Extend Sustainable Practices Beyond COVID-19

Attention to sustainability has always been a key ingredient to the Colgate formula. It’s a talking point in campus tours, admission materials and in student lives. In its bicentennial year (2019), Colgate reached carbon neutrality while working towards its goal of being a “zero-landfill waste campus by 2025,” according to Pamela Gramlich, Assistant Director of Sustainability and PC Environmental Studies. However, the spread of COVID-19 has positively and negatively influenced various aspects of Colgate sustainability. As we cope with our lifestyle changes as a result of COVID-19, we mustn’t lose sight of our commitment to sustainability. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced carbon reductions in different aspects of campus operations. For instance, there have been huge cutbacks on emissions from transportation. Since students cannot park or drive up to campus for class this semester, students are walking, taking the cruiser and biking. Colgate’s Green Bikes Program, where students can rent bicycles for 15 dollars a month, has been in such high demand that many students are still on the waitlist hoping to receive bikes soon. In fact, this mirrors a national dilemma; bikes have been in high demand across the US for months as people turned to them as a replacement for both public transportation and the gym. As long as the weather holds out, bikes will continue to be a viable solution for both issues. 

Additionally, the cancellation of the Patriot League’s fall season also cuts down on emissions. Whether it is driving a bus a few hours away to compete, or flying a whole team halfway across the country to play, the lack of fall competition has saved tons of CO2 — literally. Let’s crunch some numbers. For Colgate Athletics to fly just the starting lineup of the football team from Syracuse to Colorado Springs to play Air Force, they burned 10.5 tonnes of CO2. Add players or change airports, and the amount of carbon burned only goes up. The same goes for professors and faculty as well. With annual conferences being canceled and the university discouraging non-essential travel, including for research, the reduction in travel continues to reduce emissions. The inability to study abroad for the fall term also cuts down on Colgate’s carbon footprint with several hundred fewer students taking flights across the globe. Furthermore, the ability for students to opt for fully remote studying  along with the cutting of October break travel and the abbreviated semester saving another round trip to and from Colgate for Thanksgiving limits carbon emissions even more. These may be unfortunate for the Colgate community, but for the environment, COVID-19 may not have been all bad…

Meanwhile, many Colgate classes that used to require students to print out stacks of class materials are delivering most of the class materials online upon recognizing many health risks and inconveniences associated with COVID-19. This saves hundreds of thousands of pounds of paper used to print, reducing Colgate’s waste production, and further cutting back Colgate’s carbon footprint.

However, many sanitation efforts have translated to increased waste production. Gramlich points to food waste as a major source of waste production. As many students rely on meal deliveries and take-outs this semester, there is significantly more waste in disposable food packaging. Meanwhile, Colgate is working with Chartwells to provide students with sustainable and minimally-packaged options. Nonetheless, Colgate’s grab-and-go initiative, where students use disposable food packages in dining halls to take food out, has somewhat undermined such efforts. 

The Office of Sustainability is still working hard to work with students through their Sust 101 Course, Sustainability Representatives Program and other programming via Zoom to keep students engaged and thinking about our relationship with the world. There are also some in-person opportunities regarding sustainability, including volunteering in the Community Garden, that the COVE, Ciccione Commons and other groups are taking advantage of this semester. 

Additionally, Sustainability Intern Caylea Barone says that the Office is also prioritizing wellness this semester, reminding students to focus on behaviors we as individuals can control. Climate change may not be something that a single person can solve, but individual efforts such as turning off lights when not in use, reducing food waste and avoiding plastics whenever possible all add up. 

So Colgate is still paying attention to sustainability. What else can we do? While living in a tumultuous time, there is much we can learn from such a simple, even limited lifestyle. Practices such as turning to sustainable ways of transportation and paperless instructions have always been possible but never realized because we never had the “need” to. Video-calling and video conferences have informed new ways of connecting to the world outside of Hamilton without necessitating traveling. These practices are developed during COVID-19 as means of continuing our lives while social distancing. However, they don’t have to be limited to COVID times and could prove environmentally friendly if permanently enacted. Meanwhile, students can continue their recycling efforts, save energy and water resources and try to get reasonable portions of food with minimal packaging. Earth’s clock is ticking.