By Bahar Gidwani
A few months ago, Cornell received a commitment from David Atkinson to add $80 million to the endowment of the Cornell Center for a Sustainable Future. Wow, that is a lot of money!
The Wall Street Journal described how Mr. Atkinson (a graduate of both Cornell and Wharton Business School) gave a smaller, $3 million gift in 2007, to test what Cornell could do with his help. He sought the help of an outside group of scholars and organizations to evaluate the results and clearly felt they were good enough to make a further investment worthwhile.
With the support of the faculty and Mr. Atkinson’s help, Cornell’s Center has now pulled together a group of 232 faculty and researchers from 55 departments, to work on sustainability issues. It is an admirable effort to explore, study, and understand sustainability issues.
Do Cornell’s undergraduates appreciate this unique approach? I counted more than 30 student organizations on the campus that are involved in or support issues of sustainability. I suspect these groups appreciate the increase in awareness of their programs that the center fosters within the faculty and administration. We hope that many of these students will become CSRHUB users.
Are there similar programs at other major schools? Columbia’s Earth Institute is bigger and broader, with 850 scientists, postdocs, staff and students. Harvard has a much smaller Green Harvard effort—although it does get prominent mention on their home page. Yale has launched a three year Sustainability Strategic Plan and has a subdomain on its web site for sustainability activities. Duke also has a sustainability subdomain, but it is a “clearinghouse,” without evidence of major funding or focus.
The major schools study each other’s strategies and compete fiercely for attention, funding, and students. I hope that Cornell’s success and progress will stimulate its peers to step up their efforts in this area. We’d like to see both a big center for studying sustainability at Cornell, and many big centers in other places, as well.