EP69 Environmental Sustainability with Cecil Scheib, NYU’s Chief Sustainability Officer

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I AM GPH EP69 Environmental Sustainability with Cecil Scheib, NYU’s Chief Sustainability Officer
EP69 Environmental Sustainability with Cecil Scheib, NYU’s Chief Sustainability Officer

Alexandra Arriaga: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of I AM GPH. My name is Alexandra Arriaga, and today we will be talking to Cecil Scheib. Cecil is the Chief Sustainability Officer at NYU. He formerly served as a Chief Program Officer at Urban Green Council and the Managing Director of the Building Resiliency Task Force for the city of New York. As Director of Energy and Sustainability at NYU, he was intimately involved in guiding NYU towards environmental excellence, leading efforts related to the eco-gen plant, the Green Grants Program, 30% emissions reductions, greater solid waste diversion rates, weaving sustainability into our procurement and drafting NYU's climate action plan. He also serves on the board of directors of Urban Green Council and the Center for Sustainable and Cooperative Culture. We are also joined by Amanda Garofalo, who is the Associate Director of Operations and Administration at NYU's College of Global Public Health. She will be talking to us about the big move of GPH to a new building in 708 Broadway as well as its innovations to be a model of sustainability. If you want to learn more about NYU's efforts in regards to reducing its carbon footprint and other global scale initiatives, please stay tuned.

Alexandra Arriaga: Hello, Cecil and hello, Amanda. How are you doing today?

Cecil Scheib: Fantastic.

Amanda Garofalo: Good. How are you?

Alexandra Arriaga: I'm doing great. Thank you so much. To start off, I have a question for you, Cecil. Can you tell us a little bit about your career trajectory and what are the key moments along the way that brought you to this role?

Cecil Scheib: That's a great question. I've been involved in sustainability since I was in college and in fact, I credit most of my sustainability activation as things that I learned while at school or in school. That's why I'm so excited to work with NYU students because I see that happened for myself. I was raised on the East Coast and my parents are from right here in New York. My dad went to NYU, I was born in the Bronx and I had never really left the East Coast until I went out for a year to the University of Montana. When I was flying back from my first break in Montana and I flew over the Midwest for the first time and I saw that for a thousand miles or more, the whole landscape is just little tiny squares, even the rivers run sort of at right angles-

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

Cecil Scheib: ... and they take corners as they go around the field and I had never seen that before. That was the moment where I got how thorough the human sort of domination over the planet surface was. That's actually, that moment was when I became turned on to the environment and said, "This is what I want to do."

Alexandra Arriaga: Wow, that's a great story. Can you give us a glimpse into the day to day life of a Chief Sustainability Officer? What does a typical day look like for you?

Cecil Scheib: Well, our office is very small. We're currently seven people. Here at NYU, that is just a drop in the bucket. So we know that we can only reach NYU sustainability goals if we partner very closely with schools, with other units, with students, with faculty, with other administrators. So most of my day is taken up talking with other people and helping other units create their plans for sustainability or checking in with other admins about what they're doing. We run a few of our own projects in our office, but it very commonly it involves working with others.

Alexandra Arriaga: Great. I think you're the right person to talk about this with. I want to talk a little bit about climate change. Many of us try to do small things each day to reduce our carbon footprint. We recycle plastics, we carry reusable water bottles or shopping bags with the hope that these small gestures will add up to a meaningful impact. Can you talk about some of the things, big and small, that NYU is doing to reduce its carbon foot?

Cecil Scheib: Well, let's start with maybe what people can do to reduce their own carbon footprint-

Alexandra Arriaga: Love that.

Cecil Scheib: ... and their own impact as well. Obviously, this is something that people are really worried about these days. Sometimes I see that I'm sort of the green conscience of NYU, people here that are working sustainability and they say, "Oh well, you know, I bring my own bag to the shopping center. If I don't forget it..." and they sort of want my blessing or my absolution. That's not my business. That is every person's individual business, but I also think it's true that often people these days, if they're truly aware of the issues and they're thinking about them, they get very depressed. It's a very depressing topic. It seems too huge.

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: People wonder, "What can I do to possibly make a difference?" I think it's important for people to remember that we sort of got into this mass by the individual actions of each person added up over a globe worth of choices and we can get ourselves out of it the same way. So don't be depressed and while it may seem that your little actions don't mean anything, they actually mean a huge amount. Will they solve the world's problems by themselves? Of course not. It's going to take all of us, but they will add up to something.

