SUNY Cortland will host NY sustainability conference

Old Main at SUNY Cortland (Source: SUNY Cortland)

There may be nothing funny about climate change, but attendees at next month’s New York Coalition for Sustainability in Higher Education annual conference at SUNY Cortland are likely to do some laughing.

After all, one of the conference’s two keynote speakers became a climate activist to keep pasta from becoming an endangered species.

Peterson Toscano, a humorist who describes himself as a queer, Quaker human rights activist and performance artist, will keynote the opening day of the 2017 State of New York Sustainability Conference, to be held Wednesday, Nov. 15 and Thursday, 16 at SUNY Cortland.

Toscano’s presentation, “A Queer Response to Climate Change: What Would Walt Whitman Do?” is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, in Old Main Brown Auditorium. The talk is free and open to the public. He will also speak earlier that day at a luncheon for conference participants, sharing creative and oddball approaches to the world’s biggest problems.

Erik Foley, an expert on integrating environmental sustainability and business practices at Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business, will deliver the conference’s closing keynote at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, in the Corey Union Function Room. Foley’s talk, “The Three Dysfunctions of Sustainability,” an exploration of how business and higher education address environmental issues, is open to all conference attendees.

Between the keynotes, SUNY Cortland will host a series of conference sessions on topics that include climate resiliency, youth engagement in climate justice, art and sustainability, regional food networks, student-driven sustainability projects and carbon pricing strategies. More information is available at the conference website.

“The commitment needed to ensure a sustainable future touches all aspects of our lives and that’s reflected in the impressive variety of topics on the agenda of this conference,” SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum said.  “SUNY Cortland has been a leader in this field and we are honored to host this year’s event.”

The conference is aimed at energy managers, sustainability coordinators, faculty, students and staff from public and private higher-education institutions throughout the state. Online registration is available.

Participants can register for both days with fees of $150 for professionals and $50 for students or for just one day at $90 for professionals and $25 for students. Student attendees can participate in a special dinner and networking session in the Corey Union Fireplace Lounge after Toscano’s keynote address.

For more information, or if students or faculty would like attend individual sessions, contact the conference co-chairs Matt Brubaker or Beth Klein at [email protected].

This is the seventh annual conference of the coalition, an organization created to help colleges, universities and their supporting organizations share information and coordinate actions to help make New York state more environmentally sustainable.

Among the conference sponsors is the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and its Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) Campus Challenge program. The REV Challenge allows students from participating schools to compete with clean energy initiatives. The organization will hold a feedback session after Foley’s closing keynote on Nov. 16.

SUNY Cortland, this year’s conference host and a REV Campus Challenge participant, has been a leader in this effort. The College was:

  • One of the first colleges across the country to earn a “gold” rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Cortland was the first SUNY campus to reach that milestone. At the time, only one school in the United States — Colorado State — had done better by achieving a platinum designation.
  • The first SUNY campus to fill all of its electrical needs with renewable sources like wind and solar.
  • The first public college in New York to build a residence hall with the highest possible certification under the national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system.
  • The first SUNY campus to earn membership into the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Leadership Club.
  • The first school in the nation to offer a professional master’s degree in sustainable energy systems.
  • The first SUNY institution to develop a large-scale solar energy generation project (3,600 panels) using the New York Sun initiative.
  • The only New York college identified as a “pollinator friendly” Bee Campus USA.
  • The first SUNY school to sign the American College and University Climate Commitment, committing the campus to pursuing the elimination of its greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The first SUNY college to create Green Rep program — student educators hired to promote a more sustainable lifestyle across campus.