Did we forget about Environmental Justice?

By: Christos Almeida

In the basement of the New Building on level L3, a floor uncharted by most students, exists the humming of machines and the racket of equipment that keeps the New Building comfortable for all its occupants. From a steamy room riddled with pipes providing heat on cold days, to a windy room of massive metal vents filled with fans circulating air; this is where the heat, water and energy needs for the New Building is dispensed.

Construction for the New Building began in 2007, as an expansion for John Jay, and opened in 2011 for classes. Although the building may look like a contemporary, state-of-the-art facility, the reality is much different.

“CUNY spent something like 700 million dollars to build this building, almost three quarters of a billion dollars. Think about that, the number is unbelievable,” Steven Waxman, Director of Automation/Administrative Superintendent, said. “We get a couple million dollars a year to have staff and stuff to run it.”

Since the New Building first opened, the ever smaller management department tries to get the New Building to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible. Due to its lay-out and construction, attempting to achieve this tall order has proven difficult and near unattainable.

“We are not even a LEED building or an Energy Star building. So right off the bat you already know that everything that we have, came from every single thing you can imagine that is not earth friendly,” Kristin Craig a member from the Environmental Club said.

Even after the construction of the New Building, there has been a great deal of concerns in trying to convert the building to be sustainable. One of the major sustainability problems that the New Building faces is the exorbitant amount of energy used by the building to regulate temperature and keep all lights plus electronics running.

“The library, club Row, individual faculty offices, they all have individual appliances and computers… the littlest appliance, even a little coffee machine…nothing is ever shut off,” Craig said. Hubba Attique, Vice President of the Environmental Club also explained, “The stairways and the hall ways actually use tube lights, rather than led lights, that’s energy consuming and not energy efficient.”

Unlike a regular commercial building which maintains normal business hours from 9AM-5PM, the New Building operates from 7AM-11PM to accommodate classes from early in the morning until late at night. For 16 hour days the New Building is constantly expending energy, and not always in the most efficient manner.

The New Building is also afflicted with multiple environmental worries including the bottled water for vending machines as well as the recycling issue. “Recycling shouldn’t be a problem but since students aren’t properly educated on what can be recycled it makes it worse for facilities,” Craig explained. “City College has water refill stations, Lehman had a building built almost the same year as this [building] and their’s is almost 100% renewable, they have rain water collectors, solar panels, roof heaters, and we were almost built the same year so why aren’t we like that.”

The Environmental Club is doing their best to tackle these concerns by spreading awareness to the John Jay Community through workshops, film festivals and meetings. “Our eventual goal is to maybe to build a garden upstairs in the rooftop of the New Building, the roof top is a huge area and we are not doing anything with it,” Poon said.

On the management side, Steven Waxman along with his department have been slowly implementing peak/off peak hours to try and minimize energy use throughout the day. But progress is difficult being understaffed, and with a budget of about a couple million dollars. “We’ve gone from highly inefficient to somewhat inefficient… we’ve done a lot with what we can,” Waxman said.

A major source of friction for Waxman and the Environmental Club is the lack of support from the leadership, and the bureaucracy within John Jay College. “Climate change and being sustainable is not a big concern with the student government at all, or in the students or faculty in general” said Poon.

With a more environmentally friendly New Building, Waxman advocates that John Jay will not only benefit economically, having more money available for additional programs, faculty, and the student body, but also morally.

“I think if it’s understood that this is a place where this is thought about, were this is studied, where its taking seriously institutionally, that’s going to attract a certain level of student, attract a certain level of faculty that wants to be involved with it and that would be a tremendous benefit for john jay as a learning institution… this is an issue of justice and we should be walking the walk,” said Waxman.