MY VIEW

Alumni encourage greener RPI

Today marks the 45th celebration of Earth Day. While much has been accomplished, both here at Rensselaer and worldwide, it is still vital that there is a sustained push for environmental sustainability. Examples of extreme weather, such as the California drought and superstorms like Sandy and Irene, are projected to become more frequent in a warmer climate.

Rensselaer’s motto is “Why Not Change the World?.” The world certainly needs changing if climate change is going to be mitigated, and the alumni of the Student Sustainability Task Force firmly believe that Rensselaer should be the leader. During our time at Rensselaer, we worked tirelessly to make that happen. But, we are disappointed that our alma mater remains far behind other colleges and universities in terms of sustainability. Many peer institutions have an Office of Sustainability with dedicated staff. At RPI, the idea was to have students, faculty, staff, and the administration working side-by-side to make Rensselaer more sustainable; thus, SSTF was formed. Major steps were taken, a and these include the 2009 Sustainability Charrette, the new sustainability studies major, single-stream recycling, the green roof over the Rensselaer Union bookstore, the creation of Vasudha, annual environmental events such as EarthFest, the EcoHall Challenge, and much more. These have been collaborative joint efforts between students, faculty, staff, and the administration. Sadly, efforts from the administration have dropped off in the past few years. In the last completed Rensselaer Sustainability Report, an examination of the state of sustainability at Rensselaer found that we, as an institution, are disappointingly behind.

We are concerned about Rensselaer being content to not lead on these important issues for several reasons. First, we want to see our alma mater continue to rise to new heights in the areas to which we devoted ourselves during our time there. Second, Rensselaer has the opportunity to be the leader when it comes to sustainability. The engineers and scientists being educated here today need to gain the skill set to deal with complex environmental problems. Third, one of the tenets of The Rensselaer Plan is to encourage socially active students. Many young people are concerned about environmental issues; we worry that these socially active young people will go to other colleges that are ahead of Rensselaer. Fourth, sustainability can have an economic upside—if not in the short term, then in the long term. RPI has outdated infrastructure issues, as evidenced by the upcoming closure of North Hall and E-Complex. Greening these buildings and others in need of updates will save money in reduced utility bills.

It is time for another push towards sustainability. Currently, a couple groups of incredibly dedicated and motivated students are working hard to make sustainability happen at RPI. Their leadership and initiative has led to many great student-led projects. We don’t want to take away from that, but we believe that leadership coming from the administration, as we saw for the 2009 Sustainability Charrette, would go a long way. Certain projects require leadership from the administration; student leaders can suggest these projects, but cannot see them through implementation on their own. Another sustainability charrette, perhaps using findings from the 2014 sustainability report, would be a great way to get the conversation going and figure out the next steps to take for a greener Rensselaer.

Current Rensselaer students in the SSTF are working on a green revolving fund, which is an excellent step towards finding funding for green projects at RPI. Their pilot project was recently approved and we hope that the GRF keeps moving forward; other colleges have seen great results from their GRFs and we are sure that RPI can garner the same success. Not only will the GRF green Rensselaer, but students will gain valuable research and project management skills when creating project proposals. The GRF is one example where SSTF members and the administration will need to work together to come up with a workable method for selecting projects and other details of the fund. We are excited to see this project come to fruition, as it will provide the means to implement sustainability projects.

Rensselaer was making great strides towards sustainability for several years, prior to Fall 2011. We firmly believe that Rensselaer can get back on track and become one of the greenest colleges in the nation, from academics to facilities to staff training to student life. We respectfully ask the administration to take the leadership to do so, working with the student leaders, SSTF, and the other environmental clubs and organizations on campus.

Elizabeth Anderson ’14G

Former SSTF Chair,

Co-Chairperson

Benjamin Cohen ’11G

Founder and Former

SSTF Co-Chairperson

Benjamin Hunt ’11G

Former SSTF Chairperson

Jaron Kuppers ’12G

Former SSTF Co-Chairperson

Jesse Noviello ’15

Former SSTF Co-Chairperson

Sarah Parks ’12G

Founder and Former

SSTF Co-Chairperson

Roger Barrett Rehr ’12

Former SSTF Chairperson