Enid Cardinal is no stranger to green initiatives. That’s why RIT President Bill Destler appointed Cardinal as senior sustainability adviser. Cardinal, a LEED-accredited sustainability professional, advises Destler in every area RIT can implement green policies. Cardinal recently talked with University News senior communication specialist Kevin Fuller about her new role.
Question: What exactly will your role be at RIT?
Answer: My role is to develop policies and programs that will help RIT become an international model for best practices in sustainability in higher education. One of my primary responsibilities will be to see that RIT achieves climate neutrality as outlined in the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.
Q: Talk about your background and what you bring to the table from your previous experiences.
A: I have done trail construction, health and safety enforcement on a hazardous waste clean up site, social analysis of corporations for consideration in investment portfolios, consulting, etc. Most recently and probably most relevant was my role as the director of the Office of Sustainability at Illinois State University. There I worked to establish an annual sustainability workshop across the curriculum for faculty members, assisted the Student Government Association in creating an executive level position for sustainability within SGA and later the creation of an SGA sustainability committee. I also wrote the university’s sustainability policy and the first ever campus-wide sustainability report. What I am most proud of in my work at ISU and believe will be central in my role at RIT as well are the community partnerships that I built around sustainability. In particular, I launched a community-wide food scrap-composting program that is a partnership with municipal governments, a private hauler and ISU (where the composting occurs at the university farm). While food-composting opportunities already exist in Rochester, there are many other potential community partnerships, and RIT could serve as the lead for those collaborations.
Q: How has the issue of sustainability affected your personal life?
A: I suppose sustainability has always been a part of my life — well before it was even called that. The house that I grew up in never had the perfect green lawn that all of our neighbors had. My mother refused to add chemicals or fertilizers to it. Instead, the house was surrounded by trees, much to the dismay of my siblings and me in the fall when it came time to rake leaves. But because of the trees, our house was always fairly cool in the summer without air conditioning. Box or instant food was unheard of in my house. Everything was made from scratch. Recycling bins were a permanent fixture in the house. I grew up with the outdoors as my playground, so when I returned from college to find that one of my favorite wetland playgrounds had been filled and turned into a housing development, which continues to have severe drainage issues and complaints of flooded basements, it served as a wake-up call to me. My personal commitment to sustainable practices began to shape my career path. Today I suppose it is second nature to me. I never go anywhere without a refillable water bottle or travel mug. My reusable bags are always on hand for trips to the store. I shut off the lights whenever I leave a room, sometimes forgetting that someone else is still there. I am a vegetarian. I live close to a bus route, so I will not have to rely on a car. I don’t buy the newest cell phone or electronic device; I wait until I actually need it. I research the companies that I am considering making purchases with or doing business with and am willing to spend a little more for something that is made in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Even while on vacation, I research companies and ask questions about their social and environmental practices before selecting a tour, hostel, restaurant, etc.
Q: How do you think RIT measures up in terms of sustainability efforts?
A: RIT’s commitment to green building and the number of LEED-certified buildings on campus is very impressive. In this area, RIT is undoubtedly ahead of many college campuses. Even more impressive to me is President Destler’s vision and dedication to sustainability. More often than not, it is students or faculty members who are leading the sustainability movement on campuses. RIT is unique in that in addition to an engaging faculty, staff and student population, the president is strongly committed to enhancing sustainability at RIT. While there are several areas that RIT can improve upon, given such strong support I have no doubt that RIT will make significant progress in those areas in the coming years.
Q: What are some of the major sustainability initiatives you would like to roll out here at RIT?
A: One of the first major initiatives that I would like to implement at RIT is participation in the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (https://stars.aashe.org) developed through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. It will allow RIT to develop a sustainability baseline from which we can measure progress going forward. Additionally, it will enable RIT to understand how we compare to our peer institutions.
Q: RIT granted its first Ph.D. in sustainability this past May. How is sustainability changing campuses across the nation? Is higher education becoming a living lab for sustainability?
A: The obvious answer is that infrastructure is changing—buildings are being constructed with higher performance expectations, renewable energy installations are being added, landscaping is changing to reflect the need to conserve water, etc. But what I find most exciting is the changes in curriculum. New programs are springing up and old programs are being redesigned to reflect an ever-increasing interest in sustainability in business, the arts, construction, social sciences, etc. More students are being exposed to and getting excited about sustainability.