October 12, 2009
St. John’s University’s leadership in local efforts to protect
the environment headlined a unique inaugural conference this month
that explored the role America’s Catholic colleges and universities
can play in promoting sustainability on campus.
The conference, “Renewing the Campus: Sustainability and the
Catholic University,” featured two major presentations by St.
John’s students, faculty and staff. St. John’s students also took
part in a cross-university panel discussion on student activism and
representatives of St. John’s — a professor, four administrators
and four students — attended the conference with a partner from AKF
Engineers, which works with St. John’s on sustainability
More than 400 students, faculty and administrators from 45
Catholic colleges and universities registered for the event, which
was hosted by the University of Notre Dame from October 9
St. John’s: A Model of
Success as a sustainability leader reflects St. John’s mission as a
Catholic university in the Vincentian tradition, said Frank
Cantelmo, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biological Sciences.
Following the example of St. Vincent de Paul, the 17th-century
priest who championed social justice, the University focuses on
making a positive difference in the world.
“Making a strong showing at this conference gave St. John’s a
unique opportunity to showcase our many sustainability achievements
— and their foundation in our Vincentian mission,” said Dr.
Cantelmo. He served as St. John’s principal conference
organizer and one of the University’s featured speakers at the
In June 2007, St. John’s was among the first local universities to
join the “PLANYC 2030 Challenge,” an effort to cut greenhouse gas
emissions by 30% throughout the city. Accelerating its own goal by
four years, the University committed to slashing emissions by 2013.
In October 2008, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg awarded St. John’s a
“Gold Star” for its ambitious plan.
also earned acclaim as a partner planting over 700 trees in
“MillionTreesNYC,” a citywide initiative within the New York
Restoration Project (NYRP) to plant one million new trees
throughout the five boroughs by 2017. To date, 250,000 trees have
been planted as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s long-term sustainability
goals for the city.
This past year, St. John’s accomplished two major milestones by
launching an A500 Rocket® model food composter —the first U.S.
university to use this technology. Students from St. John’s Earth
Club manage the composter’s weekly operation with support from the
University’s team of Sustainability Coordinators. The composter
also enabled them to build an organic garden.
“We’re excited to share our unique sustainability methodology with
our peers and make our Vincentian mark as a university model of
sustainability,” said Dr. Cantelmo, who also serves as an
environmental consultant to Archbishop Celestino Migliore,
Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.
Sharing the News
The opening day of the conference highlighted St. John’s leadership
in protecting the environment. Brij Anand, Vice President of
Facilities Services, and Thomas Goldsmith, Director of
Environmental Energy and Conservation, presented on “Sustainability
in the Big City: An Urban University Takes on the New York City
provided an overview of St. John’s sustainability highlights —
including the special commitment Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M.,
President of St. John’s, has made to Mayor Bloomberg’s challenge to
achieve a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2017.
The overview also covered the University’s strategies for securing
top-level buy-in for sustainability goals. The carbon-reduction
steps St. John’s has taken to date include performing an
investment-grade energy and water audit, promoting energy capital
project development and becoming the first University to underwrite
its energy-conservation projects with tax-exempt, third-party
financing — the first of its kind in New York State.
Joining Mr. Anand was Asif Syed of AFK Engineers, the
University’s engineering consultant on energy-related building
projects for the past decade. Mr. Syed outlined St. John’s varied
methods for achieving sustainability: benchmarking; tracking
greenhouse gas reductions through data collection; building energy
conservation into its Master Plan; and “greening” campus buildings
through ventilation, heating, lighting and “high performance”
As Mr. Goldsmith discussed, off-campus partnerships have bolstered
this success. In 2008, St. John’s became the first private
university to sign a Memo of Understanding with the Environmental
Protection Agency. This agreement helped St. John’s define its
sustainability initiative and is a recognized model for academic
institutions seeking sustainability partnerships with government
The University went on to forge additional partnerships with
other government agencies — including the New York State Department
of Traffic — and nonprofit organizations.
Students Take the Lead
The role students play in St. John’s sustainability efforts is
another focus of Mr. Goldsmith’s presentation. “St. John’s is
providing a leadership model for building a team effort involving
students, faculty, administration and staff,” he said. “This team
effort has been invaluable to planning and promoting the
University’s sustainability initiatives.”
For example, Mr. Goldsmith said, students have provided vital
support as Sustainability Coordinators and members of the Earth
Club. Student Government and the Office of Student Life also have
made significant contributions.
all engaged in building a sustainable future,” Mr. Goldsmith noted.
“They work with and as part of our Sustainability Committee,
spearheading recycling efforts and environmental awareness among
students, running the compost project and taking part in many
other, equally important initiatives.”
On the second day, four students — Ashley Brown, President of the
Earth Club; Kyle Beltramini, Sustainability Coordinator on the
Staten Island campus; Ivaylo Dimitrov, Sustainability Coordinator
on the Queens Campus; and Christina Zaccarelli, Vice President of
Student Government — joined a cross-university panel discussion on
“Sustainability and the Catholic University: Student
The conference offered a chance to gain as well as to present
ideas, said Ivaylo Dimitrov. “I look forward to bringing something
back to the campus community,” he said. “New ideas help us alert
even more people to the need for a green way of life that can
change the world.”
According to Christina Zaccarelli, the conference was an
opportunity to build relationships with other sustainability-minded
students across the country. “Networking is an important part of
what we want to do,” she said. “Sharing ideas with others will help
all of us to make a positive difference in our environment.”
Sustainability, Solar Panels and the
Offering his own observations and experiences as advisor to the
Holy See, Dr. Cantelmo tied together Catholic theology and
environmental activism through a discussion entitled “Solar Panels
at St. Peter’s: the Vatican Embraces Sustainability.”
As co-chairman of the University’s Sustainability Committee, Dr.
Cantelmo also showed that there is an intimate relationship between
the Church’s proactive stance on environmentalism and St. John’s
own Vincentian mission, which entails environmental stewardship.
That relationship underscores the moral responsibility to care for
“Since Pope Benedict is arguably the most environmentally conscious
Pope to date,” said Dr. Cantelmo, “I urged my listeners to learn
from the example of the Church.” To illustrate, he quoted the Holy
Father: “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use
of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future
generations and towards humanity as a whole.”
We invite you to learn more about the
Sustainability Initiative at St. John’s University.