Columbia University Sustainability Principles

Released September 2016
The university is committed to following a set of sustainability principles in all facets of planning and operations so that Columbia can improve environmental performance, ensure a healthy community and contribute to local, regional and global solutions.
These principles apply university-wide – not only to the Morningside Heights campus but also to the Medical campus, Lamont, Nevis, Manhattanville, Baker Field, the many residential properties owned by the university, and to other facilities such as the Columbia Global Centers. It is recognized that implementation may not occur at all places all at once, and that some of the principles will require more advance work than others; implementation will be phased in on as expedited a basis as practicable.
Each campus should adopt ways to adhere to these principles through targeted policies, commitments, and standard practices as well as individual everyday actions. These will be essential to realize our vision of incorporating sustainability into every aspect of campus life.



Advance Columbia’s core educational, research and outreach missions to demonstrate its leadership around the world.

  • Enhance education, research and public outreach activity to promote sustainability and disseminate knowledge about how earth systems operate, how humans affect them, and how negative impacts can be reduced and reversed; prepare current and future generations to utilize and advance this knowledge.
  • Enhance the sustainability of the physical operations of the university to improve its own environmental performance, and also to develop, test, measure and improve methods that can be broadly applicable around the world.

Plan, develop, implement and measure strategic sustainability initiatives.

Columbia commits to adopt institutional practices that promote sustainability. All of these practices should apply to Columbia's own operations, and should be used as primary criteria for selecting suppliers of energy, food, materials, products and services.
  • Develop baseline measures of use and efficiency for energy, water and other resources, and adopt periodic monitoring and reporting of these and other measures of Columbia’s environmental performance.
  • Using a consensus-building and participatory process, adopt and periodically update campus-specific measurable goals. Where applicable, goals should be science-based, and take into consideration the appropriate city, state, federal or international goals and standards, in the following areas.
    • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations and electricity and fuel purchases
    • Conserve resources and minimize waste through efficiency, conservation, reuse, recycling, source reduction and composting
    • Maximize the use of renewable resources (including energy)
    • Use water resources efficiently, and minimize total water demand
    • Construct, maintain and renovate buildings to provide safe, healthy, and productive indoor environments that use energy, water and other natural resources efficiently.
    • Seek mode shift in order to reduce the number of drive-alone commuters by expanding the number of alternative mobility options such as bicycling, shared vehicles, shuttles, and mass transit
    • Seek ways to reduce the need for travel through various means of electronic communications
  • Take into consideration projections and other information about future climate conditions and adaptation in its capital and operational planning, and make appropriate preparations.
  • Organize an inclusive sustainability governance model that centralizes sustainability reporting and decisionmaking around these topics.
  • Develop publicly available sustainability indicators and planning tools to enable monitoring, reporting, and continuous improvement; to enable comparative analysis of environmental performance; and to facilitate and support engagement of the university community.
  • In order to ensure implementation of these principles, devote sufficient organizational and financial resources, put in place mechanisms of responsibility and accountability, and integrate the goals into management decisionmaking. Consider the potential for operational cost savings (such as through lower energy bills) in making decisions on capital projects.

Foster a culture of sustainability.

Columbia commits to fostering a culture of sustainability. Targeted policies and practices – as well as individual, everyday actions – are essential to realizing our vision of incorporating sustainability into every aspect of campus life. The university should foster thinking and decision-making that persist even after students graduate and other members of the community move on.
The university encourages all members of its community to:
  • Increase each other’s level of awareness around sustainability, encouraging each other to personally take action to support the University’s sustainability efforts and obligations.
  • Lead by example by exhibiting day-to-day behavior that minimizes environmental impacts on the campus grounds, our local workspaces, our living quarters, and recreation spaces.
  • Empower students, staff and faculty to be agents of behavior change who mobilize their knowledge in concrete ways on campus to build a sustainable campus community.
  • Collaborate to set goals around sustainability and provide transparency about where we are with our work on campus and beyond. Seek ways to participate in events and teams that bring the campus community together around sustainability, including but not limited to school-based Green Teams, student energy challenges, donation fairs, and recognition events that celebrate success. 

Each individual Columbia community campus should work closely with its surrounding community through collaboration with the following stakeholders to develop ways to enhance the sustainability of New York City, or the appropriate region, so they may serve as models for and learn from other major urbanized areas of the world:

  • colleagues and students in other schools
  • departments and disciplines
  • government officials
  • other institutions of higher learning
  • private sector, including utility companies
  • general public