Editorial Board: USC must involve students in sustainability

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

Last weekend, students from the Environmental Core group rallied together to implore USC to take greater steps to promote environmentalism and sustainable practices on campus. With climate change positioned as one of the central issues that world powers will have to grapple within the coming years, students have good reason to be concerned, and their actions to keep this issue on the University’s radar are necessary and important.

USC, like many peer institutions, has a sustainability plan with goals and commitments to different sustainability initiatives. The project, titled Sustainability 2020, includes efforts by the University such as to achieve 75 percent waste diversion levels by the year 2020, and reduce 2014 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. However, many of the objectives are written in vague terms with few details or tangible courses of action to achieve them. Perhaps the University has prepared a detailed plan on how to achieve its goals, but we as students would not be able to tell from what is public.

In fact, following the rally, USC’s Executive Director of Administrative Operations Mark Ewalt said that much of what the students at the rally were asking for is already included in the Sustainability 2020 plans. But this response fails to acknowledge the nuances in what students are specifically demanding. Students at the rally were requesting that University President C. L. Max Nikias sign the Second Nature Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which has been signed by approximately 600 university presidents.

To Ewalt and USC’s credit, many of the goals are similar — to cut down on carbon emissions and educate the student body about ways to lead sustainable lives — but the timeline and benchmarks are quite different. Whereas USC’s plan lays out a goal of what it hopes to achieve by 2020, and subsequently, by 2030, the Second Nature commitment lays out a specific timeline for achieving each of the goals. For example, the commitment allows two months to create internal structures to accommodate the development of these changes, a year to begin implementation of changes, two years to monitor these changes and three years to achieve completion. It also specifies re-submitting plans every five years, instead of the University’s current trend of every 10 years.

This is a more transparent and structured approach to sustainability, and one the University should seriously consider. With regard to an issue as nuanced and complex as climate change, universities are situated in a unique position. They are not only institutions attempting to improve their environmental policies and reduce their carbon footprints, but they are also places of higher learning. And so, just as they are responsible for implementing their own institutional goals, they are equally responsible for educating student bodies on ways they can contribute to a more sustainable planet.

USC and universities across the country must prioritize their role in cultivating the next generation to be educated about and prepared to lead environmentally responsible lives. Today’s students did not create climate change, but they are the ones who will inherit its consequences. Universities, then, have a responsibility to implement a structured, tangible and transparent commitment to equip students with the tools to do this.

Along with this commitment to greater transparency regarding sustainability, USC should be encouraging its students to engage in sustainable practices and providing them with the resources to do so.

Schools like Harvard and Stanford have sections on their websites indicating various ways students can get involved in the school’s sustainability pledge, as well as guides to how they can promote sustainability on campus.

While USC recognizes the importance of educating its students about environmental issues on its website, it does not provide students with specific opportunities to contribute. Top-down institutional pledges to sustainability are important, but rallies like the one last week demonstrate that students want to get involved.

The impetus is now on the University to empower students to take part in the conversation. Students and administrators are on the same side of this issue, and it’s important they are allowed to fight alongside each other.

The first step to achieving this is to provide a more transparent system of laying out the sustainability goals so USC students can stay informed about the University’s progress. Yearly updates are not nearly enough. The next step would be to outline specific ways students can contribute to these goals on campus, whether through changes to their daily routines, volunteer and research opportunities or campus organizations and outreach programs.

The ECore rally was a significant step forward in the fight for sustainability on campus, but students should not have to follow Nikias around USC Village to have their voices heard. The University should harness these student voices and proclivities for environmental activism into aiding in its efforts.

Daily Trojan spring 2018 Editorial Board