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Alumna Helps College Campuses Go Green

Written by Emily Hull

Sarah Brylinsky '08

As an incoming freshman in the Exploratory Program, Sarah Brylinsky ’08 had no idea what she wanted to study. During a discussion at orientation, her advisor suggested she take a freshman seminar. Brylinsky took a look at the listing of courses offered, and one sparked her interest: Introduction to Sustainability. Only a few weeks into the semester, she realized she had found her passion.


“I was learning about climate change, the concept of sustainable systems, and the principle of sustainability as the interlocking facets of people, planet, and profit, and it really made sense to me,” Brylinsky said. “This was the work that I wanted to do. I now had this framework for looking at the world to see how I could be involved in social and civic justice in a way that made me feel empowered.”

At the conclusion of the seminar, Brylinsky saw that plenty of science, research, and observations had been recorded about the potential of sustainability but there was no communications plan in place to disseminate the information. She declared her major as communication management and design and set to work with the director of IC’s sustainability leadership program to create a communications plan that would let students and faculty members know about sustainability efforts on campus.

“We provided materials on sustainability to all incoming students and did a light bulb switch, trading [compact fluorescent lights] for incandescent bulbs,” Brylinsky said. “We also did ‘trash coping’ in the dorms as students moved in, helping them to identify where to dispose of recyclable materials and teach them what could and could not be recycled.”

Brylinsky created a yearlong sustainability report by combining information from research initiatives, internships, and curriculum. She updated IC’s sustainability web page and reached out to students on social media platforms. She created an instant messenger name where she answered student questions 24 hours a day, and she started a blog where campus and community members could share ideas, resources, and events. She even started working with the Office of Residential Life and the library to bring sustainable programming to their operations.  Student attendance at campus events and enrollment in sustainability courses slowly started increasing.

But Brylinsky wanted to do more; she wanted to take her passion for sustainability beyond South Hill. She and several of her classmates traveled to Ecuador to work with a sustainable micro-enterprise business that used a unique business model to preserve the rain forests.

In recognition of the work Brylinsky did in promoting sustainability, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education honored her with the Student Sustainability Leadership Award. In turn, Brylinsky appreciated and valued the support she received from her professors at IC.

“At Ithaca there isn’t some hierarchical or traditional path that’s laid out for students. Instead there is a real sense of being encouraged to do what you need to do to help you pursue the passions you have in the world,” she said.

After graduation, Brylinsky had four job offers. She has taken students to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, served as an educational sustainability coordinator at a Pennsylvania college, and worked at a leading national nonprofit, Second Nature, promoting sustainable practices in higher education.

At Second Nature, Brylinsky worked on a major nationwide initiative called the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which received backing from 700 institutions.

“I came to Second Nature with the hope that I could translate the success I had and scale that up to a larger level, helping not just one campus but over a third of all the colleges and universities in the country by making sustainability a core part of their educational mission,” Brylinsky said.

The Second Nature program touches more than 6.5 million students annually. It has reduced 328,698 metric tons of carbon and produced nearly 450 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy a year since 2007.

In July, Brylinsky took her talents to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Office of Sustainability as a project manager, coordinating special projects related to campus climate and energy systems. She is also working on developing a “living laboratory” platform where students, faculty, and staff can work together toward solving campus sustainability problems.

In addition to advancing her career, Brylinsky is also pursuing a master’s degree in communications innovation at the Roy H. Park School of Communications. She received the Art Moore ’66 Scholarship, awarded to graduate students whose costs are not fully covered by their employers.

“Your passion alone can’t drive you in a career,” Brylinsky said. “It can get you forward in pursuing a career, but being connected, being able to be effective as a change agent means having opportunities presented to you—and Ithaca did that for me.”

A History of Sustainability at IC

Ithaca College has made its commitment to sustainability a top priority.

2007 – IC’s president signs the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

2008 – The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) recognizes Ithaca College with its Sustainability Leadership Award.

– The Dorothy D. and Roy H. Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise receives LEED platinum certification—the highest possible standard—from the U.S. Green Building Council.

2009 – The Ithaca College Board of Trustees approves the Ithaca College Climate Action Plan, beginning a 40-year program to become 100 percent carbon-neutral by 2050.

2011 – IC earns a gold rating using the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System from AASHE.

– The U.S. Green Building Council grants LEED platinum certification to the Peggy Ryan Williams Center at Ithaca College.

2012 – IC is included in the 2012 edition of the Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.

2013 – IC earns its second gold rating from AASHE.

2014 – The U.S. Green Building Council awards LEED gold to the college’s Athletics and Events Center.

Visit ithaca.edu/sustainability for more information.





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