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Princeton Sustainability

Ruthie Schwab
Ruthie Schwab, a member of the class of 2009, tended the summer squash in the organic garden students created in summer 2008 north of Forbes College. With help from several University departments and funding from the High Meadows Foundation, the students expanded from the previous year’s 12-by-55-foot pilot plot to a 1.5 acre lot filled with a variety of vegetables and herbs.
Electric Vechicle
The University has purchased six electric vehicles to replace gas-powered trucks and vans as part of its sustainability efforts. The two-passenger vehicles, which are similar to small pickup trucks, are powered entirely by electricity, so they produce no carbon emissions.
Student Environmental Communication Network
With support from the High Meadows Foundation, the Student Environmental Communication Network has been working to better tell the story of sustainability to a wider audience.

There are key moments in the past decade that seemed to galvanize sustainability into a field with substantial professional, social and political traction. I think of these as convergence events, when multiple factors collide to indicate a change in direction. The first moment that caught my attention was a culture shift in facilities organizations when the U.S. Green Building Council developed its LEED certification system for buildings.

The burgeoning science of climate change was also a key turning point, resulting from the convergence of data and accumulated scientific knowledge from the world's foremost climate researchers, some of whom are here at Princeton.

From the necessarily tentative modeling predictions of the earliest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 1990, we now see reports demonstrating a level of scientific certainty that is essentially unassailable in its message that humans are impacting the global climate in dramatic ways. The import of this message was significant enough to garner a Nobel Prize for the IPCC (and Al Gore) in 2007. (Editor's note: Eight PEI associated faculty members contributed to the 2007 IPCC report: Mike Celia, Isaac Held, Denise Mauzerall, Michael Oppenheimer, Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, Jorge Sarmiento, Robert Socolow and Robert Williams).

The timing of Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” created something of a tipping point for many students, who came to Princeton in the fall of 2006 wanting to be involved in solutions and to adjust their career paths.

The convergences continue. More recently, on October 5, 2009, President Obama released an Executive Order outlining “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.” This EO defines a policy for all federal agencies to adopt aggressive sustainability measures in all areas, with particular focus on greenhouse gas emission reduction, measurement, verification, and transparency. The policy is very much in line with the goal of realizing systemic shifts in everyday behavior sought by many institutions of higher education, including Princeton.

On November 3, 2009, Princeton released its first Sustainability Progress Report in response to the adoption of its comprehensive Sustainability Plan in February 2008. An effort driven by a coalition of partners from across campus, this 2009 Report is the first of a progression of reports tracking progress toward goals primarily anchored to a 2020 deadline. (To see the report, please go to www.princeton.edu/sustainability). This report is a foundational document. We will surely see progress and setbacks in the future compared to this baseline. But more important than any one success or shortfall will be the overall strength of the synergies that form across campus programs over time.

Program convergences show signs of surging at Princeton. Long-standing and new individual efforts are bumping up against complementary projects, at a faster pace and with potentially broader impact than before. The Sustainability Office was created in part to help build a framework for fostering effective partnerships. For example, Outdoor Action has infused its program with sustainability operations and curriculum over the past two years, thanks in large part to Princeton’s High Meadows Sustainability Fund. It seeks to drive the principles of sustainability learned by students on the trail into the everyday campus life experience.

The student EcoReps are developing curriculum for the Residential Education Program for all incoming freshman. The objectives of Outdoor Action and the EcoReps are uniting, and they are exploring a potential partnership. There are other examples. Seeking collaborations among student groups is now part of the regular duties of environmental club officers through the Princeton Environmental Network (PEN) — something that was not the case three years ago. More Princeton faculty researchers are partnering with Facilities to investigate sustainability using the campus as a laboratory. (A good example is PEI’s Butler green roof study.) These activities indicate a shift in how we, as a campus, are practicing what it means to integrate sustainability into our core functions.