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at the college of human ecology Sustainability is a vital issue embedded in nearly every aspect of society. The energy we use to power our homes, the materials used in our everyday products, how and where we buy our food, and the design of our communities all affect the environment. Sustainability is a core value at the College of Human Ecology, woven throughout the institution in our facilities, in faculty research, and in the courses offered to students. Our faculty, students, and staff come together from a broad range of disciplines to collaborate on new discoveries, policies, and programs that lead to a healthier, more sustainable world.

sustainability at the college of human ecology

engaging students When the college set out to design the Human Ecology Commons — a hallmark space that links Martha Van Rensselaer Hall with the new Human Ecology Building — leaders turned to senior interior design students in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis. A team of undergraduate seniors worked with college administrators, architects, and facilities professionals to create an environment that reflects the core values of Human Ecology: research, innovation, community, and sustainability. “Every decision the students made had a critical argument behind it and every design element was carefully researched and planned,” said DEA lecturer Leah Scolere, who led the studio class that planned the Commons. Learn more at


in human ecology

Energy use in the built environment Existing buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world’s energy consumption and for about 24 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Faculty members in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis are trying to limit the environmental footprint of the built environment worldwide by reducing energy consumption and emissions. Ying Hua, an expert in facilities management, is developing strategies to engage and motivate multiple stakeholders in sustainable building practice in the U.S., Japan, and China. She is studying how innovative workplaces promote environmental sustainability. She has measured the effect of passive heating and cooling strategies on building energy performance and lifecycles of green buildings. Consumer economist Joe Laquatra focuses his research on housing sustainability, particularly reviewing and advocating for improved energy efficiency in residential settings. Laquatra has created and conducted training programs to help builders and homeowners improve energy efficiency, including educational programs in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders and courses for homeowners through Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The intersection of aging and environmental activism Baby boomers in the U.S. are reaching retirement age as our society confronts another major trend: widespread environmental change. Faculty members in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research created the Cornell Aging and the Environment Initiative to better understand how older Americans are impacted by climate change and explore ways to preserve health and save lives. Human Development Professor Elaine Wethington is investigating how older adults are impacted by extreme weather events such as hurricanes. Other faculty are researching environmentally-friendly housing strategies for the elderly and discovering that older adults who volunteer with environmental groups report better health compared to those who volunteer with other organizations. Learn more at

The Human Ecology Building The 89,000 square-foot Human Ecology Building, opened in 2011, is a hub of research and teaching for the college and a model example of sustainable building. It was the first building on Cornell’s Ithaca campus to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum, the organization’s highest rating for sustainable structures.

Creating a sustainable food system What we eat and where we purchase our food has a sweeping effect on our personal health as well as the environment. Nutritional scientist Jennifer Wilkins has dedicated her career to understanding how the food and agriculture system impacts public health, environmental sustainability, and community well-being. Wilkins studies how to train dietitians to consider food system issues and created an outreach program to bring more whole, local foods to New York public schools. She also partnered with colleagues to develop a method for mapping potential "foodsheds" — land areas that could theoretically feed urban centers — to reduce the energy used to transport food.

sustainability at the college of human ecology

Bringing environmentally-friendly products to market Many products available today are made from composite materials like carbon fiber and engineered wood that are rarely biodegradable, nearly impossible to recycle, and often release toxic fumes. Fiber scientist Anil Netravali is looking for new material solutions. His laboratory in the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design has developed more than a dozen new types of renewable, safe, plant-based materials used in a wide variety of commercial applications including skateboards, furniture, and the health care industry. He worked with Chemical Engineering Professor Yong Joo to develop high-efficiency air filters made out of nanofibers derived from soybeans that can capture the smallest dust particles, bacteria, and viruses. His lab has also created new materials from the waste products of the soy-protein purification process, including a natural fertilizer that coats seeds and a bacterial cellulose membrane to treat burn patients.

a broad look into the future For millions of people across the globe, research that helps cultivate a healthier, more sustainable world is vital. At Cornell, a collaborative culture encourages faculty members across the life and social sciences to partner with experts in a wide array of disciplines to develop truly innovative solutions for protecting our environment and natural resources. Looking toward Cornell’s 2015 sesquicentennial, now more than ever, support for this type of interdisciplinary work is essential. With a plan in place to recruit more faculty, staff, and students, high-impact collaborative research will continue to yield important knowledge — fostering innovative research and revolutionary discoveries to improve life for all. You can find more information about the university’s campaign to support these efforts — called Cornell Now — at

Improving lives by exploring and shaping human connections to natural, social, and built environments 2014.06.22 Issue


Sustainability is a core value at the College of Human Ecology, woven throughout the institution in our facilities; in faculty research; and...

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