Go Green, Maroon

By James Leach and Rebecca Costello

Illustrations by David Foster

Colgate has pledged that its operating impact on climate change will be zero by 2019. The university will be, in a word, sustainable.
John Pumilio, Colgate’s director of sustainability
John Pumilio arrived on campus five years ago to coordinate the drive to sustainability. For all the university has achieved in that time — which includes more than a half-million dollars in savings, and carbon emissions reduced by more than 20 percent — Pumilio said, “we are like a molecule in the ocean of global carbon emissions.”
      Where Colgate’s efforts are having their biggest influence, he said, is on students, who take a new environmental consciousness with them into the world.
      “We’re graduating tomorrow’s leaders, and who knows what roles they’ll play, what businesses they’ll start, how they will lead?” he said. “If we can influence our laboratory, which is Colgate’s campus, that’s a source of inspiration, not only for our students but also for other institutions across the country. Every day, when students live with our solar panels, our willow plot, our community garden, our wood-fired heating plant — all sustainable approaches — it starts to get into their mind-set.”
      From common-sense applications such as two-sided printing and low-flow showerheads to the innovative purchase of carbon offsets in Chilean Patagonia to fostering students’ own efforts in and out of the classroom, here’s a glimpse at a model program that’s reducing Colgate’s environmental impact, saving money, and helping students to think and live green.

Pied piper of preservation
John Pumilio is at once intense and soft-spoken, driven and collegial, emotional and analytical, practical and philosophical. And everywhere.
      As Colgate’s director of sustainability, Pumilio employs scientific knowledge, social intelligence, hard work, and an infectious love of nature (birding in particular) in a relentless effort to raise the environmental awareness of students, professors, and staff members.
      He’d worked as a field biologist before he switched to sustainability. But, when he saw a rare Florida panther die from man-made changes in the environment, he had an epiphany. He dedicated himself to helping us answer the question, “How can we prosper as individuals, organizations, and socie-ties in a way that enhances our quality of life while protecting and restoring our environment?”
    Pumilio can talk the talk, for sure. Citing “parts per million” and “climate sensitivity” and “emission factors,” he can detail global climate change and rattle off daunting statistics that leave no doubt “we have until about 2050 to figure this all out.” But his compassion and sincerity are what set him apart. He is the antithesis of the wild-eyed ideologue. When an environmental discussion grows heated, it’s often Pumilio who thoughtfully and tolerantly brings things back to reality.
    He is a catalyst. “If people count on me to make Colgate sustainable, it’s not going to happen,” he told the Scene shortly after he was hired in 2009. “But if everyone considers sustainability as they teach, learn, and perform their day-to-day work, then we’ll get to where we need to go, and I’m just here as a help desk.”

      He defers all credit, especially to the student activists and interns who staff programs across campus and beyond. They are Green Raiders and Eco-Reps in the residence halls, Green Thumbs in the Community Garden, bloggers, recyclers, composters, green bicyclists, Students for Environmental Action, and students taking environmental studies courses. And Pumilio is their guy: their source, their cheerleader, their confidant.
      Their efforts are reported on these pages and in further detail on the university’s sustainability webpages. Go to colgate.edu/green, and allow yourself some time; the links keep coming. You have to dig for Pumilio’s name, but his influence is everywhere.

      He describes the changes he has helped bring about to date as “practical, low-hanging fruit.” But, “the real beauty of sustainability comes in building resiliency,” he said, imagining a day when Colgate could treat and recycle its own water, or produce as much energy as it consumes.
      “Colgate’s culture is innovative and entrepreneurial,” he said. “The university hasn’t reached that level in sustainability yet, but when it does, I say, ‘Look out.’”

Recyclemaniacs: Behavior change is most likely to happen when there are models to follow. Green Raiders are interns who organize activities that educate and promote green living in all student residences.

Competing for green
Colgate students are always ready for a challenge, so residence-based competitions have become a way to inspire greener habits — and reduce energy costs.
      Last fall, eight fraternities and sororities competed in the Broad Street Energy Challenge. The first of its kind on a college campus, it was adapted from a similar challenge sponsored by the central New York region’s development and planning board.

