Illustration by Neyva Hernandez

NYU Climate Commitments and the Ideascale Platform

It is imperative for students from campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai to be involved in climate-related issues as these campuses have very high emissions and no transparent commitment to reduce it.

In 2007, NYU accepted the Mayor’s Carbon Challenge to reduce 30 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2017. NYU reached the target in 2012, five years ahead of schedule, following its Climate Action Plan 2009. NYU is also the charter signatory and Leadership Circle member of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, alongside 675 other signatories. Currently, NYU is undertaking the ambitious goal of a 50 percent reduction by 2025 following the new Mayor’s Carbon Challenge in 2015. The university aims to be the greenest urban campus, as echoed in the inauguration speech of President Andrew Hamilton.
Although these figures are commendable, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. While the New York campus has well defined climate goals, campuses across the Global Network University do not share as crystallized of a commitment. Furthermore, it is unclear if there are any emission reduction commitments at either the Abu Dhabi or Shanghai campus at this time. Although the sites vary in geography and jurisdiction, it is still imperative for the larger NYU administration to set clear and binding, emission reduction and sustainability targets for all sites of the GNU. But before doing so, it is even more crucial that the GNU listen to the opinions of the students.
It is exactly what the newly launched Sustainability Ideascale Platform by the NYU Office of Sustainability is doing. The administration in New York acknowledges the importance of setting targets for campuses across the GNU and is seeking ways to foster dialogue about emission reductions and sustainability. Recently, the NYU Office of Sustainability launched an online Ideascale platform for students to share and discuss innovative and impassioned ideas. The platform aims to listen to students’ ideas before the administration can implement their next climate action plan. To this day, the platform has received around 157 ideas that have collectively received approximately 5,000 votes in 5 major themes, comprising Classes & Research, Working & Learning Programs, Food, Waste & Purchasing, Climate & Health and Open Forum. These range from simple ideas such as promoting greener transportation and reducing the use of paper cups, to more ambitious policies such as going completely plastic-free and generating all of its energy use from renewable sources.
At the same time, NYU Divest has been arguing for decarbonization of NYU, which is one of their “sub-campaigns working to align NYU’s Climate Action Plan with the imperatives of Climate Justice and Environmental Justice and to extend the Plan’s ambition beyond emissions reductions towards the just transition to 100 percent renewable energy, heating and transportation.”
According to NYU Divest, NYU currently has 139 million dollars — 510,540,081 AED — in fossil fuel investments, which is 4 percent of their endowment. Profiting from investments in coal, oil and gas while trying to decrease internal emissions seems hypocritical to NYU Divest.
Regardless, NYU has made immense progress in its internal emission reduction targets. The launch of Ideascale has encouraged many students to share their ideas through a single online platform. The Office of Sustainability has responded to every idea that has been posted so far. This has certainly led more students to believe that their voices are being heard. The committee will be reviewing ideas soon so it will be interesting to see if any of these ideas will be implemented as policies and if so, to what degree.
"This platform provides students, faculty, staff and administrators across the GNU [with] an opportunity to share their ideas on how to make NYU greener and [to] dynamically discuss a wide range of issues related to sustainability through voting and commenting," said Dianne Anderson, Director of Sustainability. "Though NYU's Office of Sustainability is located at NYU's New York campus, this is a global effort. We are relying on participation from all our campuses to help reduce our collective environmental footprint.”
While the Ideascale platform has been successful in facilitating constructive dialogue in New York, there has been very little input from students across the GNU. It is imperative for students from campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai to be involved since these campuses have very high emissions yet no transparent commitments. From paper cups to campuswide electricity waste, NYU Abu Dhabi has a tricky relationship with the environment. Students in Abu Dhabi have expressed discontent with the fact that indirect issues often get priority, while larger sources of emissions are left out.
“Identifying and working on the source of our largest direct carbon footprint should be the foremost idea. Indirect issues such as banning paper cups should be second page when we have such obvious problems in our direct consumption of electricity and water and emissions from flights,” said Alberto Castillo, Class of 2019.
At least in the context of Abu Dhabi, given that these opinions have not managed to extend beyond discussions on Facebook groups, Ideascale seems to be a great platform to have our voices heard. This platform presents a unique opportunity for students not only from the campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, but also for visiting students in sites such as Accra and London,to think of innovative ideas to bring about sustainable practices wherever they study.
What can be done at NYUAD is installation of eco-friendly water fountains, higher use of renewable energy sources and research into mangrove regeneration and coastal ecosystem management to sequestrate carbon. Finally, a clear and binding emission reduction target should be set that complements the target set forth by the New York Campus.
Rashtra Raj Bhandari is a columnist. Email him at
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