“2008 ‘International Earth Summit’ Proclaims
by Michael Aaron Gallagher
As a city once known for its industrial pollution and declining environmental health, Syracuse has certainly come a long way over the past decade. Now, with thriving partnerships among local government, colleges and universities and area businesses, Central New York is helping to lead the “green” technology revolution.
This gradual transformation from brownfields to “green” infrastructure has been made possible by the active involvement of local government officials, research grants and the participation of organizations like the Onondaga Lake Partnership, OCCRA, Syracuse University, SUNY ESF, Lemoyne College, OCC, the Center of Excellence, Destiny USA and many others.
Syracuse is continuing to make strides both in environmental research and the development and implementation of programs specifically designed to limit the carbon footprint of commercial construction, vehicles for transportation and other human activity.
Throughout the region there are a host of exciting new projects taking shape, including innovative architectural designs for new buildings, scientific research on alternative fuels for automobiles, the transition to the use of ENERGY STAR appliances in homes and businesses, the growing support for “buy local” campaigns to aid Central New York farmers and reduce distribution costs for produce, a connective corridor that is gradually revitalizing the downtown social scene and green construction on the innovative new Center of Excellence facility and other environmental sustainability projects.
This year Syracuse hosted the 2008 “International Earth Summit,” a gathering of some of the top minds in environmental planning and education. The event was co-hosted by the City of Syracuse, the NYS Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling, and the NYS Congress of Parents and Teachers, Inc.
Event speakers included Jill Buck, the founder and executive director of the “Go Green Initiative,” David Refkin, the director of sustainable development at Time Inc. and Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll. Other notable speakers included Dr. Nancy Cantor, Syracuse University chancellor and Dr. Neal Murphy, president of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
According to Buck, the “Go Green Initiative,” which provides a framework for eco-friendly changes, is a program used in schools and businesses in all 50 states, in 13 countries and across four continents. The overall goal of the initiative is “to protect children’s health through environmental stewardship.” Since its creation, many of the “Go Green” programs have saved school districts tens of thousands of dollars each year, which they were able to use to hire additional staff or purchase classroom materials. The best part of the “Go Green Initiative” is the program is free for schools to implement and does not require additional work from teachers and administrators.
In her opening remarks, Buck said, “Schools are a tremendous source of waste.” By following the “Go Green” action plan, they are able to more efficiently utilize their resources and reduce their annual budget, saving taxpayers thousands of dollars each school year.
Mayor Matt Driscoll echoed the city’s commitment to being an environmental leader both through practice and education, saying, “We’ve adopted the city’s green ordinance requiring all municipal building projects in the city to meet LEED [U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] green certified building standards. Just last night we opened the first municipal building annex that is fueled by photovoltaic solar panels. I believe we’ve proven that any municipality large or small can implement these initiatives, and that believing in building a sustainable future is key to cities.” He went on to say, “I believe that the most important component of the ‘green’ movement is educating our children, and the importance of ensuring that our environment and natural resources are preserved.”
In her lecture, “Scholarship in Action: The Role of Universities in Tackling Global Environmental Threats,” Dr. Nancy Cantor discussed the work being done by Syracuse University to revitalize neighborhoods, the cross-disciplinary collaboration among faculty and students, environmental sustainability projects, the relationship between arts, entertainment and “green” projects, the development of the connective corridor, the urban video project and the Center of Excellence‘s focus on clean renewable energy, indoor environmental quality and capitalizing on the efficient management of water resources.
With its wealth of information for teachers and administrators, the 2008 International “Go Green” Earth Summit showed not only the importance of environmental education as an integral part of school curricula, but also how our educational institutions can be a true catalyst for change.
What advice does Hollywood have for Central New York’s “green” movement?
The growing awareness for environmental issues is an important first step in improving not only decades of manufacturing pollution and carcinogenic toxins in the air we breath and in our drinking water, but in reducing the number of cancer deaths and other health conditions that result from exposure to these chemicals.
In simplest terms, everything from asthma to cancer can be caused by environmental hazards. I recently asked Pleasant Wayne (Hollywood actress and national spokesmodel for OneCan.org, an organization that recycles bottles and cans for the needy), about the importance of educating young people to participate in eco-friendly projects.
“There are many simple things we can do to improve our environmental surroundings that will also benefit our own health and wellness.” Wayne said, “I believe that one of the most important messages we can teach to young people, as well as those interested in preserving our precious natural resources, is to consume less and re-use what we do have.”
Making small changes can have an enormous impact on the costs of doing business for companies, your personal financial budget and the resulting improvement to the quality and safety of our environment.
“If we all began to re-use the same containers to carry water, laundry soap, juices, etc.,” Wayne said, “this would eliminate the need to mass produce billions of plastic bottles. By eliminating the production, we would be reducing pollution and the use of man-made, dangerous toxic chemicals used to make these plastics.”
Excess product packaging is an incredible source of waste, much of which ends up in landfills. But recycling efforts are not the only way you can participate. In fact, you can help, by choosing everyday consumer products more carefully.
As an actress, Pleasant Wayne is also deeply committed to promoting the use of natural cosmetics, “Using natural body care products is a very fine way to help the environment and care for your body in a safe and natural way. Many commercial body care products contain harmful chemicals that can interfere with the body’s natural hormone cycles and growth patterns. Practicing these simple things can make huge positive impacts on the way the world runs and the way we feel on the inside and look on the outside!”
By educating young people to understand the importance of participating in programs that directly improve our local environment, we are training the next generation of leaders in the new “green” economy. In Syracuse, “green” initiatives are more than a buzzword. Instead of being bound to its old ways, the city is actively developing and perfecting a framework for other cities to model around the world. These environmentally friendly, economically sound initiatives are leading the way and setting the standard for what is possible in sustainability projects, municipal resource efficiency, educational collaborations, and community participation, as we together pioneer a new frontier in the global eco-economy.
Three more ways you can get involved:
1. Does your company want publicity for being environmentally responsible? Try turning your building’s rooftop into a “green” roof or urban garden. Not only will you save money on energy usage (for heating and cooling), but you will also make a positive environmental impact on your city’s air quality.
2. Don’t litter. Instead, participate in a neighborhood cleanup project to pick up trash and other debris and work with local business owners to place trashcans where people commonly discard items. Continue to separate your recyclables at home and at work and put them in the recycling bin.
3. According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, Syracuse, which has been a “tree city” for the past 18 years, is one of 3,310 communities in the United States that meets the standards for inclusion in the “Tree City USA” program. Plant a tree in your yard to help your city stay green. For more info on where to find seedlings visit the National Arbor Day’s web site www.arborday.org or the Saratoga Tree Nursery (2369 Rt. 50 South, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866 – Telephone: (518) 581-1439).
For more information on the Go Green Initiative visit: http://www.gogreeninitiative.org/. To find out more about Pleasant Wayne visit: http://www.pleasantwayne.com/ or add her as a friend on Myspace at www.myspace.com/pleasantwayne.
“2008 ‘International Earth Summit’ Proclaims
Syracuse’s Commitment to Leading the Eco-Economy”
Photographs: Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll & Syracuse University
Chancellor Dr. Nancy Cantor by Michael Aaron Gallagher
Copyright © 2008 by Michael Aaron Gallagher
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