Alexandra Arriaga: I love that perspective. It's refreshing to hear that those little things that we do everyday, that we're like, "Ah, is it really making a difference?" It's nice to hear that it actually does.

Cecil Scheib: It makes a huge difference. And I do think it's important to be aware of which actions have a bigger difference, right? Not every action is created equal.

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: Things like the energy use in your personal home or apartment or a student residence room, those really make a big difference, right?

Alexandra Arriaga: So like turning off the light?

Cecil Scheib: Turning off the lights make a huge difference. In fact, it's almost a trope at this point, "Hey, saving the planet is going to be about more than just changing light bulbs." Well, yeah, that's true. But if you haven't actually changed out your light bulbs and you're still using old incandescent bulbs, those are huge carbon emitters. That's one of the easiest things you can do right? Nowadays, a LED bulb is cheap, gives great light, and it's going to last almost forever. So why not do those easy things first and before getting all wrapped up with things that are difficult or hard, please do the easy things first that are going to save lots of carbon.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

Cecil Scheib: Now that doesn't mean that to really get to our goals, we can ignore the things that are going to make a big long-term difference, right?

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: It's not going to be just about bringing your own bag when you go shopping. It is going to be about how much we fly. It is going to be about our diets, right? These are some really big sources of carbon emissions. That's why it's so key to NYU's campaign on the environment that these things... We have to provide people with a lifestyle that they're going to feel is just as rewarding or even preferable when they do the sustainable thing as the non-sustainable thing. Right? Instead of asking people, "Okay, you're going to have to sacrifice and give something up," I ask people, 'Wouldn't you rather drink your morning coffee out of a nice ceramic mug instead of a too hot paper cup with a little sleeve that's sort of fiddling around? Isn't that better? Wouldn't you rather have fresh and in-season produce that tastes great instead of things that are shipped in from the grocery store from another state that don't taste like anything?" So let's focus on the ways that being more sustainable can make our lives better and not view it as a sacrifice.

Alexandra Arriaga: So it's all about marketing too I'm hearing.

Cecil Scheib: Some of it is about marketing, right? Because let's face it, why do we do things the way we do? Some of it's because it's more convenient or it's cheaper. Sure.

Alexandra Arriaga: Right.

Cecil Scheib: Some of it's because what was marketed to us, so some of the way we're going to get out of it is market our way right back.

Alexandra Arriaga: I agree. I think that as an NYU student, I'm really proud to be part of a university that really cares about the environment and I'm interested in knowing what things are being done at NYU to help improve our carbon foot.

Cecil Scheib: That's a great point. Of course, our carbon emissions are huge. NYU by itself is almost one half a percent of all the carbon emissions in New York City from buildings.

Alexandra Arriaga: Wow.

Cecil Scheib: Almost half a percent just by herself, so we have a huge impact and our cuts have a huge impact. We have already reduced our carbon emissions by 30%. So that's like over 0.1% of all city emissions are just NYU savings. We have further goals of being carbon neutral by the year 2040. That's going to be a huge task. It's going to take everyone to do their part-

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: ... but I think that is probably our biggest goal for the environment is that carbon neutral goal. I think it's also important that we look at every dollar we spend at NYU, right? Of course, we're a huge institution and say, "How can this dollar we're spending do what's necessary for the academic success of our students and faculty, but also encourage sustainability?" I think a great example is our dining services contract, which as you know, we just this year-

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: ... in the NYU dining halls, we have a new dining service provider and we have threaded sustainable dining choices throughout the menu choices that will be offered. I think it's a great example of, how can you do things that are going to be healthier for people-

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: ... and also better for the planet, but that people want to eat? Sure, we'd all like to imagine that people are going to pick the lentils over the hamburger because it's healthier or better for the planet.

Alexandra Arriaga: Right.

Cecil Scheib: That's just not reality.

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: That's not the way people operate. People are going to go into the dining hall, they're going to pick what looks delicious and what they think they're going to like to eat. At the end of the day, it's the responsibility of the chefs who are doing the menu selection and the food preparation and that sort of design to make food that looks so delicious that people won't even notice that they're eating something that is local or healthier or has less meat in it.

Alexandra Arriaga: Absolutely true. I do feel like there's almost more of a sensitivity with our younger generations because we've been growing up being told that all these things are happening and I think a lot of people are aware and actually appreciate the fact that these efforts are being made. We also have with us, Amanda, and she's the Associate Director of Operations and Administration at NYU College of Global Public Health. First of all, I'm very excited to have you with us.

Amanda Garofalo: Thank you for having me.

