After USC’s Sustainability Office released its 2019 August progress report on its 2020 goals, which provided an update on the University’s environmental footprint, some student leaders remain concerned with the report’s inaccessibility and lack of transparency.
While the report, which was published on the USC Sustainability website, shows improvement in energy conservation, water reduction and increased awareness, efforts in waste diversion and community engagement have encountered roadblocks.
Created in 2015, the 2020 goals were designed as a roadmap to outline USC’s environmental responsibilities and set five-year goals for the community. To do so, USC organized its ambitions into seven pillars: Education and Research, Engagement, Energy Conservation and Greenhouse Gas Mitigation, Transportation, Procurement, Waste Diversion and Water Conservation.
According to the report, USC has yet to implement a sustainable shipping and packaging program and has not enrolled departments in a green purchasing commitment.
These challenges are partially due to the design of the goals and the targets outlined at the time, which have since shifted, according to Nathaniel Hyman, co-director of the Environmental Student Assembly.
“The report is sometimes difficult to read,” said Hyman, a junior studying public policy and law. “For example, the greenhouse gas emissions reductions say they’ve reached 50% of their 20% reduction goal and then the explanation to how they’ve done it was because they had completed one of two goals and neither of those goals had anything to do with actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Hyman, who focused on the transportation pillar in the past year, expressed frustration at the criteria for what qualifies a goal as completed, citing transportation’s 100% goal completion.
“100% completed, on the goal of doing anything at all,” Hyman joked. “The goal for transportation was reduce single occupancy vehicles coming to campus every day [but] it doesn’t specify by how much.”
Hyman was also critical of the previous University administration’s lack of support toward sustainability.
“[President C.L. Max] Nikias was not aggressive at all on fighting for sustainability,” Hyman said. “[Would] the office of sustainability be able to talk to for more than five minutes to the Board of Trustees about sustainability?”
Ellen Dux, associate director for the Office of Sustainability, cited staff turnover, overly ambitious targets and external factors as inhibitions towards overall progress in sustainable development at USC.
Dux said the office has had minimal staff numbers and resources to provide elaborate reports on the current state of affairs and achieve long-term goals.
“People didn’t even start focusing on this until 2018,” Dux said. “Once a plan is there, you can’t be like, guess what, now you look at the plan and one whole vertical is missing. Be careful whatever structure you put in place; in that moment in time, it might be the best structure you come up with, but it will dog you forever.”
Despite how difficult the report is to read and the lack of advancements in some aspects of sustainability, Dux insisted that USC has made extraordinary strides in the last year alone, citing greenhouse gas reduction as an example.
“Have we achieved 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions today? No, we’ve achieved 10%,” Dux said. “However, we’ve done some really nice jobs with tracking and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.”
While the report boasts multiple achievements, Dux called the 2020 goals “the baby plan.” Instead, Dux has an eye on the future.
“We’ve got 2028 right around the corner,” Dux said. “If we’re not doing this now, we’re going to wrap this plan and not have a new one. We’re going to be the only university in town or maybe even in the country, that’s like, ‘We don’t have a sustainability plan.’”
Both Dux and Hyman have expressed excitement about the arrival of Carol Folt, USC’s newly appointed president.
In an interview with the Daily Trojan in August, Folt, a former biologist and science educator, named sustainability as one of her top priorities and said she recognizes student’s concerns about the issue.
“I know that most of you feel that if we don’t do something, [our] planet is not going to be in good condition,” Folt said in August. “This is the time when we need to start taking action. This is the time when we need to teach every generation how to create a more sustainable world.”
With such support, Hyman remains optimistic for the future.
“This is monumental … this has never happened, to have a president that is such an ally,” Hyman said.
He added that ESA believes that one key step in achieving these goals is education. Similar to the requirement for all students to complete programs such as AlcoholEdu, ESA hopes to implement a similar required program to teach students about sustainability.
“One thing the ESA has been proposing for years now is some type of pre-enrollment engagement module,” Hyman said. “There is no requirement for students to graduate with any understanding of the importance of sustainability.”