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Students, faculty share thoughts on Rutgers sustainability efforts

RU Compost, a student sustainability organization, has faced a lack of funding and advertising, which has disallowed it from expanding its services.  – Photo by Conscious Design / Unsplash

On September 24, 2021, during his second address to the University Senate, University President Jonathan Holloway announced the University’s Climate Action Plan, which outlined Rutgers’ sustainability goals. 

To achieve these goals, which include reaching carbon neutrality by 2040, Rutgers also established an Office of Climate Action, led by Robert Kopp, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Kevin Lyons, an associate professor of professional practice in the Department of Supply Chain Management. 

As the University takes strides toward creating a more energy-efficient campus, faculty and students have varying reactions to these efforts.

To experts who were a part of the Climate Action Plan’s creation process, such as David Robinson, a distinguished professor in the Department of Geography, the University is moving in the right direction.

He said that while the plan is a good starting point, there may need to be adjustments to the University’s goals and initiatives as time goes on.

Robinson said that Rutgers encourages reducing its carbon footprint through various channels including the recycling system, initiatives by Dining Services and intentional bus scheduling.

“I’m on the Livingston campus, and I’ve been on it for 30 years," he said. "I’ve seen the solar farm, which is adjacent to campus, before they put the solar roofs on the parking lots. It was the largest solar campus in the country at that time."

Though, some members of the student body think much more should be done University-wide to raise awareness about carbon emissions and the necessity of environmental justice for the plan to reap adequate results. 

Tamar Novik, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences first-year, said that the University is not doing all that it can to provide education about carbon emissions and that students usually need to independently seek out resources related to the issue.

She said that some student-run organizations such as RU Compost, which provide students with opportunities to practice sustainability, experience a lack of advertising and funding.

Novik said that with the University’s support, RU Compost and other organizations can expand their services and help more students integrate sustainability into their lives.

“I really think Rutgers could partner with more with more student organizations to help ... promote sustainability, the Climate Action Plan (and) give students resources that they really need,” she said.

Additionally, Novik said the University should send out weekly reports or social media messages on sustainability, such as state environmental legislation, to better raise awareness of environmental issues that affect the student body.

As a land-grant institution, Rutgers should also focus on incorporating Indigenous sustainability practices into its activities such as farming, she said. The University’s agriculture should not include pesticides and chemicals, Novik said.

Similarly, Julia Hackney, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said she feels there could be improvement in environmental awareness for students, suggesting the possibility of mandatory classes.

Hackney said that Rutgers leaves a large carbon footprint due to the size of its campus and the number of vehicles in its fleet. She said that while she supports the Climate Action Plan, more students should be aware about its existence.

Robinson said that considering the fact that Rutgers is located in one of the fastest-warming states in the country with the highest rates of sea level rise, it is an optimal place to educate individuals about climate change.

“We’re a university — we’re a bastion of understanding and education, and we’re the state university, so I think it is our privilege and our obligation to enhance the understanding ... of where we sit in (relation) to our environment,” said Robinson.

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