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Illustration by Liene Magdalēna Pekuse

Sustainability at NYUAD: It’s On You

If we were asked to pay for printing or were unable to use Campus Dirhams for water, coffee or take-out food containers – would our extravagant consumption change?

Dec 2, 2018

Environmental consciousness was at the forefront of NYU Abu Dhabi’s design and implementation – in layman’s terms it was built as a green campus. Upon its inception, it was awarded the Estimada 2 Pearl rating by the Abu Dhabi Planning Council, which is similar to the global Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, and is the minimum standard required for all government buildings in the UAE. NYUAD is also actively involved in Abu Dhabi Environment Agency’s Sustainable Campus Initiative, which began in 2014 and aims to encourage individuals to reduce their ecological footprint. 75 percent of the campus’ hot water and 10 percent of the campus’ total energy is generated by rooftop solar panels, recycling bins have been installed on all floors of residential buildings, outside every main exit and in every corridor. The convenience store has discarded the usage of plastic bags and 500-milliliter plastic bottles have been removed campus-wide. These are all a testament to NYUAD’s ethos of positive environmental change.
However, if we inspect our campus on a micro-level, we will see that the extent of our wastefulness seems to be more than that of the average college student.
I’ll start with – what is in my opinion – the biggest and most easily rectifiable problem. The NYUAD community prints and copies an obscene amount of material – be it for classes, Student Interest Group promotions or personal needs. Most printer rooms turn into a catastrophic mess of misprinted sheets of paper sprawled on the floor. Despite having means of online advertisement in the form of social media and the Student Portal, event posters are printed in bulk and plastered all over campus.
Most of us purchase plastic water bottles, despite the numerous water dispensers and filters installed across campus. We eat from take-out boxes even though we were all provided with reusable containers. Our high dependence on coffee from Starbucks results in at least one plastic cup being generated per student in the interval of one to two days, even though the campus Starbucks allows us to provide our own coffee cups. We rarely separate the trash in our suites and end up disposing all of it into general refuse regardless of its recyclability.
The list only goes on. I’m not saying that I’m guilt free – no one on this campus is. We are all guilty of performing at least one of these actions on a regular basis. And what is particularly troubling is that if I asked if you were an environmentalist, most of you would say yes and affirm that our planet does need saving. We are a group of individuals partaking in unsustainable actions even though we don’t necessarily support them. The various sustainable practices students have adopted for No Waste November are evidence that we are able, disciplined and proactive enough to make a change, but they also prove that we do not adopt these practices habitually.
Most students at NYUAD are granted some form of financial aid, and therefore most facilities on campus cost us less than average or nothing at all. If we were asked to pay for printing or were unable to use Campus Dirhams for water, coffee or take-out containers, would our extravagant consumption remain the same? This points to a general problem in our mindset; instead of valuing and prudently using resources given to us on a platter, we tend to be nonchalant about our waste. This puts into question what our values will be after graduating from NYUAD and, hopefully, moving up the socioeconomic hierarchy: would we make things better or worse just because we can now afford to be more careless and wasteful?
Change starts on an individual level. Many of the issues we currently face can easily be avoided if you choose not to partake in them. You could refuse to print when electronic alternatives are available and carry a thermos to Starbucks; a water bottle to the dispenser or a take-out container to D2. It will be inconvenient to alter your habits, but changing them to more sustainable habits is a long-term improvement.
Jumana Ibrahim is a contributing writer. Email him at
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