Announcing Columbia’s 10-Year Sustainability Plan

April 22, 2021

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I write to announce the launch of the next stage of Columbia University’s Sustainability Plan. Plan 2030 outlines a series of carefully devised and tangible goals to be reached over the next ten years, 2021-2030. Grounded in climate science, much of it originating here at Columbia, this plan will put our campuses on a path towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Plan 2030 centralizes sustainability efforts into one University-wide plan that encompasses all of Columbia’s campuses. Emissions targets have been set for Morningside, Manhattanville, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, with the objective of achieving an overall reduction of 42 percent by 2030, 63 percent by 2035, and 100 percent by 2050, all from a 2019 baseline. Each campus will also continue to publicly report its own absolute emissions reduction progress from pre-set baseline years.

To reach these targets, Plan 2030 offers a comprehensive set of operations strategies. They include plans to shift entirely to zero emission electricity, electrify the campuses, decarbonize transportation, and send zero waste to landfills. They call for the creation of policies that establish clear and aggressive sustainability requirements for the construction and design of new buildings and the maintenance of existing ones. Further, they strengthen efforts to raise awareness among students on these issues through the development of a student sustainability education program and opportunities to participate in related projects and coursework.

The emission reduction targets outlined in this plan were developed in consultation with experts in climate and key Earth Institute faculty to ensure that they are science-based; the goals and strategies were developed by working groups of facilities management, faculty representatives, and students to ensure they are operationally sound. The process was led by Environmental Stewardship in partnership with the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee, comprising climate researchers and scholars and operations specialists. They follow on the successes of Columbia’s first, three-year Sustainability Plan from 2017, which gathered the baseline data used to set the strategic and rigorous targets put forth in this plan. 

Plan 2030 aligns with global accords like the Paris Agreement to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. It is also driven by a recognition that addressing this crisis is, at its core, about advancing social justice and alleviating the burden on underserved and marginalized communities that are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 

Sustainable Columbia Plan 2030

The threats posed by the climate crisis demand collective action from our institutions in general and our universities in particular. As I said in my message earlier this week announcing the Climate School leadership, Columbia has strengthened efforts to meet these challenges in recent years by launching the Climate School, committing to carbon neutrality, and formalizing divestment from thermal coal and a non-investment policy for gas and oil companies unless they meet certain criteria or develop a process to transition to net zero emissions. Plan 2030 builds on this work by furthering our commitment to sustainability in ways that will have a lasting impact on our campus operations and culture in the years ahead. 

Plan 2030 will require transformational change across campuses, schools, and departments. Its success is heavily dependent on participation from all of us at all levels. For individuals interested in deepening their involvement on these issues, think about joining the Sustainable Leaders Network. For departmental leaders curious about strategies for deepening their sustainability efforts, reach out to Environmental Stewardship at [email protected]. And for faculty members who would like to learn more about capstone and other projects for students, consider ways to use Columbia’s campus as a living lab. 

I would like to express my gratitude to the Senior Sustainability Advisory Committee, Environmental Stewardship, and all faculty, students, and staff who helped shape and strengthen Plan 2030. 


Lee C. Bollinger