The New School Takes on NYC’s Zero Waste Challenge

NEW YORK — The New School in New York begs the question: Is there a new lease on life for universities in the urban environment?

Yes, yes and yes thanks to an ambitious effort to further sustainability efforts in New York City and it’s NYC Zero Waste Challenge, an initiative from the NYC Mayor’s Office that encourages waste-generating businesses to strive to reach zero waste to landfill and incineration. The New School, a progressive university with its main campus in New York City, has constructed a 16-story LEED Gold–certified University Center (UC). To date, the center is the only college or university to participate in the the NYC Zero Waste Challenge.

The center first opened in January 2014 and was then one of the most green-friendly academic institutions in the nation. Two years later, the NYC Mayor’s Office invited The New School to participate in its Zero Waste Challenge.

“Achieving the city’s ambitious climate change agenda will require meeting our zero waste goals. The Zero Waste Challenge has proven to be a successful way to highlight effective actions to reduce waste, diverting over 36,000 tons of waste. This should inspire every New Yorker to do their part and commit to sending zero waste to landfill,” said Daniel Zarrilli, senior director for Climate Policy and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer for the Office of the Mayor, in a statement issued when the challenge was first issued.

As part of the challenge, The New School contributed data and other valuable feedback to the city, documenting its experience as a multibuilding campus and the vicissitudes of its various waste streams, according to a post on The University Network blog.

The university has also retrofitted signs on campus disposal receptacles that better identify where recyclables, compostables and materials intended for the landfill should be tossed. Additionally, the university launched a program dubbed “Good As New,” which is a “a reuse and waste reduction initiative that encourages all New School students to donate reusable school supplies and materials at the end of each semester so that these items stay out of landfills and can be used by other students in the future,” according to the school’s website.

In all, the UC enjoys about 360,000 square feet of floor space, which includes classrooms, a cafeteria and a cafe in addition to a 600-student residence hall and a 800-seat auditorium. It boasts smart lighting and climate systems throughout, a cogeneration plant and is topped by a green roof. The university’s investments are also green, as it entirely divested from fossil fuels, which required shedding all related investments, stocks and bonds.

The New School will also deepen its green-themed efforts this-coming May 2018 when the Tishman Environment and Design Center at The New School will partner with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives in hosting the Design, Justice, and Zero Waste Conference and Research Collaborative. The goal of the partnership is to address the impact of production, consumption and waste on environmental justice communities, workers and vulnerable populations.