OSWEGO — SUNY Oswego is one of hundreds of colleges and universities across the country seeking to move forward with sustainable approaches to education as climate change presents an ever-increasing threat to the planet.
SUNY Oswego in recent years has made a number of efforts to reduce waste and utilize green energy and technologies. In 2012, the school created its own Climate Action Plan, which detailed various actions to reduce campus greenhouse emissions and promote a culture of healthy and environmentally friendly living.
Along with that plan, the college created a Sustainability Office, which runs programs and events to reduce waste and seek opportunities to utilize green energy. The school’s Sustainability Office consists of one staff member, Kate Spector, about 10 student interns and five work-study participants each semester.
Spector said she has seen the student population’s attitudes about the environment change in the years since she started teaching math courses at the college.
“Prior to coming into this office my observation was it was like you’re pushing an agenda on someone. There was a lot of convincing and I think that existed in both directions with my professional colleagues as well as students,” Spector said. “That’s completely changed. Students are really demanding change. I think a lot of students are vary hip to the cause, they understand the science behind global warming and climate change.”
The college wants to make itself “energy independent” within the next decade, Spector said. That would mean constructing solar arrays and incorporating wind power into the school’s energy supply, in addition to reducing the amount of energy the campus utilizes.
Spector said SUNY Oswego also has one of the largest geothermal fields in the state, which provides heating for the Shineman Center.
The Sustainability Office also runs programs to reduce waste on campus such as the “Leave Your Mark” program, which collects dead writing utensils. The student-made utensil collection bins are placed in every classroom on campus and the collected pens and markers are recycled.
“The idea came to me because I was teaching a lot of algebra classes and I was going through a dry-erase marker basically every lecture and just shooting them in the waste basket all the time,” Spector said. “I thought ‘there’s got to be something better we can do with this.’”
The Sustainability Office handed out reusable water bottles to every new student last semester and sets out bins to collect unwanted belongings as the students are moving out. Those collected clothes and appliances are then sold back to the student body and the proceeds go toward planting trees near campus.
The bike share program is among the most popular programs that Spector runs. Last week, the school received about 25 new bikes, adding to the almost 60 already part of the program. The bikes are rented out to students on a semester basis.
Spector said a notice about the bike share is sent out at the beginning of each semester, and that it doesn’t take long for every bike to be taken.
“At the beginning of the fall semester we put a call out and said ‘Hey guys, Sunday afternoon we’ll be open. First come first serve’ and within two hours all the bikes were loaned out,” Spector said.
The SUNY bike-share cycles are provided by Murdock’s Bicycle and Sports, who delivered Friday’s shipment. Spector said occasionally, student’s abandoned bikes are found on campus and taken in and either fixed up by a bike technician, Rich Friedrich, a student at the college, or used for parts.
Spector expressed concern over the impact climate change is having on a campus that sits near the rising water levels of Lake Ontario.
“I like to walk down to the lakeshore and hang out, whether that’s for recreation or I do a lot of litter cleanups. This last summer, there was no lakefront to walk down,” Spector said. “Maybe that’s a short term problem or a long term problem, I don’t know.”
Spector said it’s important for schools and institutions of learning to experiment with different solutions in an effort to pave the way for the rest of the community.