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University-led Sustainability Programs: providing opportunities for action-oriented research to reduce, reuse and recycle

Learning environments are spaces to create and carry out change and leading food sustainability efforts on-campus can create mind-shift.

Photo of Emily Getty
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Universities across the globe are employing new methods to build a sustainable future through carbon neutrality. They are taking responsibility for their environmental impact and in doing so are employing activities like composting programs, buying locally, and student-led innovative initiatives that set the tone for more regional efforts. 

As an undergraduate student at Cornell University, I participated in two courses that looked at developing communication campaigns around the university's objective to become carbon neutral. As a team of students, we were tasked with developing a Comprehensive Communications Campaign for Carbon Neutrality  and presented our findings to President’s Climate Commitment Implementation Committee.

This course pulled together the entire academic picture for communication and required the creation of online unbiased survey, conducted research, analyzed data, derived campaign tactics and ideas from the communication theories, and created a concise, professional proposal as well as communicated our complex ideas in a clear and succinct manner. The most obvious and yet revolutionary piece? We asked the students what they wanted to do to change their university's carbon footprint. We found that freshmen depended more heavily on institutional programs and resources, whereas juniors and seniors looked outside the university and to each other for solutions.

What resulted from our course? People became aware of our university's initiative to become carbon neutral, then at the beginning stages of development. Students began to take action, making choices to effect how the university decided on things that effected the carbon score. Dishware and cutlery in the dining hall transitioned to being made out of all compost-able materials. People's actions and choices mattered and effected the whole university's efforts.



The community gathered around the idea and Ithaca is considered one of the most forward-thinking and "green" communities in New York State: As a land-grant university for New York many agriculture-related sustainability initiatives are shared through the network of extension agents to agriculture producers and processors across the state, and grassroots public relations are built into all programming efforts.

Knowledge is power. Prototyping solutions is something the university can facilitate. Campuses provide opportunities to network and share insights across the globe.

The movement grew:

1. Appalachia State University: 

2. Hong Kong City U: 

3. Brown University:

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Institutions have the power to create change through being the example while teaching the example. Creating opportunities for student-led exploration and providing seed funding for exciting ideas. The citizen movement can be cultivated and catalyzed through education institutions around the world. Campus Carbon Neutrality movement can provide a launching pad for more efforts - a network of support

Tell us about your work experience:

Homegrown on an upstate NY family-owned dairy farm, food is my passion. I work as a learning and discovery coach for an iNGO that focuses on solving global hunger and poverty.


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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Great inspiration Emily. I agree that universities (and schools) are great environments to create awareness, change behaviors and experiment. One of our team DFA NYU Studio has been working on food waste, in particular in the context of NYU campus, last semester. Sushma Ravindran Rodney Lobo you might want to comment further. 

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