      The six-week quest to lower energy and water consumption in Greek-letter houses was spearheaded by Green Raiders Kathryn Bacher ’14 and Breanna Giovanniello ’16. In addition to raising awareness, they hoped “to introduce the sustainability chairs to different projects that they might want to continue,” Bacher told the Maroon-News.
      Each house has a sustainability chair who rallied members in implementing composting and recycling, installing energy-efficient light bulbs and power strips, and becoming aware of water consumption. A post-competition quiz revealed what students had learned, from the concept of phantom power to why eating meat conserves fossil fuels.
      Among the challenge’s “measures of success,” Kappa Kappa Gamma came out at the bottom (a good thing!), reducing their electricity usage by 7 percent and water usage by 13 percent per person from September to October. And, after submitting their experience running the challenge, Bacher and Giovanniello were accepted to next year’s Clinton Global Initiative University conference.
      Then, for two weeks in November, the “Do it in the Dark” competition helped students in six residence halls learn how to save some watts. An online dashboard let them check out how much energy their halls were consuming in real time — good prep for a similar national competition against other universities this spring.

Offices go green

Information Technology Services is leading the pack in Colgate’s Green Office certification program. Departments earn points for implementing practices such as office supply swapping, eliminating disposable cups, and turning off office lights while out at meetings.
      Administrative assistant Denise Bolognone spearheaded IT’s sustainability practices, reducing their environmental impact and, she reported, saving money for her department.
      One change Bolognone made also benefits student entrepreneurs. She contracted with EcoCampus LLC for printer paper that is made from sugar cane parts that were previously treated as waste. Ryan Smith ’13 and Brendan Karson ’13 developed EcoCampus with guidance from alumni mentors in Colgate’s Thought Into Action program. The company is still student owned: Smith and Karson sold it to their Theta Chi fraternity brothers Robert Nicholas ’14, John Gabler ’14, Cameron Borriello ’14, and Michael Hendricks ’14.
      “I have worked very hard and closely with my department members on recycling and putting in an effort,” said Bolognone. “That is all I ask!”

How do you get to zero?
In order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2019, Colgate must purchase offsets. Even with the best sustainability efforts (see chart on pg. 37; we’ve done better than expected!), individuals and organizations are left with carbon emissions that they can’t do anything about. So the mantra is, reduce what you can, and offest what you can’t.
      But what exactly are carbon offsets? They’re anything that you do to either remove carbon from the atmosphere or avoid releasing it in the first place. The most common types are renewable energy projects. For example, you can purchase offsets that support the construction of wind turbines.
      Colgate has begun an innovative practice among colleges and universities: purchasing forestry-based offsets, which have been underappreciated in the market. In 2011, we signed a 15-year commitment with Patagonia Sur, whose founder and CEO is entrepreneur Warren Adams ’88. A total of 225,000 trees will be planted on 430 acres in an ecologically sensitive area of Chile’s Aysén Region of Patagonia.  The project will reintroduce native species to the area and hopefully restore the ecosystem, while at the same time sequestering carbon.
      The Colgate University Forest is expected to offset approximately 5,000 tons, or about one-third of Colgate’s current carbon footprint, per year. The arrangement also provides a research site for students and professors, and a place to collaborate with other member universities on research as well as sustainability initiatives. The work also creates local jobs and benefits local communities.
— John Pumilio

Beyond Colgate

Energy from human waste?
I spent this past summer in Kenya working with Sanergy, a social enterprise that provides sanitation facilities in a slum and collects human waste from them daily. Sanergy uses the “humanure” to create fertilizer through composting and biogas through anaerobic digestion. I know — it sounds gross. But the truth is, not only does this process keep waste out of the sewer system and off the streets of the slum, but it also generates a profitable product and a renewable source of energy. What’s not to love?
    Back at school, a group of us from the sustainability office visited Madison County’s recycling center and saw the renewable energy initiatives underway there. While plans to put solar panels on top of the landfill are exciting, the methane extraction program, which turns gas from decomposing landfill waste into energy, was amazing! Large pipes divert methane from the landfill to a combustion machine, where the gas is converted into electricity. It’s used to run parts of the recycling plant, with the excess being sold back to the grid. Besides sequestering methane that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, this process provides a constant and renewable energy source that doesn’t involve the combustion of fossil fuels, and generates revenue for the recycling center. There’s also a pilot program to turn hard plastics into fuel. Madison County is setting the bar high for the future of trash disposal and recycling. — Sale Rhodes ’16, Green Raider

