Stony Brook University has long been a proponent for positive change by partnering with the community to develop a sustainable culture. The campus serves as a real-world setting for student interaction, and develops sustainable programs and services as a way to decrease the university’s impact on the natural environment.
As part of April’s Earthstock celebration, sustainability leaders gathered to discuss initiatives and challenges as the university works to create a greener campus experience. The panel discussion “Energy Campus Initiatives: Plans and Dreams for a Sustainable Campus,” was moderated by Malcolm Bowman, professor of marine sciences at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.
Terence Harrigan, associate vice president for the Department of Campus Operations and Maintenance, spoke of Stony Brook’s energy reduction efforts. “We’ve been very active the past 20 years,” said Harrigan. “We’ve been able to flatten our consumption curve and load, but there’s still lots to do. We’re working on migrating towards alternative energies to help us meet our ambitious goals for reductions in greenhouse gases and moving toward renewable energy.”
These efforts were recently recognized with the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) ‘Outstanding Commitment to Energy Efficiency’ award which recognizes NYPA customers for leadership and innovation in advancing clean energy projects throughout New York State.
Harrigan described the campus as “a little city” of more than 30,000 people, and shared some of the challenges associated with that.
“For new construction we’re required to build within a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver guideline, which means we have to ensure that different technologies are installed to manage our power consumption, how we use water, and how we use electricity and gas,” he said. “We need the ability to migrate towards alternative energy sources, whether it’s all on-site solar or off-site solar or offshore wind to be a more efficient and cleaner operation.”
Harrigan added that campus transportation is looking at different technologies as well. “It’s clear the industry is moving toward electric, and that will bring its own challenges,” he said. “How can we keep vehicles charged and improve turnaround times, for example. We’re looking at that not only for buses, but also for the university service vehicle fleets as well.”
“The university is a “major consumer of energy,” said Van Sullivan, executive director of the Faculty Student Association. “We’re also a major producer of waste products, so we try to improve the services on campus that have a direct relationship to energies consumed.”
One of those areas is food service, and Sullivan said Stony Brook has made commitments to increase its use of compostable and fiber-based products. “We’re in the middle of converting to plant-based glasses,” he said. “All of the to-go containers are fiber and they’re relatively easy to biodegrade.”
However, Sullivan cautioned, creating “better trash” is still an expensive proposition. “The real answer is to simply use less of these disposables all the way around,” he noted. “We made a commitment during the COVID pandemic to use aluminum and metal bottles instead of plastic. We encourage reusable cups and containers and we continue to educate our constituency on that because it’s something we can actually do to make a change in our energy consumption.”
Sullivan also noted that a massive amount of energy goes into ‘menuing’ and transporting foods that are out-of-season all over the world when there’s other food available locally. “Strawberries are a great example of that; they were never a year-round fruit,” he said. “So, in addition to the packaging discussion, we have a responsibility to teach folks about these energy ramifications. It’s not just about cruelty and animal welfare; it’s also about the actual energy expended because it’s a wasteful methodology.”
Devinder Mahajan, professor of chemical and molecular engineering and director of graduate studies in the Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering, spoke about his research to help reduce carbon emissions.
“Our focus right now is on hydrogen and CO2,” said Mahajan. “CO2 emissions is the consequence of burning carbon and is a driver of climate change. Going forward, can we efficiently switch over, produce and utilize hydrogen for our energy needs? That’s the million-dollar question.”
In the Q&A portion of the discussion, Michael Youdelman, manager in Stony Brook’s Office of Sustainability/Recycling & Resource Management, stressed the importance of keeping these discussions in the public’s line of sight.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years and it’s an ongoing challenge to educate the public and to raise people’s awareness of the importance of protecting clean air, clean water and clean land,” he said. “But I have a positive view of our future. The Stony Brook community can move mountains, and it would be a difference that others would see. The message we all have to convey is that everybody can make a difference. What each and every one of us does adds up.”
— Robert Emproto