by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — For years, Niagara University has made a strong push to improve the local environment. Thursday, its stance became set in stone with the touch of a pen to paper.
The Rev. Joseph Levesque, university president, signed the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment, designed to get the Lewiston campus to climate neutrality by 2050.
"We've been talking about doing these things for a while," Levesque said. "And we have been. Like when we cut down trees for construction projects, we replant them. We actually double the trees. This (commitment) gives me the ability to join with the presidents of other schools to convince more and more of us. and the more we convince, the more this spreads."
The commitment has 661 signatures, including Levesque's, and lays out specific criteria each president must reach.
Niagara has already completed three of the six requirements, including the creation of a plan to make the campus climate neutral, widely thought to be the toughest in the process.
Niagara's past accomplishments, including its agreement with its neighbor, the New York Power Authority for low-cost hydro power, have all been factored in to the campus's future outlook.
"Right now, we're in a very good state," David Ederer, chair of the university's sustainable task force, said. "We've done a lot of good things in the past, including our agreement with NYPA. We're lucky enough to have that resource."
But what is climate neutrality, the goal the commitment seeks? Climate neutrality means that the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from the university's activities are either eliminated directly by reducing fossil fuel energy use or offset by new activities that retain those gases, such as tree planting.
According to Steve Petersen, a professor of philosophy at the school and a member of the sustainable task force, the plan also takes into account the campus's affect on the surrounding areas, not just the campus itself.
He said the university's use of NYPA power actually keeps others from using it, he said.
"Less of the NYPA power we use, that means there's more for others to use," he said. "And our plan takes that into account. Whether in forty years, everybody's driving electric cars, those cars still need to be charged. The less we use, the more people aren't going to be relying on coal power. so we don't get to just rely on having this cheap power."
Another part of the university's plans for climate neutrality is purchasing new energy efficient equipment and building to certain specifications.
For example, the B. Thomas Golisano Center for Integrated Sciences, which is set to open in Fall 2013, is set to meet construction requirements to be LEED silver – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – certified.
Niagara will also, under its plan, purchase only Energy Star efficient appliances moving forward.
The commitment signing was just part of the university's participation in America Recycles Day. Student groups and visitors to the Gallagher Center took pledges from students to recycle, accepted recyclable bottles and cans as donations to charity and presented on the technology available for recycling materials in the 21st century.
One of the college's students, Nicolette Sepielli, 20, decided to use Recycle Day to raise money for Camp Good Days, which provides programs and services to improve the quality of life for children and families whose lives have been touched by cancer and other life challenges.
"I've always loved the organization," she said, explaining her soon-to-be non-profit organization, Recycle For A Cause, started as a way to help her cousin, who'd been diagnosed with cancer. "I love to help those touched by cancer. It's grown into something larger than I ever thought it would."