Prepping for an environmental career
As a communications intern for Environment America in Washington, D.C., last summer, Sara Reese ’16 worked to gain media attention about issues like global warming, protecting national parks, and clean energy and to build relationships with reporters, advocacy groups, and decision makers. She wrote about it on the summer internship blog.
    “One of the most rewarding moments was being able to attend President Obama’s climate change speech in late June. Most of my work in May and June was targeted at the president, asking him to act on climate change,” she wrote. “Not only has this internship exposed me to the interaction between advocacy, the environment, and politics, but it has also taught me the toughness, hard work, and passion needed in the environmental field.”
    Student interest in green jobs is growing, so Colgate regularly taps alumni working in environmental sustainability fields for its career exploration programs. For example, participants in this year’s SophoMORE Connections event in January ranged from Richard Tisch ’70, an attorney specializing in environmental compliance, to Steve Bosak ’90, executive director of the Society for Ecological Restoration, to Stephen Dickinson ’13, Colgate’s own sustainability program assistant, among others. (Bosak, by the way, administers the Colgate Sustainability Group on LinkedIn, which welcomes alumni and students.) 

Senior Seminar in Environmental Studies with Professor Robert Turner

Going green: the academic factor

In 2011, Colgate received a Second Nature Climate Leadership Award from the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. And the Sierra Club named Colgate the 37th-greenest college in the nation in its 2013 “Coolest Schools” list. The ranking was based on a tracking assessment and report to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
      Dozens of people on campus participated in the survey, which was led by geography professor Jessica Graybill and the Sustainability Council. “This assessment will receive attention from the media, the public — and, most importantly, the younger generation,” she said.
      As student groups, the council, and campus departments push for and implement environmentally friendly measures, and the faculty works to infuse sustainability into the curriculum in new ways, students in environmental studies classes regularly take on research projects that help bring about real change on campus. Their work helps Colgate develop programs, initiatives, and practices that are at once environmentally, socially, and economically viable. A few examples:

“How Green are Colgate’s Dining Halls?”
For her senior seminar (ECON 428 Environmental and Resource Economics with Professor Michael O’Hara), economics major Olivia Kuby ’12 undertook a study of dining services practices on campus that created a baseline for measuring progress. One finding: 20 percent of campus food and beverage purchases are grown and processed within 250 miles of campus. The new goal: increasing local food to 30 percent by 2015.

Community Garden
Cherry tomatoes and daikon radishes were just some of the vegetables made accessible to students when the Colgate Community Garden opened a farm stand in the Coop this fall (Gate Card accepted).
      Created in 2010, the garden originated from a feasibility study by Megan Cronin ’10, Teddi Hofmann ’10, Maria Kryachko ’10, and Kate Pavelich ’10 (students in Professor Robert Turner’s ENST 480: Interdisciplinary Investigations into the Environment) and members of the Class of 2012.
      With sweat equity provided by sustainability interns, the student group Green Thumbs, and others, the garden also supplies Frank Dining Hall, Hieber Café, and other campus locations — part of efforts to buy local. Proceeds go back into the garden, and excess produce is donated to the Hamilton Food Cupboard.
      Although the garden suffered a setback with the major flooding that hit upstate New York in June, the interns quickly refocused their efforts, and managed to eke out a harvest for fall 2013.

Celebrating the harvest at the Colgate Community Garden

Frank Dining Hall, home of trayless dining and a growing percentage of locally sourced food

Trayless dining
Used to be, students eating in Frank Dining Hall could be seen wending their way to tables, balancing trays laden with multiple plates, bowls, and glasses — way more food than they could possibly eat in a single meal.
      Not only was food being wasted. Consider the hot water, electricity, and detergent used to wash the trays and dishes, as well as the staff time.
      Students in Professor Frank Frey’s ENST 390: Community-Based Study of Environmental Issues investigated the costs and benefits of a new strategy: removing trays from the equation.
      The study by Claire Burgett ’12, Adam Costello ’11, Nicole Dennis ’11, Alex Felicetti ’11, Jamie Horgan ’12, and Katherine Johnescu ’12 showed that a large percentage of students would support the move. They presented their findings to campus officials, and Sodexho, Colgate’s food service provider, soon implemented the change.
      “Colgate plays a role in shaping the opinions and choices of its students, who in turn shape the institution,” the students wrote. “Implementing trayless dining influences more than just the raw numbers . . . It will also influence student, parent, faculty, and staff attitudes towards sustainable dining.”
      And the trays? Aside from saving a batch for a traditional sledding party this winter, the trays were sent to Colgate’s salvage sale. Craig Blanchard, salvage operations coordinator, reported that they were snatched up in small batches by folks looking to repurpose them, for craft projects and the like.