Alexandra Arriaga: We heard that the College of Global Public Health will be moving to a new building at 708 Broadway next year and many people are actually not aware that this new building is being designed very thoughtfully from the floor literally to the ceiling to be a model of sustainability. Can you tell us a little bit about your role and some of the features of this new building?

Amanda Garofalo: Sure. In a nutshell, my role here at GPH is focused primarily on making sure that the college runs smoothly on a day to day basis, but also planning for the future. This involves implementing new policies and procedures and making sure that everybody has the tools and information they need to be productive and efficient. But recently the most exciting part of my job has been planning for this new home at 708 Broadway. I've been working closely with the NYU construction management team and GPH senior leadership and Cecil's team as well to make sure that our new home will be a place where our students want to spend time studying, engaging intellectually, socializing, but also a happy and healthy work environment for our faculty and staff who spend quite a significant amount of time within the walls of the building. We've taken quite a few noteworthy steps towards this and that will help us actually be an example for other colleges at NYU, but elsewhere as well. You had mentioned literally from the floor up-

Alexandra Arriaga: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Amanda Garofalo: ... and that's actually a nice place to start because one of the most complex conversations we had was about carpet. Apart from just wanting to have a design that felt environmental and natural, we ended up choosing a carpet that was actually made from recycled fish nets, fish nets that were recovered from the Pacific Ocean and then converted into this product that we'll be using throughout the building. So literally the moment you put your foot in the GPH new home, you will have done something for the environment. You'll see that at first impact. Then another very important thing for us is equality and access to natural light.

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda Garofalo: We all know how important it is for faculty to have windows and windows in general, are a wonderful thing for people to have. Our building faces Lafayette that has the Eastward sun coming in all day long, so we made a choice to keep that side of the building office free. We have our entire Lafayette side of the building that has sun pouring through and everybody has access to it. If you want to step out of your office, if you're in an internal office, you can sit in the benching area that's on the Lafayette side and have some access to natural light. So we thought that that was very important. We know that that's quite a popular feature in Europe. Europeans do that a lot and we want to be sure that we're doing that too because you're spending time inside, you want to see the outside. Actually, one of our design features is bringing the outside in. You're inside the building, but you want to feel like you have not lost your contact with nature in any environment. We're very conscious of that throughout the building. Another thing we're doing, and again with collaboration with Cecil's team, it's called a Fitwel certification and that means that we are actually going to be measured against components in the building that incorporate healthy practices-

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda Garofalo: ... signage that encourages taking the stairs. We have a bike rack and showers in the basement so that if people want to take their bike to work, they can. They know they'll have a place to put it. Sustainable dining choices readily available, a couple of steps away you can get any sort of food you want that's healthy and that's important to us. That's one of the things we're going to be checking against and all sorts of things like that. In our lobby, we are actually going to have a nice green wall. It's going to be about 10 by 30, which is a big-

Alexandra Arriaga: Big.

Amanda Garofalo: ... big green wall. People will sit in the lobby, they will be looking at nature, they'll be feeling relaxed. The wall behind it will be made of natural materials. We'll be implementing some nature sounds to be flowing through the lobby so that literally when you're coming in this building, you're feeling peace. You're feeling the environment. You know immediately that GPH really cares about the people who come in the building, the people who occupy the building, the students who will be forming themselves in that building, and engaging with other students that have similar goals and objectives, and of course, I didn't mention this before, but again, there's a lot of collaborations as you can see, because we want to be a model for NYU. Even our choice of installation-

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amanda Garofalo: ... will help us reduce the amount of heating we need in the winter and the amount of cooling we need in the summer. All of these things together will really make GPH a place where you can, as I said, bring the outside in. You're walking off the streets of New York City into a place where you feel like you're in contact with nature and surrounded by people who care about the environment, which is important to all of us, I think.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, no, that's amazing. I'm thinking, especially during the winter, it's just so nice to be able to have a space in which you can get some sunlight. I know that when the sun starts to go down at like 4:00 PM, we all just get out of our offices and we feel, "Wow, I have not seen sun today."

Amanda Garofalo: That also factors into our lighting choices. So obviously, in the winter the sun will go down earlier and we'll need some artificial light. But the choices we've made for lighting will be more in line with a natural feel. We won't have the fluorescence that can give you headaches or just make you feel the pain of being inside.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

Amanda Garofalo: That is also another very important feature in the building.

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. I love that and the fact that it's just good for your peace of mind.

Amanda Garofalo: Absolutely.

