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SUNY can be environmentally sustainable

The Haudenosaunee Confederacy has a core principle known as the Seventh Generation, which dictates that any decisions made today must result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

The Haudenosaunee have adhered to this ancient principle for centuries. Onondaga Nation Faithkeeper Oren Lyons explains it best when he says “When you sit in council for the welfare of the people, you must not think of yourself or of your family, not even of your generation. Make your decisions on behalf of the seven generations coming, so that they may enjoy what you have today."

His words resonate, especially when it comes to climate change and preserving our planet. Think about it: The decisions we make today will affect generations which are not born yet and will one day live on the Earth that we leave them. Will we leave our children’s children a green planet with clean air and clean water, or will we continue to make rash choices that benefit us, but doom them?

I believe we are obligated to protect our planet for those that will come after us. If we don’t take steps now to do that, our future - and their future - is in peril.

That is why the union I’m privileged to serve as president of, United University Professions, has embarked on a campaign to make SUNY a leader when it comes to combating climate change, sustainability and green energy.

SUNY can be - and should be - a state and national leader in these endeavors. As the largest public university system in the country, a green, sustainable SUNY can set an example and make a statement that will not go ignored.

SUNY is uniquely positioned to have a major impact in addressing the environmental challenges we’re facing today—and will face in the future. SUNY has over 40 percent of the buildings owned by the state of New York.

The methods SUNY develops to convert them to green energy can be replicated across the state—and help move New York toward a sustainable future.

SUNY is a research giant. Our researchers are hard at work developing methods to halt and reverse the devastation caused by years of environmental abuse. That work must continue and expand.

As UUP first proposed back in 2014, SUNY campuses can and should do more than educate students about climate change. Our campuses can train and retrain workers for the green jobs of the future. And SUNY campuses can provide the infrastructure for the green energy conversion that must occur.

State support is crucial if SUNY is to take the steps necessary to be a cleaner, greener place for students, staff and surrounding communities. What we need is smart climate legislation that will protect and preserve our environment. Enacting green initiatives now will create real, lasting change throughout the SUNY system for generations to come.

Making SUNY sustainable can be New York’s first real step toward sustainability statewide.

Our union is committed to fighting for that.

That’s why, through our New York HEALS legislative agenda, we’ve brought five sustainability proposals directly to members of the Assembly and Senate and asked them to sponsor them as bills.

So far, four of the five bills have prime sponsors, and we are working on getting legislative support for the last proposal—the creation of a Green Revolving Fund that would provide start-up financing for campus-based sustainability projects.

Senator Brad Hoylman is backing our Zero Waste bill, which would require SUNY to develop systemwide and campus action plans to have zero waste by 2030. The plan would consider areas such as purchasing, surplus property, single-use plastics, recycling and reusing materials.

Senator Robert Jackson is the prime sponsor of a bill that would legally mandate SUNY to hire a systemwide sustainability director. Assembly member Anna Kelles is supporting a bill to create new campus-based sustainability jobs in the areas of waste management, energy management and education and outreach.

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy is the prime sponsor of a bill to create surplus property marketplaces on campus. A SUNY-wide marketplace would also be set up so items of use could be transferred between campuses. Items that don’t have takers would be donated instead of taken to a landfill.

These are common sense ideas that were developed by activist members of UUP and they are ideas that will go far in reducing SUNY’s carbon footprint and the amount of waste it produces.

With 64 campuses spread out across the state, these measures will have a profound and immediate impact - especially in communities that host or are near SUNY colleges and universities.

They would lower energy use, limit the amount of pollution and carbon gases released into the atmosphere, and contribute to a greener economy.

And that’s worth fighting for.

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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