Our NYU: April 20, 2021
A Note from President Hamilton
The sprint to exams is well underway now, and we once again face the annual springtime challenge, when lovely weather beckons us outside but our school work and projects keep us bound to our desks. This year, we also find ourselves in an especially peculiar limbo, not yet out of the COVID-19 woods but buoyed by growing hope. I applaud you all for how hard you’ve worked and how far you’ve come in a year that challenged us all.
Spring also augurs Earth Day (and here on campus, Earth Month) and the opportunity to join with our community to learn more about sustainability, the environment, and how to take meaningful, enduring action.
When I became president of NYU, I committed to ensuring the University continues to excel in sustainability. Indeed, it is a key initiative here at NYU, where we recognize that climate change holds remarkable and complex consequences for the planet’s ecosystems, the global economy, and the movement and health of people around the world. We continue to move forward with our Climate Action Plan: we are progressing toward our goal of a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and we’ve upped the ante as well, embarking on a new commitment to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai by 2030.
Our hard work seems to be paying off. Among more than 400 colleges and universities, NYU was ranked No. 43 by the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges, based on our sustainability practices, education, and a healthy quality of life for students. Of those employees who are working on campus, more are commuting via bicycle—a sevenfold increase from 2009 to 2019!—and are taking advantage of the nearly doubled bike parking capacity in certain areas on campus. We also earned a prestigious gold rating in the STARS ranking system, positioning us in the top 30 percent of schools nationally.
Just as the effects of climate change touch nearly every sector of the world, those in our community are focused on sustainability in myriad ways. NYU Dentistry, for example, recently completed a school-wide LED-light conversion project. Stern launched a new executive education course, Leadership for the 21st Century: Delivering on Purpose and Profit, that incorporates environmental sustainability as an essential component of the shifting paradigm for today’s business leaders. Antonios Vouloudis was recently named as NYU Abu Dhabi’s first director of sustainability and stewardship, and will help continue to embed environmental practices and policies into the fabric of NYUAD’s community. And NYU Shanghai faculty won an NYU Green Grant to build a Re-Makerspace, a campus hub where the community can learn how to compost and upcycle.
As we continue to focus on the extraordinary needs that have arisen this year, and take time to care for ourselves, our families, and loved ones, we cannot ignore the critical need to care for the Earth or acknowledge the outsize impact sustainability has on our lives. Although we celebrate Earth Day once a year, let’s remember that even the small choices we make every day can make a big difference, on us as individuals, on our environment, our community, and our world.
We’ve been making steady progress with our Climate Action Plan (and adding goals), including our new Cool Food Pledge, and received recognition as a leading green college among hundreds nationwide. To learn about our recent accomplishments and more, don’t miss our 2021 State of Sustainability address, where I had the honor to speak alongside Provost Katherine Fleming and Chief Sustainability Officer Cecil Scheib.
AI seems to have no bounds in terms of the challenges it can take on. A team of scientists led by Laure Zanna, a professor at the Courant Institute and the Center for Data Science, will work to enhance climate-change projections by improving climate simulations using artificial intelligence. Current simulations have difficulty capturing climate processes, but AI and machine-learning tools can improve accuracy and predictions to help inform policymakers and scientists.
Did you know that NYU is one of the greenest urban campuses in the country? I saw this in abundance when I recently took part in our green campus tour—which you’re welcome to check out, too, on foot or by bicycle—and viewed the green roof on GCASL (above), the native woodland garden at Schwartz Plaza, and the lovely Sasaki Gardens, home to Japanese crabapple, willow trees, and plenty of songbirds.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and students in NYU Shanghai’s Interactive Media Arts and Community Engaged Learning class, Remade in China, put that old adage to the test. They ascertained the needs of community members and transformed discarded materials into useful items, such as space-saving bookshelves for the campus bookstore and a chair (above) made of wood and several dozen recycled bags for the cafeteria staff.
Adjusting our farming techniques is critical in terms of creating lasting sustainability practices. Plant scientists have long known that fertilizer is costly and harmful to the environment, though it yields better crops. In a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Gloria Coruzzi of the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology discovered the mechanisms by which plants adjust their growth according to the nitrogen dose—a key finding that could help enhance growth and limit fertilizer use. (Photo of Arabidopsis, the plant studied.)
I’m so proud of the leadership NYU Tandon is taking in terms of tackling the significant role that chemical processes in manufacturing play in carbon emissions. The school recently forged a collaboration with more than a dozen institutions, called Decarbonizing Chemical Manufacturing Using Sustainable Electrification—to examine existing thermally driven processes and explore more energy-efficient processes that use renewable resources—to help the chemical manufacturing industry reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In other news, I’m thrilled to report that NYU’s vaccination program is up and running on campus! We’ve been getting a limited supply of the Pfizer vaccine each week for students (like Ritvik Chakradhar, Steinhardt ’22, above). Vaccines will be required for students in fall 2021, and we strongly urge everyone in the community to avail themselves of a vaccine either at NYU or one of the many vaccine sites or pharmacies in the city or tristate area.