greenhouse gases that result from transportation and high-intensity farming.

Brooklyn College is addressing these issues by:

  • working on reducing the use of plastic and Styrofoam in the cafeteria,
  • investigating the purchase of local food, and
  • researching and monitoring ongoing opportunities to offer locally supplied and grown food as well as healthy and fresh-food options (vegetarian and organic foods, healthy oils, and whole grains).

6. Transportation

The college seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources through its vehicle fleet and promoting public transportation. Completed goals include purchase of electric vehicles for IT services, with the ongoing goal of encouraging bicycling through safe and secure parking and access to repair tools.

Environmentally sustainable transportation does not endanger public health or ecosystems and meets needs for access consistent with the use of (1) renewable resources at or below their rates of regeneration, and (2) nonrenewable resources at or below the rates of development of renewable substitutes. A sustainable transportation system:

  • limits emissions and waste,
  • minimizes consumption of nonrenewable resources,
  • limits consumption of renewable resources to the sustainable yield level,
  • reuses and recycles its components, and
  • minimizes the use of land and the production of noise.

Sustainable transportation must therefore balance a variety of economic, social, and environmental goals. As such, it looks primarily at policies and practices in relation to how schools promote alternative transportation options. A college or university’s institutional policies should promote a pedestrian- and/or bike-friendly campus and assess the availability of bike-sharing programs. The utilization of alternative fuel, as well as hybrid technology, in vehicle fleets is taken into consideration. Sustainable transportation on the college campus also examines incentives provided by a school to students, faculty, and staff for carpooling or for using public transit. It considers how schools provide access to public transit or to popular off-campus destinations through the use of shuttles or similar systems.

CUNY’s fleet of vehicles is estimated to account for a further 5% to 10% of the university’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Efforts to introduce hybrid and nonpolluting vehicles across the university will reduce its carbon footprint. Transportation measures, making it easier for CUNY’s 500,000+ students, staff, and faculty to reach campus without the use of private cars, will also affect GHG emissions for which the university is accountable. These include the introduction of bike racks on and around campuses, improvements in bus links to and between campuses, and encouraging carpooling.

Brooklyn College is addressing these issues by:

  • working with the Office of Campus and Community Safety Services and the Metropolitan Transit Authority to promote a pedestrian- and bike-friendly campus through education, awareness raising and events;
  • making significant changes to our fleet of vehicles by purchasing electric carts and vans, utilizing alternative fuel and hybrid technologies;
  • encouraging bicycling by adding and maintaining bicycle racks in safe, well-lit, accessible locations that are easily seen by security officers; and
  • encouraging our community to reduce fuel emissions by engaging in carpooling to and from campus.

7. Outreach and Education

Outreach and education initiatives engage Brooklyn College students, staff, and faculty, as well as the wider community, through public events, social media campaigns, clubs, and academic programs. Goals in progress include raising campus awareness of sustainability efforts and partnering with student government to revise the 10-Year Sustainability Plan.

The pressing reality and consequences of climate change has inspired many initiatives in schools falling under the banner of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Adherents believe that merely providing information about the symptoms of our social and environmental crises is not sufficient to create a sustainable society. The cultivation of genuine care and compassion, together with the development of practical competencies, must follow awareness if young people are to develop true ecological literacy—attitudes and aptitudes consistent with a sustainable world.

Some propose a “pedagogy of place” as the most effective way to inculcate such qualities, stressing the importance of creating learning environments where young people can develop meaningful relationships with their immediate environment as well as the skills to design and propose solutions to the problems they may encounter there. ESD is therefore most successful when it is embedded into the very fabric of school life. By embracing sustainability as a vital topic within the classroom, students develop responsibility in their personal and everyday actions. Real-world experiences through internships, for example, can help students better understand subject matter.

Ecological literacy views the school and its ethos, environment, community, and curriculum as an interrelated whole. A transition to this outlook requires nothing less than a complete refashioning of the ways in which we think about and relate to each other and the world in which we live. This “ecological enlightenment” entails the radical transformation of education itself, so that it may become radically transformative.

Sustainable outreach and education targets CUNY students, staff, and faculty as well as the wider New York City community of which the university is part. Measures in this area include broadening the number of credit and noncredit CUNY courses that have sustainability in their content as well as engaging student groups, local employers, and community organizations to participate in the process of defining and implementing CUNY’s overall sustainability plan. Awareness-raising campaigns, competitions, and public events are an integral part of this education process.

Brooklyn College is addressing these issues by:

  • having convened students, staff and faculty to brainstorm on greening our campus through the college’s Sustainability Visioning Session series, coordinated by the Sustainability Council;
  • enhancing student training in and awareness of sustainability issues and green jobs through the Magner Career Center, College Now, the Provost’s Task Force on Sustainability, the Urban Sustainability Program, the Department of Economics, and the Student Center’s Small Business Center;
  • raising campus awareness about the college’s efforts to go green;
  • incorporating sustainability into classes and campus activities and events; and
  • working with the Office of Communications and Marketing to design and launch a public relations campaign.

Brooklyn. All in.