Alexandra Arriaga: It's very important. So speaking of that peace of mind, Cecil, at GPH, we believe that things like mental health and overall wellness are just as important piece of the student experience as academics and professional development. After all, for a young person to navigate school, career and life in this big crazy city can be very stressful. So you said that you believe sustainability is also just as important for students' success and wellbeing. Is that correct?

Cecil Scheib: That is absolutely correct. I think said very well by Amanda, you were hired.

Amanda Garofalo: Thank you.

Cecil Scheib: She said it's so important our indoor environment because that's where people spend their time and it's true. It's a statistic that people have a hard time accepting, but we spend 90% or more of our time indoors and that sounds impossible. How can I be spending 90% of my time in doors? But were you outside for two hours today?

Alexandra Arriaga: No.

Cecil Scheib: No, and I won't be either and maybe on the weekends, but on weekdays almost never. We go from our apartments or our homes into our car or mass transit or however we get to work or school and we spend all days in doors and then we do the same thing on the way back. The quality of our buildings and our indoor air quality, our light, the materials, whether it's a green wall, natural, whatever, these make a huge impression on our health and wellness. Medical science in the public health field is really zeroing in on how much better air quality in buildings can affect our cognitive function, that people basically think twice as well, whether that's twice as clearly they're better at integrating information, they think more quickly when they have more fresh air. I sort of explain to that people is, "Have you ever been at your desk, you're trying to study or do your work in the afternoon and you just feel like your head is fuzzy and you just can't clear it and maybe you try more coffee and it's not working and you can't figure out what's going on and then you go outside and the fresh air and you feel wide awake again and ready to go?" Maybe you weren't getting enough fresh air. So the good news is that the same things we can do to help people feel more comfortable in their space, whether it's not being too hot or too cold or they're breathing enough fresh air, these are the same things that are actually going to reduce our carbon footprint. Every time you have someone at NYU who is too hot in the winter and opens the windows, and this is a typical New York thing, right?

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

Cecil Scheib: The window's wide open in winter. Every time you have someone who in summer, is running a space heater or is bringing in a scarf or a shawl in the middle of summer because it's too cold in the summer, that is energy waste. A lot of it is because we haven't inherited very old buildings here in New York that weren't really designed for the types of intense uses that we're giving them today and we're slowly making that transition. As we improve these buildings from these old leaky buildings to nice well-insulated tightly sealed buildings, we're not only going to reduce their energy use, we're going to give people better air, which means they're going to think better, which means we're going to achieve NYU's mission.

Alexandra Arriaga: That sounds like a solid plan.

Cecil Scheib: I think another clear indicator for New York specifically is about noise and sound, right?

Alexandra Arriaga: Oh, yeah.

Cecil Scheib: If you talk to NYU students, they will just say the sound of the city, it can be very tough. How do you study in your dorm room? Or how do you sleep? If you think about where our students live at NYU, they live on Third Avenue, they live on Broadway, they live in Union Square or they live on downtown Brooklyn-

Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah.

Cecil Scheib: .... they live on 14th street. These are some of the noisiest parts of the city. To look at how we improve our buildings so they’re quieter inside, which has to do with the installation, which has to do with the better windows, it's more than just the energy savings. It's what's the value to NYU of a student who does better on their midterms, who gets farther with their research because they are well, well rested, that has huge value. I think part of our messages, instead of saying, "Well, we should do the right thing because we need to worry about the ice caps melting." We're saying, "Let's make a better campus that helps our students succeed. Guess what? We're going to help pay for it with the energy savings and we're going to meet our carbon goals and do our part for the planet."

Alexandra Arriaga: When you put it that way, it just sounds like a no brainer. But I'm glad that the proper steps are being taken to make everything more efficient. Now we've talked about what's happening here in New York. I'm wondering, is NYU doing anything on a global scale with Shanghai and Abu Dhabi campuses as well?

Cecil Scheib: We are. We do view this as a global initiative and this is really a two way street. It's not just what are we doing with the other portal campuses and the very many study away sites, but what can we learn from them, right? Many of these sites are in countries that may be doing some things we're not doing here in New York and we can learn from them as well. One of our standards here in New York is that all new construction will be certified LEED. LEED is a standard that looks not just at building energy, but at water use and air quality and how people get to the building and-

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: ... all of these different factors. NYU Shanghai's new campus will also be LEED certified.

Alexandra Arriaga: Nice.

