NYU’s sustainability deception (work-in-progress post)

March 2, 2024 by Joshua
in Education, Leadership

I teach at NYU and work on sustainability leadership. NYU talks about sustainability and to some extend sincerely tries, but it doesn’t come close to its rhetoric. It completely misses on sustainability leadership, as distinct from sustainability. I don’t see much integrity in its sustainability. The same follows for higher education in general, as best I can tell.

I’ve been vaguely keeping track of discrepancies I find. I’ve had this tab open on my browser to keep track of some of it. I don’t know when I’ll polish up the writing in the post below or finish compiling all the discrepancies I’ve found, but you might catch some of what I’ve seen from skimming.

I’ll keep updating this post to add new discrepancies and refine what I’ve written.


Claims “greenest campus” but also “global campus”, including possibly a hundred thousand flights per year

University claims greenest campus but also talks about global campus resulting in likely six figures per year of flights.

Must recognize core mission is no longer classroom learning, though still valued. More about promoting people from remote places to fly to other places in name of spreading culture. But not spreading culture, homogenizing. There are millions of people who could learn as much and contribute as much within subway distance of campus who, it would be better if they were neglected. Since recruiting people with status in hierarchy, usually meaning rich parents, NYU promotes hierarchy and polluting, depleting activities as core strategy.

Plays loose with metrics for building efficiency by building more

Uses metric for buildings of impact per square foot and is making some buildings more efficient, but mostly lowers metric by building more buildings. More buildings are not less pollution. Neighborhood resents NYU for undermining community.

Pledged no water bottles, then uses tons of water bottles, rationalizing with with definitions my class calls “slippery” and “slimy”

NYU in 2019: We will stop buying bottled water. NYU in 2023: Here’s some bottled water from us.

NYU to Halt Spending on Plastic Bottles by 2020

Here’s a vending machine with plenty of disposable bottles including some water bottles. As long as the water in the bottles is flavored or carbonated, NYU considers it following its ban.

My classes described administration water bottle policy as “slippery” and “slimy.”

NYU water bottles vending machine

Here’s one room in NYU’s main lobby. Do you think they’d keep the vending machines there if they weren’t selling? It’s tempting to say that buying shows demand, but no student would suffer if the machines weren’t there. There are sinks and water fountains all over. People have been using containers for water for ten thousand years. NYU students passed many admission tests. They can do without vending machines.


NYU To Halt Plastic Bottle policy

Policy: NYU funds shall not be used to purchase pre-packaged, still water on campus in NYC.


Here is a panel discussion where NYU provided panelists and attendees water bottles. It’s not like there aren’t sinks near this room.

A student posted this picture with lots of water bottles on social media, stating “Here’s what NYU gave me in Senior House

NYU buys and gives students plastic water bottles

Needless food garbage, lots of doof

Here is a typical lunch NYU serves at events:

NYU Lunch Garbage

Students argued that not flying was impossible.

In my leadership classes, students have stated that not flying was impossible. This self-serving lie has become part of our culture. A major part of culture is beliefs that remain unquestioned. Obviously not flying is possible. More than ninety percent of people don’t fly. Our culture requires flying, not life in general. On the contrary, flying kills.

In any case, despite it being an unquestioned cultural belief, I attribute students believing and propagating the lie in part to NYU’s “leadership” and its duplicity on the matter.

Cooking demonstration on reducing waste wastes and teaching more wasting

Cooking demonstration promoted as reducing waste resulted in pollution and teaching students pollution. Organizer falsely claimed if NYU promoted using something (a disposable bowl labeled compostable) it was green. Gloves, plastic utensils that kept breaking, no consideration of pollution in heating, second dish was pure doof.

Student idea to reduce waste increases waste; sticks with it

Student promoted contest to amass most materials to recycle, not to reduce most waste, succumbing to Cobra Effect, with award being a plane trip. When I pointed out the counterproductive effect, he said he still wanted to promote it.

Sustainability event: gives out needless disposable waste

At sustainability event, gave out disposable bamboo utensils in plastic bags.

Not neighborly

Washington Square Park a mess, especially by students. NYU benefits from park but doesn’t return.

Defends heating empty buildings beyond recommendations

Politely complained to Dean of room at 72 degrees, referred to building manager who took a month or so to schedule a call with. He brought on a finance guy who spent most of the call lecturing me on what a great job on sustainability NYU was doing. Listened little. Changed nothing, but discouraged me from following up, which was probably their goal, not sustainability. I had found and shared Columbia’s policy, citing research showing lower temperatures worked. NYU showed no curiosity or interest.

December 30, 2023, though open all winter, as far as I saw. I went to the room to try to close it but it was locked. I probably should have called someone.


End-of-semester dumping of valuable materials

At the end of semesters, NYU puts dumpsters in front of several dorms for what students throw away when they move out. The New York group Freegans organizes groups to go through that trash. Why? Because NYU students throw out so much perfectly useful stuff: computers, furniture, clothes, food, books, toiletries, and so on.


“Energy” specialist professor doesn’t use the subway

I was invited to a welcome-aboard event with a professor hired as an energy specialist. She gave a talk, partly positioning work in energy as environmental. She also talked about he she flew classes of students to events.

After she spoke, people chatted over wine and cheese. Eventually the professor said she had to go to Grand Central and asked people the best place to catch a cab. Several professors began discussing the answer. After a few minutes, they asked me my opinion.

I said, “I’d take the subway. It’s one stop.” We were in building two blocks from Union Square. Not that safety was an issue, but it was after work, so broad daylight. She didn’t have luggage.

Something like half a dozen professors (I didn’t count) including one hired to promote sustainability (at least NYU was promoting her that way) didn’t consider the subway.


NYU claims to promote diversity, but brings remarkably similar students from around the world, not diverse people from nearby

My non-scientific observation: NYU values classroom learning, but has deprecated its importance to its mission relative to bringing students from what it presents as diverse backgrounds to learn and exchange about different cultures.

In practice, distance has become a poor measure of diversity. NYU students from China and India, for example, seem skimmed from the top economic classes there, remarkably similar to top economic classes here. They fly back home several times a year. I understand that most of them pay full tuition, a huge financial motivation to NYU to accept them and claim diversity based on distance traveled and skin color among people who lived similar lives.

Meanwhile, without leaving the island of Manhattan, you can find people with more diverse lives than the distribution of many NYU students, just as smart, but unable to pay NYU’s tuition. NYU certainly has students who commute from Harlem and other underserved local communities, but it looks like a small and shrinking fraction compared to its increasingly homogeneous global elite.

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