Environmental Studies at Colgate
The Environmental Studies (ENST) Program offers five interdisciplinary majors; students take a common core of courses and then develop analytical depth in a particular emphasis, in biology, economics, geography, geology, or environmental studies.

A sampling of ENST courses and their professors, 2013–2014:
  • Environmental Ethics, Jason Kawall (philosophy, ENST)

  • Environmental Security, Marcus Edino (geography)

  • Community-Based Study of Environmental Issues, Catherine Cardelus (biology)

  • Global Environmental Justice, April Baptiste (ENST)

  • Nature, Technology, and the Human Prospect, Paul Pinet (geology, ENST)

  • Renewable Energy, Beth Parks (physics)

  • Weather and Climate, Adam Burnett (geography)
Thinking, living, and teaching sustainably
Ian Helfant embodies the idea of how interest in sustainability is growing, crossing disciplines, and melding with the curriculum.
      A Russian professor at Colgate since 1998, Helfant teaches courses in Russian language, literature, and culture as well as environmental studies and has twice led Colgate students on study groups to Moscow.
      He is also a climber, hiker, runner, and photographer — and an evolving hunter/gatherer — with a well-developed concern for conservation and the use of natural resources. Soon after he arrived on campus, he met others who shared that interest. Eventually, with five colleagues from the faculty and administration, he helped to found Colgate’s Environmental Council (since renamed the Sustainability Council) in fall 2005. He served as chair of the council, which was charged with thinking and planning strategically about sustainability, for its first five years.
      In a journal article about the council’s early years, Helfant wrote that, for all they achieved, “experience showed us the limits of what an institution can accomplish without a full-time sustainability coordinator.” He described as the council’s “crowning achievement” the approval and hiring of a coordinator. He called the fruit of their search, John Pumilio, “superbly qualified.”
      “Now that we have John in place and successful programs, the interesting thing to me is thinking about curriculum,” Helfant said. “One of our goals as an institution is to encourage and inculcate a sustainability ethic in our students, who will go on and be so influential. I’ve shifted in that direction myself.”
      With colleagues Robert Turner (economics) and Beth Parks (physics), Helfant taught the ENST seminar in 2008 that led to planting 60,000 willow shoots on land near campus — an experiment in growing biomass (renewable fuel) for the university’s wood-fired boiler. Four students in the seminar researched the project, which was supported by a grant from the Colgate Sustainability Fund, the 2008 Class Gift.
      This semester, Helfant is debuting a course titled Hunting, Eating, and Vegetarianism, which is slated to become one of the university’s new Sophomore Residential Seminars next year. In films, extensive readings, and discussion — and a field trip to Texas hill country — the class will “explore ways in which humanistic perspectives can be brought to bear on these fundamentally important issues,” he said.
      Helfant explained that the course “reflects my progression over 15 years at Colgate from someone with no experience hunting, to a hunter who provides most of his own meat.” A self-taught bow hunter, he also processes the deer that are the primary source of meat for his family, whose diet is long on fruits, vegetables, and grains. He has also begun to keep bees and tap his own maple trees, resulting this year in 150 pounds of honey and six gallons of maple syrup.
      In yet another example of his evolution, Helfant’s scholarship is trending toward the emerging interdisciplinary field of ecocriticism — the study of the relationship between literature and the environment. His current book project focuses on the way that 19th-century Russians regarded wolves. Like his new hunting and eating course, Helfant said, the book “will employ an ecocritic’s use of humanistic perspectives to look at man’s relationship to nature.”
      As he considers new ways Colgate will incorporate sustainability across the curriculum, which is explicitly addressed in the university’s strategic planning, Helfant said: “The more our students are aware of these issues, the better off we all will be.”

