Earlier today, President Bollinger announced the next phase of Columbia’s Sustainability Plan, which outlines emissions and sustainability goals for the next ten years. 

In an email Thursday morning, President Bollinger announced the launch of Plan 2030, the next phase in Columbia’s Sustainability Plan. The University ultimately aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, and Plan 2030 outlines its goals for the next nine years. The plan was developed in conjunction with the faculty and scientists from the Earth Institute, using guidelines from the United Nations Environment Programme. 

By 2030, Columbia aims to achieve an overall reduction in emissions of 42 percent from a 2019 baseline. To this end, it has set emissions targets for Morningside, Manhattanville, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  To reach these targets, Plan 2030 outlines strategies to shift to zero emission electricity, campus electrification, and decarbonized transportation. Additionally, it calls for the establishment of aggressive sustainability requirements for the construction of new buildings and the maintenance of existing ones. A student sustainability education program is in development, with the goal of raising environmental awareness among students and providing opportunities to participate in sustainability-related projects. 

President Bollinger acknowledged that the sustainability initiative is grounded in a recognition of the relation between social justice and environmental justice, as well as the need to alleviate the burden on marginalized groups that are disproportionately affected by environmental issues. 

Plan 2030 aligns with the Paris Accords’ goal to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. It builds on the success of the first phase of Columbia’s Sustainability Plan, which was announced in 2017. 

President Bollinger wrote that the plan will require “transformational change,” and that its success depends on participation and involvement from all campuses and departments. He invited those interested in becoming involved with the plan to think about joining the Sustainable Leaders Network.

The full text of the email from President Bollinger can be found below. 

Email from President Bollinger to students, sent on April 22 at 11:05 AM:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I write to announce the launch of the next stage of Columbia University’s Sustainability Plan. Plan 2030 outlines a series of carefully devised and tangible goals to be reached over the next ten years, 2021-2030. Grounded in climate science, much of it originating here at Columbia, this plan will put our campuses on a path towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Plan 2030 centralizes sustainability efforts into one University-wide plan that encompasses all of Columbia’s campuses. Emissions targets have been set for Morningside, Manhattanville, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, with the objective of achieving an overall reduction of 42 percent by 2030, 63 percent by 2035, and 100 percent by 2050, all from a 2019 baseline. Each campus will also continue to publicly report its own absolute emissions reduction progress from pre-set baseline years.

To reach these targets, Plan 2030 offers a comprehensive set of operations strategies. They include plans to shift entirely to zero emission electricity, electrify the campuses, decarbonize transportation, and send zero waste to landfills. They call for the creation of policies that establish clear and aggressive sustainability requirements for the construction and design of new buildings and the maintenance of existing ones. Further, they strengthen efforts to raise awareness among students on these issues through the development of a student sustainability education program and opportunities to participate in related projects and coursework.

The emission reduction targets outlined in this plan were developed in consultation with experts in climate and key Earth Institute faculty to ensure that they are science-based; the goals and strategies were developed by working groups of facilities management, faculty representatives, and students to ensure they are operationally sound. The process was led by Environmental Stewardship in partnership with the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee, comprising climate researchers and scholars and operations specialists. They follow on the successes of Columbia’s first, three-year Sustainability Plan from 2017, which gathered the baseline data used to set the strategic and rigorous targets put forth in this plan.

Plan 2030 aligns with global accords like the Paris Agreement to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. It is also driven by a recognition that addressing this crisis is, at its core, about advancing social justice and alleviating the burden on underserved and marginalized communities that are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The threats posed by the climate crisis demand collective action from our institutions in general and our universities in particular. As I said in my message earlier this week announcing the Climate School leadership, Columbia has strengthened efforts to meet these challenges in recent years by launching the Climate School, committing to carbon neutrality, and formalizing divestment from thermal coal and a non-investment policy for gas and oil companies unless they meet certain criteria or develop a process to transition to net zero emissions. Plan 2030 builds on this work by furthering our commitment to sustainability in ways that will have a lasting impact on our campus operations and culture in the years ahead.

Plan 2030 will require transformational change across campuses, schools, and departments. Its success is heavily dependent on participation from all of us at all levels. For individuals interested in deepening their involvement on these issues, think about joining the Sustainable Leaders Network. For departmental leaders curious about strategies for deepening their sustainability efforts, reach out to Environmental Stewardship at environment@columbia.edu. And for faculty members who would like to learn more about capstone and other projects for students, consider ways to use Columbia’s campus as a living lab.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee, Environmental Stewardship, and all faculty, students, and staff who helped shape and strengthen Plan 2030.


Lee C. Bollinger

Earth via Bwog Archives.