The State of New York Sustainability Conference, held at Colgate on Wednesday, November 7 and Thursday, November 8, consisted of a series of keynote presentations, meetings and vendor showcases revolving around the conference theme of integrating sustainable development goals into New York campuses.
“Through the robust exchange of ideas, dissemination of best practices, sharing of innovations and bonding with your fellow sustainability professionals, this conference truly illustrates the power of collective impact,” Director of Sustainability at the University of Albany Mary Ellen Mallia said in a letter included in the Sustainability Conference program. “We value the support and engagement of our members and sustainability practitioners from across the state.”
Director of Sustainability John Pumilio reiterated the points Mallia made and explained the importance of people advocating for sustainability in higher education.
“Our work matters,” Pumilio said. “Each of us is a leader and can contribute to positive change on our respective campuses. Collectively, our campuses can influence positive change at the state level.”
Colgate hosted State University of New York (SUNY) system Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, PhD, and Dr. Robin W. Kimmerer, PhD, as keynote speakers for the State of New York Sustainability Conference.
As the 13th and current Chancellor of SUNY, Johnson has founded several successful electronics companies, worked as the Dean of the School of Engineering at Duke University and served as Under Secretary of Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy under the Obama Administration. She also founded Enduring Hydro, an energy firm focused on hydropower energy.
Johnson addressed both problems and solutions related to the sustainability challenges and climate issues that the world faces. She expressed concerns for human civilization, not just the planet, in coming decades, and discussed her conviction that the greatest danger to humans and the planet is the belief that someone else will save it. Drawing on predictions from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Johnson called for the need for multi-pronged approaches for adapting to climate change, emphasizing the need to revolutionize the economy by decarbonizing the electric sector, modernizing the grid and balancing renewables, fossil and nuclear, among other goals.
Amidst technical discussions of the logistics of investing in and optimizing renewable energy sources and techniques, Johnson said that every individual can take steps that both reduce their carbon footprint and save money.
She pointed to investing in better insulation to reduce heating needs as an example. Johnson said that in order to attract investors, the renewable energy sector needs not only strong but also consistent policies of incentives that do not get uprooted every time political power shifts. She said the burden of the climate problem and energy crisis will fall primarily on the shoulders of today’s young adults.
Johnson also acknowledged the challenges she perceives in find- ing solutions to climate change, but still expressed a sense of humor and optimism. Johnson told a story about how she used to replace the incandescent light bulbs in hotels she stayed at for energy conferences with much more energy-efficient LED bulbs, calculating and reporting to the hotel manager exactly how much energy and money the hotel would save. She stated her belief that this sort of individual initiative and ingenuity is what the nation’s and the world’s rising citizens should take to heart when addressing issues of climate change.
Johnson said she has hope for the future, pointing to the fact that her audience was composed of a community of passionate professionals who are dedicated to sustainability, working to improve institutions of higher education, the economy and the lifestyles of the general public.
Contact Kelsey Bonham at [email protected]