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Sustainability Panel Urges Think Globally, Act Locally

By Danielle Raulli '10
Posted November 14, 2007
Tags Sustainability
Hamilton hosted a panel discussion titled "Global Problems, Regional Actions: Sustainability in the Mohawk Valley" on Nov. 13. Panelists included Utica Mayor Tim Julian; Utica attorney Peter Rayhill; John Furman, president of Utica/Central New York Citizens in Action; Hamilton Director of Environmental Protection, Safety and Sustainability Brian Hansen; Patrick Raynard, general manager of Bon Appétit; Elaine Hills, a Ph.D. candidate at SUNY Albany; and Hamilton senior Jenney Stringer. Visiting Assistant Professor of Government Peter Cannavo was moderator. Each panelist suggested ways in which citizens can become involved in local sustainability efforts and highlighted methods of addressing large-scale environmental problems. 

Brian Hansen began the discussion with a brief synopsis of Hamilton's own sustainability efforts in the past 20 years. He asserted that Hamilton, although a learning institution, is also an "industrial business" that has a $125 million annual operating budget. This industry leaves "carbon footprints on our environment," for example, 3.5 tons of chemical and medical wastes. The main focus of the campus in the past 20 years has been waste reduction, and most recently, green construction of buildings such as the Science Center. He said the current recycling rate of Hamilton is 25.5 percent and that the campus hopes to reach higher recycling rates in the near feature. 

Next to speak was Patrick Raynard, general manager of Bon Appétit. Bon Appétit,' he said, which strives to provide "Food Services for a Sustainable Future" supports the use of food grown by local farmers as seen in the "Farm to Fork" section of McEwen dining hall as well as the September "Eat Local Challenge."Other efforts toward sustainability include the root cellar, which stores locally grown vegetables, and the Green Café in McEwen which offers fair trade coffees and teas, as well has local meats free of growth hormones. Raynard is hopeful that by next spring, all fruits and vegetables found in Hamilton's dining halls will be from the U.S., rather than imported foods. 

Elaine Hills also spoke about the importance of sustainable food to our environment, stressing "ecological literacy." Ecological literacy includes not only knowing facts about the environment, but also changing our practices to benefit the environment. This includes building meaningful relationships with the community, such as building a community garden, as well as using re-usable items to reduce paper and plastic consumption. 

John Furman, president of Utica/Central New York Citizens in Action, works to include low-income residents in the environmental decision-making process, commenting that this group is often left out of important decisions that shape the future. His organization hopes that the Mohawk Valley region will "become a showcase" for community involvement in environmental decision-making. Efforts toward a more sustainable future include ideas such as the green standard for public buildings, replacing current traffic signals with LED traffic signals and stressing the use of green vehicles as part of this process. 

Jenney Stringer '08 offered one example of how to improve sustainability efforts with her Utica Community Garden project, which brings the residents of Utica's F.X. Matt housing complex together for the good of the environment. Residents of the complex are refugees from Europe, Asia and Africa, and with the help of Hamilton students and Home Depot volunteers, have built 29 garden plots that allow the community to grow healthy food on the local level. Stringer also commented that the garden helps increase economic activity by selling surplus vegetables in local markets. 

Utica attorney Peter Rayhill spoke about "the downstream problem" by first asking listeners, "Who picks up your garbage, and do you care?" He asserted that management of waste in the Utica area, as well as many upstate communities, needs to be handled more efficiently in order for local control over environmental issues to be possible. Citizens need to call on elected officials to help persuade local decision makers into action. 

Finally, Mayor Julian highlighted the idea of parochialism and how the sharing of services between communities is "not what it should be." He commented that Utica, along with many upstate New York communities, is an "older industrial city" whose environmental sustainability is hindered due to the urban sprawl. The mayor's solution to this problem is consolidation, arguing that all aspects of city life need to be consolidated in order to facilitate the environmental sustainability project, but, many consolidation efforts are often ignored due to the costs of infrastructure. 

While environmental sustainability proves to be an important yet challenging issue, complex problems leave many citizens unable to act in order to help the situation. However, the panelists stressed that a global issue such as this can be remedied if each community takes part in local sustainability efforts. The panel was organized by Professor Cannavo and Communications Assistant Scott Stafford.


-- by Danielle Raulli '10

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