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Joseph Tripodi Head ShotThis week’s interview is with Joseph Tripodi, the Director of Sustainability at Purchase College State University of New York. Joseph was hired in August 2009 to lead the sustainability efforts for Purchase College. As Director of Sustainability, Joseph is tasked with coordinating the College’s efforts toward climate neutrality. In particular, his areas of focus are on alternative fuels and vehicles, sustainability education across the curriculum, renewable energy, energy-recapture technologies, and the recycling process. Previously, he worked as a high school administer in New York where he was involved in various sustainability initiatives.

What campus sustainability initiatives are you working on at the moment?

We are planning building renovations and roof replacements to include PV systems, and we’re researching a solar-powered lighting system for campus bus shelters. We’re finalizing the process to install electric metering for all buildings. Purchase College is the first SUNY to make available redemption machines that accept beverages in cans, plastic, and glass containers. An extensive center-campus construction project involves reclaiming huge amounts of granite and stone pavers, for repurposing on campus roadways, and as material for art and furniture pieces some students are creating with one of our art professors. We’re about to order solar-powered trash compactors that compress at a ratio of about 8:1 and can let you know by computer when they need to be emptied (reducing trips to the units). Professors and administrators are examining all course curricula and considering where sustainability education already is, and where else it should be, in our course offerings. These are just a few examples!

How did you get started in campus sustainability?

In the school district where I formerly worked, we were ahead of the curve – introducing local and organic foods to each school’s menus, establishing an annual sustainability fair, and formalizing sustainability education across grade levels. I had the pleasure of being a part of these efforts; the experience served as a bridge to my new position.

What campus sustainability success are you most proud of?

I have an affinity for efforts that tend to be “invisible.” For example, our transportation director arranged with a tech vendor to eliminate what was an enormous amount of paper reports that were being mailed here automatically. Now, our director prints what little she needs to print, saving over a case of paper a month. Our purchasing director recently approved an order for 30% PCW (post-consumer waste) recycled paper (as opposed to 100% PCW) for a major campus printing project. This is more cost-effective, and the paper will have more usability when recycled. These are just two examples of good thinking. I’m proudest of the “little things” that add up to better and more responsible use of resources.

What advice would you give to others in your position who are just getting started?

Having just started myself, my advice would be:

  1. Place a high value on relationships. The people in any organization are interdependent. Cooperating and interacting thoughtfully will bring about the support and participation of others;
  2. Don’t be the “sustainability police.” Buzz terms, fanaticism, and arrogance turn people off to the work and changes that need to occur for the greater good. Be passionate and enthusiastic in a way that will engage people, not turn them away;
  3. Be realistic. Understand processes, politics, regulations, and other factors affecting your efforts. Again, be passionate, but know that there are factors out there that you have to work with in order to meet your goals.

How do you spend your free time?

I spend as much time as possible on simple pleasures: Being with family, going for walks, swimming (hardly often enough), reading as time permits, following my Knicks and the NBA.

In what area(s) do you see the biggest room for growth in the campus sustainability field?

The biggest room for growth as I see it, for colleges and all areas, is related to the issues of funding and availability. Industry, government, and the development of technology have to make sustainability services and products affordable and available to us. Right now, a lot of no-brainer solutions are being forestalled because costs and funding efforts are prohibitive. A global call to action is needed to scale prices and production to a level where we can afford to leave this Earth in usable condition for future generations. In the mean time, I see room for growth by colleges’ pooling their resources and buying power to make products and services more affordable and available.

How are you incorporating the social dimensions of sustainability into your work?

On an ongoing basis we emphasize the extent to which individual behaviors can bring about meaningful change. Efforts include encouraging recycling while making it easier to do, increasing and/or varying sustainability-related coursework, communicating our own responsible practices (e.g., using compostable utensils in dining halls) – every initiative entails dimensions of social involvement and responsibility.

How are you tracking your progress toward sustainability?

Our participation in the ACUPCC (we’re an original signatory) provides a formal structure to tracking progress. Beyond that, every day people in charge of various departments make countless internal efforts. I’ve cited efforts by our transportation and purchasing departments. Facilities, auxiliary services, print shop, dining services…every facet of the operation self-reports progress being made to reduce, recycle and reuse.

How are your sustainability efforts funded?

One source of funding is the non-profit organization that provides auxiliary services to our campus (the Purchase College Assocation, or PCA). My office is a part of the PCA, which provides significant funding for major sustainability practices and projects. The college itself also funds sustainability efforts. Each department funds purchases and work as opportunities present themselves.

In what ways are students involved in your work?

I have student interns, and we have enthusiastic student-run clubs that work on environmental activism, improving our garden, and other projects. Also, our student government currently is proposing a permanent “green fee” that will support sustainability efforts.

How are you approaching the issues around carbon offsets and or renewable energy credits (RECs)?

Recently, PCA purchased $15,000 in renewable energy credits. We’re exploring the extent to which REC’s will continue to be part of the total effort to reduce our carbon footprint.

How do you plan on incorporating alternative fuels and renewable energy into your campus sustainability efforts?

Earlier I mentioned our pursuit of PV solutions in the design process of scheduled renovation and roof replacement projects. My vision is, as we cycle vehicles out of our fleet, that all campus vehicles be electric, hybrid, battery, plug-in hybrid, or other alternative fuel. Alt-fuel vehicles can be a central representation of our campus sustainability efforts.

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