Cecil Scheib: So it's great to bring that sort of unification. Also here in New York as of January 1st, 2020, NYU will stop purchasing single use water bottles. All the five gallon jugs in offices, all of the plastics, single use water bottles of which we buy over 330,000 each year, we're going to stop doing that. In fact, this is the first year in the fall of 2019 where at move in day, where we have almost 15,000 people on campus, we will no longer be giving away water bottles for people to drink. There will be five gallon jugs of New York city tap water. It's the best in the world, best water in the world and people will just be able to drink from the taps. That'll save almost 25,000 bottles on just that one day. If you stacked them up, it'd be 29 Kimmel Centers high.

Alexandra Arriaga: Oh my God.

Cecil Scheib: It's an amazing amount of water bottles just from that one day. At NYU Shanghai, we actually gave them a green grant, which is a program done out of my office to give small grants to students or faculty admins, anyone who thinks they have a green idea that's not been done yet. They have a green grant to look at how to break the water bottle habit there as well.

Alexandra Arriaga: Interesting.

Cecil Scheib: We're similarly partnering with our friends at NYU Abu Dhabi.

Alexandra Arriaga: Nice. Do you know if they found out anything?

Cecil Scheib: About the green grant at Shanghai?

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: That green grant was recently launched and I think throughout fall semester we'll be getting updates.

Alexandra Arriaga: Awesome. So it's very clear to me that you're very passionate about climate change and you're fighting the good fight. My question to you is, what keeps you going to put in the long hours to fight for this cause that is essential to our health, but can seem very overwhelming? Where does that motivation come from for you?

Cecil Scheib: Well, part of it's a feeling of not really having a choice. Right? I'm not sure that the war metaphors help us in the long run, but if you choose those, this is a battle that we literally can't lose, right? Our city is at stake. We used to think it was our grandkids lives or our kids lives at stake. Now we look at the latest science and we realize it will be in our own lifetimes we will see this change. I really try to focus, as I said, on the parts of life that this is a better life. Will there be changes? Yes. Will there be sacrifices? Yes. Will some people resist or not like those changes? Sure. But I try to focus on how good I feel after I bike to campus-

Alexandra Arriaga: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cecil Scheib: ... and how good it is to be outside and how good I feel about that. How nice it is to have a pantry full of glass jars and how nice that looks with all the beans and the grains in glass jars instead of a pantry full of plastic bags. How nice it feels to eat good food. I'll tell a story about it. So I spoke with one of the owners and founders of a very well known fast casual chain. They have many branches all around the city. They even have a couple locations right near NYU and every spring, they offer a Brussels sprouts sandwich, a roasted Brussels sprout sandwich. He said, "It's one of their best sellers." There's lines out the door, people go mad and he only offers it for a few weeks. And he says, "All the people in the field of consultants say, 'You're crazy man, that's your bestseller. You got to sell that sandwich all year round. You'd make a ton of money.'" And he said, "Well, number one, that would sort of defeat the purpose of selling things that are in season." But he said, "You're missing the point, that people go crazy for that because the Brussels sprouts taste so good because it's in season. If I offer that sandwich year round, it wouldn't taste so good."

Alexandra Arriaga: Right.

Cecil Scheib: That's an example of let's not focus on what you're going to lose because you can only eat certain foods at certain times because of their carbon footprint or whatever it is. Let's focus on the amazing things we're going to taste when we do those things. So that's really what keeps me going.

Alexandra Arriaga: Awesome. Would you recommend any resources for students and faculty or anyone really that wants to be a little bit more informed about better practices?

Cecil Scheib: Well, I would definitely advise following us on various sorts of social media where we post lots of little tips for people. They're often very focused on campus. It's not just, "Eat this type of food now," it's, "Oh, here's where you can go and get it on campus," and that sort of thing. You can also look at our website, has a lot of resources. I think this is a great time to be interested in the environment. We have a green exploration floor we'll be starting up this year at Second Street dorm. It's a place for students to get involved. There's lots of student clubs-

Alexandra Arriaga: Yes.

Cecil Scheib: ... that students, as they come back this fall, should be looking at. I think those resources are basically all around us at this point. We are NYU Green and you can find our website at www.nyu.edu/sustainability.

Alexandra Arriaga: Great. Well, thank you so much Cecil and Amanda. It was great talking to you. I am excited to see the new building and hopefully, lots of people will listen to this and be encouraged to do small changes to help out.

Cecil Scheib: Please feel free to reach out if you have any further questions if you're hearing this.

Alexandra Arriaga: Thank you so much.

Amanda Garofalo: Thank you.

Cecil Scheib: Thank you.