Colgate Aims For Climate Neutrality

In order to uphold the institutional commitment that demands Colgate University achieve climate neutrality by 2019, the Office of Sustainability has advanced numerous initiatives to accomplish this goal and create a more sustainable campus. The Sustainability and Climate Action Plan comprises various student organizations, campus events and environmental changes that will ensure that Colgate is climate-neutral by 2019.

Initiatives such as Recyclemania, Students for Environmental Action, Green Thumbs, Green Bikes, Good Food Forum, Composting Club, Campus Ecology Club and Green Earth Game are all part of this University-wide campaign.

“We took the best of the best and put them into the Climate Action Plan. Every year we have a group of projects that we’re trying to implement and once we implement them we should see our carbon footprint go down every year, and it is going down every year,” Director of Sustainability John Pumilio said.  The university has also contributed to sustainability efforts. The Common Application is no longer printed, new showerheads that use less water were installed last summer and more energy-efficient light bulbs were distributed last semester to reduce the university’s electricity use and effectively decrease its carbon footprint.

According to Pumilio, Colgate’s recycling rate has steadily increased over the past four years, reaching 22 percent last year. Pumilio said Colgate is hoping to reach 25 percent this year.

Another initiative to promote sustainability is the Green Living Program, which was introduced last semester and is run primarily by students. Student Eco-Reps, known as Green Raiders, promote behavior change in the six first-year residence halls by encouraging students to make simple changes to be more sustainable.

“Our hope is that by teaching these habits when people are first-years, they will carry them out throughout the years,” Sustainability Program Assistant Sheila Reagan said.

Eco-Rep senior Stephen Dickinson also hopes to make an impact on the student body.

“I decided to get involved with Colgate’s sustainability program because I thought that if we could get people in their college years to realize the importance of living with sustainability in their minds, they will take this knowledge with them into the real world,” Dickinson said. 

The Green Living Program will be expanded next year to include sophomore residence halls, according to Pumilio.

Pumilio said that there are many actions involving a low level of commitment that make a substantial difference when hundreds of students do them, such as using the compact fluorescent bulbs or reusable mugs that were given to all first-year students.

“If they did these one or two changes then it would help move the entire institution,” Pumilio said.

As part of the Climate Action Plan, Colgate University is participating in Recyclemania this semester. A ten-week competition that includes 600 universities, Recyclemania requires its participants to weigh and quantify its recyclables. Colgate is currently in the pre-season of the competition, which mostly includes gathering data.

“I encourage people to pick one thing that they’re really interested in and then go from there,” Reagan said. “There are also great classes that can inform students about better ways to live.”

Many of the clubs are planning ways to expand their influence on campus. Green Thumbs manages a half-acre garden behind Newell Apartments that provides the Colgate community with local food grown by students. Green Thumbs Co-President senior Jess Halter said the garden produce is served in Frank Dining Hall, but this semester the Green Thumbs hopes to supply to the local food cupboard and weekly Shabbat services, as well.

Office of Sustainability Intern senior Haley Mirr commented thart composting has become more prominent in off-campus housing and interest housing areas.

Pumilio said the Climate Action Plan is successful in that it is creating a movement, and that each year the amount of awareness, support and projects increases.

“We’re starting to see the results of that [movement] in our indicators like our carbon footprint, the amount of money we spend on energy, the amount of water that we use, the amount of landfill waste that we do, the way we treat people and the inclusiveness of our programs,” Pumilio said.

“Colgate has improved immensely in the field of sustainability, much help to the vision of John Pumilio. I don’t think there is anywhere to go but up,” Mirr said. 

Pumilio maintains that sustainability is the most important issue in history and that society is on a trajectory that cannot last.

“Change is coming one way or another …  So that’s what drives me day in and day out,” Pumilio said. “We need to find a way to exist as a society in a post-carbon world. And that’s part of what our programs are doing on a small local scale. How do we figure out as a university how to exist without using carbon? That’s a hard thing to do, but that’s the challenge that we set forth.”

Contact Julia Queller at

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