At New York University, green is the new violet

By Christopher James and Alicia D. Hurley

It started with one of the nation’s largest wind purchases and a university making a decision to invest in a new green cogeneration plant. Now, New York University’s greening agenda has become a major focus throughout the university. From top to bottom and bottom to top, ideas, research and testing of theories have led to a major research university becoming a greener one. Here are just some of the great initiatives happening at N.Y.U.:

N.Y.U. cogeneration

On schedule to flip the switch in April 2010, the university’s cogeneration plant installation marks an important “bottoming out” threshold this month. The site is fully dug out and the installation of the equipment will now begin. Once operating, the cogeneration plant will significantly reduce greenhouse emissions, improve our energy efficiency, and allow more university buildings to come off of the local grid. Furthermore, on top of the new cogeneration facility will be a new green public open space lush with trees and plants.


The second annual residence hall energy reduction challenge, N.Y.U.nplugged, is taking place this month as part of New York University’s celebration of “Earth April 2009.” The contest awards a trophy and a “party in the dark” to the hall that lowers its electricity use by the greatest percentage against a baseline of historical usage.

In the first week, N.Y.U.nplugged has already created impressive results, with nearly all residence halls reducing consumption, and a 4.84 percent reduction in energy consumption across all residence halls compared to the same period in 2008.

Sponsoring green grants

In May 2008, the N.Y.U. Sustainability Task Force awarded $150,000 in grants to 23 projects that would focus research and efforts toward energy, food, landscape, outreach, procurement, transportation and waste. Here are a few:

2nd Annual Green Apple Move Out 2009: Last year’s program was wildly successful, as more than 8 tons of reusable items — clothing, bedding, food, small appliances — were collected during the first two weeks in May from 10 of the university’s residence halls and donated to local charities. This year’s collection and donation program will run May 1-17 and include all 23 of N.Y.U.’s residence halls.

N.Y.U. bike share: Modeled after the Velíb program in Paris, this is a student-led initiative. Its goal is to make bicycles available to students, staff and faculty for free casual use around campus.

The pilot program is equipped with 30 easy-to-ride bicycles, uniform and almost new, which are distributed between two hubs: the residence hall at Seventh St. and behind Tisch Hall on W. Fourth St. People can register for the bikes over the Internet using their university ID number.

Composting initiative: N.Y.U. is composting its organic waste from the N.Y.U. Dining halls and dorm buildings — perhaps the biggest project of its kind in New York City. In September, 34 tons of compostable material was picked up from seven buildings and 12 dining areas. The organic waste is taken to McEnroe Organic Farm in Upstate New York for processing. N.Y.U. hopes to expand the program to more locations.

N.Y.U. dining: N.Y.U. Dining has implemented sustainable practices in its daily operations. N.Y.U. Dining is utilizing biodegradable meal containers and disposable utensils made from potato byproducts instead of plastic, buying fair trade coffee for all dining halls, and increasing the purchases of sustainable local produce and seafood.

“Tray-less dining”: Under a new initiative started this year, N.Y.U. Dining has removed trays from the majority of residential dining locations to reduce food waste and to conserve water and energy.

Since the implementation of tray-less dining, each student has reduced food waste by 1 pound per student per meal on average. That translates to a reduction of 21,750 pounds of food waste in a semester at each tray-less dining location. In addition to reducing food waste, tray-less dining also conserves water and reduces the amount of chemicals deposited into the earth from cleaning supplies.

Million Trees NYC: N.Y.U. Dining services is participating in the NYC Cares/MillionTreesNYC campaign by a “Skip the Plastic and Plant a Tree” initiative, beginning April 20 and running through Arbor Day, April 24, in the dining halls with Meals 2 Go and C-store purchases.

When students skip the plastic bags, they are given a “coin” to drop in the “Plant A Tree Bank,” located in each participating dining facility. At the end of the week, Dining Services will make a donation to Million Trees NYC. A similar skip-the-bag program has also been implemented in the N.Y.U. book and computer stores.

“Donate a Meal”: N.Y.U. meal plan members will be allowed to donate up to three meals to Two Birds, One Stone — a group founded by an N.Y.U. student and dedicated to feeding New York City’s hungry and reducing landfill waste — on Earth Day 2009.

Dining Services currently donates leftover food that is fit for consumption to the organization on a weekly basis, but “Donate a Meal” allows students who may have extra meals left as we near the end of the semester an opportunity to donate them to a worthy cause.

Earth Day: N.Y.U. is participating in the 39th annual Earth Day celebration with a variety of “green-themed” programming and activities, including a street fair and an environmental networking dinner.

N.Y.U. kicked off the celebration early with a weeklong schedule of events, including a lecture on Tues., April 21, by Oxford University’s climate-change expert Cameron Hepburn on the eve of Earth Day.

All Earth Day events are free and open to the public.

N.Y.U. is proud to be one of the most “green” universities in the country. N.Y.U. students, faculty and administrators agree that an investment in the environment is an investment in our school, community and future.

For the complete schedule of Earth Day/Week-related events, see www.nyu.edu/sustainability/get.involved/earth.week.html

Hurley is N.Y.U. vice president for government affairs and community engagement; James is a member of N.Y.U.’s media relations department and N.Y.U.’s Sustainability Task Force