There’s a new gown in town: Sarah Cochran ’14, Carly Keller ’13, and Sarah Vondracek ’13 took on sustainable practices at campus events by focusing on one of Colgate’s biggest. Their feasibility study toward a zero-waste commencement (for ENST 390: Community-Based Study of Environmental
Issues) resulted in changes coming for Commencement 2014 — including a switch to graduation gowns made from recycled plastic bottles.

Reducing Colgate’s Carbon Footprint

In January 2009, Colgate joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment initiative. The pledge included completing a baseline greenhouse gas emissions inventory, short-term action steps, incorporating “sustainability” into the curriculum, and creating a “Climate Action Plan” with measurable goals, including a target date for reaching climate neutrality. In true Colgate spirit, students, staff, and faculty have applied their ingenuity, knowledge, and dedication, surpassing the initial goals thus far. This map shows just a sampling of the myriad efforts making Colgate a greener campus — and impacting the bottom line.


Low-Flow ShowerHeads
  • 107 installed in first-year residences in 2011
  • Saves: 1 gallon per minute each 3.4 million gallons per year — plus the energy to heat
  • 455 more installed since then
  • Expected total savings: 9 million gallons/year — enough to fill Lineberry Natatorium 18 times!
Paper Consumption
  • 2009: 12,340,000 sheets
  • 2012: 9,994,000 sheets
  • Reduction: 2.4 million sheets (19%) — that’s 7 times the height of Colgate Memorial Chapel!
  • Replacing high-pressure sodium with T-5 linear fluorescents = removing a thousand 100-watt incandescent bulbs
  • Annual energy savings: $30,300
  • Side benefits: Better light quality might compensate for your tennis swing!
Air Safety Fume Hoods
  • Replacement of 112 units in science buildings
  • 20-30% reduction in energy usage (electricity and heat) per building
Green building/LEED certification
  • Trudy Fitness Center (opened January 2011)
  • LEED Gold certified 2012
  • Uses 20% less energy, 30% less water than traditional buildings
  • Lathrop Hall (renovated 2012–13)
  • LEED Silver Certification application pending
Alternative Transportation
  • Colgate Cruiser (EPA-approved low-emission diesel engines)
  • 2 Zipcars for rental
  • 30 Green Bikes for rental
  • Additional bike racks encourage cycling
  • Hybrid and electric vehicles in campus fleet
  • Purpool online carpooling program
  • 2 electric vehicle charging stations


Trayless Dining
  • Eliminated 2,000 trays used daily
  • 20-30% less food waste
  • Estimated annual energy, water, and food savings: more than $100,000
  • Side benefits: right-sized portions help avoid the “freshman 15” — and a recycled tray sledding party is in the works!
  • 3,000 lbs. per week from Frank Dining Hall and Greek-letter houses along Broad Street
  • Managed and processed on campus by the student Composting Club
Recycling Rate
  • 2009: 15%
  • 2012: 24%
E-Waste Recycling Stations
  • 16 locations help keep batteries and hazardous electronics out of landfills 20,000 lbs per year collected
  • (computers,  monitors, TVs, phones, iPods, cables, batteries, calculators, etc.)
Landfill waste
  • 2008: 56 lbs (per person)
  • 2012: 44 lbs (per person)
  • Reduced: 174 tons total
  • Saved: $11,484 in landfill fees


Solar panels
  • Provide domestic hot water
  • Projected to eliminate: 900 gallons of fuel oil/year and 18,000 lbs carbon emissions
Willow Biomass Pilot Project
  • 8-acre field 1 mile from campus
  • Test plot for self-supply to Colgate’s wood-fired boiler (installed more than three decades ago), which meets 75 percent of campus heat and hot water needs.
  • Expected yield: 900 dry tons during a 20-year period


Local Forest Sequestration
  • 1,059 acres of tree farm certified forest in and around campus contain 165,491 tons of CO2 and absorb 1,535 tons of CO2 annually.
  • Leading the way in incorporating forest management into sustainability practices, Colgate presented its findings at the 2013 national Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference.

Colgate University Forest
  • Patagonia Sur Nature Reserve, Palena province, Chile
  • 225,000 native trees on 428 acres
  • Yields: 5,000 tons of forestry-based annual carbon offsets for 15 years
  • Co-benefit: a place for students and professors to conduct research