October 22, 2009
St. John’s University’s leadership in local efforts to protect
the environment was detailed earlier this month at a conference
that explored the role America’s Catholic colleges and universities
can play in promoting sustainability on campus.
The underlying theme across the conference, according to Thomas
Goldsmith, Director of Environmental and Energy Conservation at St.
John’s, was that Catholic universities and colleges have a moral
obligation to pursue sustainability. “It’s everyone’s job,” he
St. John’s University Presentation at Notre Dame Sustainability
Frank Cantelmo's Presentation at Notre Dame Sustainability
her keynote presentation, Dr. Kristie Ebi of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (a joint winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace
Prize with Al Gore) enlightened the audience with assessment
reports on the investigations and modeling of the effects of
man-made climate change specifically on developing countries.
In fact, Mr. Goldsmith said, about half of the conference addressed
climate change (“the climate effect is already happening,” he
noted) and the Catholic approach to it that focuses on the common
good and protection of the poor.
Goldsmith was part of a St. John’s group that attended “Renewing
the Campus: Sustainability and the Catholic University,” at the
University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The team of eight— a
professor, four students, four administrators and a consulting
engineer--made two major presentations while at the South Bend
campus. The students also participated in a cross-university panel
discussion on student activism and sustainability.
Sustainability in the Big City
Brij Anand, St. John’s Vice President of Facilities, Mr. Goldsmith
and Asif Syed, of AKF Engineers presented highlights of the
University’s efforts to meet and exceed New York City Mayor Michael
Bloomberg’s Challenge to reduce the University’s overall CO2
emissions to the atmosphere by 30 percent before the year 2017 (St.
John’s has vowed to do so by 2013).
In “Sustainability in the Big City: An Urban University Takes on
the New York City Mayoral Challenge,” they discussed the
University’s Gold Star award from Mayor Bloomberg for its ambitious
plan to slash emissions by 2013; its partnership in
“MillionTreesNYC,” a citywide initiative to plant one million new
trees throughout the five boroughs by 2017; and its environmental
history making in launching an A500 Rocket® model food composter
—the first U.S. university to use this technology.
Vice President Anand also described the steps St. John’s has taken
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.
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” window
St. John’s signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the
Environmental Protection Agency, was discussed by Mr. Goldsmith,
who also spoke about forging additional partnerships with
government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Viewed together,
they make St. John’s a recognized model for academic institutions
seeking sustainability partnerships with government agencies. He
also described the role that students play in St. John’s
“The St. John’s Sustainability Initiative is the most important
work of my career,” he notes. “At the conference I gathered some
new ideas to further student involvement from Santa Clara
University, student formation from Boston College, and bringing
fair trade to campus from Catholic Relief Services.
On the second day of the conference, Associate Professor of
Biological Sciences Frank Cantelmo, Ph.D., offered his own
observations and experiences as advisor to the Holy See with a
presentation “Solar Panels at St. Peter’s: the Vatican
Embraces Sustainability.” St. John’s principal conference
organizer, Dr. Cantelmo first tied together Catholic theology and
environmental activism and then described the 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 our planet.
Also on the second day, the four St. John’s 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 Activism.”
“The conference at Notre Dame was a great opportunity to meet and
learn from other professors, faculty, administrators and students
involved in the sustainability effort,” Christina pointed out. “We
were able to network with students from other universities and
share ideas for student involvement.”
Kyle was impressed by the number of universities who are involved
in sustainability activities. “It is heartwarming to know that so
many other Catholic universities around the country are working
just as hard as we are to better the environment and improve
sustainability. The Notre Dame Conference was a truly eye opening
Specifically, the students advocated for continued sustainability
on campus and encouraged colleagues and friends that to live fully
may even mean living with less for others now and in the
generations to come.
On a more personal level, St. John’s students advocated for
wellness and a sustainable campus life, i.e. walking on campus;
bicycling from home if able; car pooling; turning off lights;
exploring sustainability through curriculum offerings; joining/
starting student sustainability organizations; holding
brainstorming sessions with faculty groups; and reading materials
electronically rather than on paper.
Ashley expressed her delight in being asked to participate in the
conference in a note to Mr. Goldsmith. “I wanted to thank you and
the Office of Facilities for making that conference happen for St.
Johns. I felt very proud to represent the school and I can't wait
to build on what we learned.”
“It was an exciting experience to witness the awareness of the
more-than-40 Catholic universities that were in attendance,”
reports Vice President Anand. “This conference demonstrated the
understanding that sustainability is very much mission-based and
that St. John’s University is considerably ahead in our
sustainability initiative and its awareness.”