USC playing catchup on sustainable practices

No one would contest that USC is a competitive school. We have the academics. Most days, we have the athletics. We’re diverse, philanthropic and we boast some mean a cappella groups.

So it doesn’t quite follow that with our prominent location in California, the state that always seems to be pioneering the nation’s environmental advances, USC would fall short in sustainability.

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The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges for 2010-2011 lauded select schools for their environmental awareness and commitment to clean energy. The University of Colorado at Boulder accepted its usual accolades, including props for a budget of more than $90 million for environmental research as well as a “sculptural installation of recycled materials and a highly visible wind farm.” UCLA was described as “going green from head to toe.”

USC made the cut. We might not have been as lavishly praised as UCLA, but the review cited the university’s progress and commended its strides in helping cut down Southern California’s pervasive smog.

We’re not yet competitive with the environmentally elite, but we’re aware of where we stand. In the last few years we’ve taken baby steps in the last few years toward becoming a more eco-friendly, and we’re starting to dream bigger.

The USC Office of Sustainability recently published a report chronicling USC’s greenhouse gas emissions from 2001-2009.

The office said it is important not only to keep track of the emission levels, but also for students and faculty to have access to the data and be able to make inferences between the ratings and their possible causes.

Releasing such a report — the first of its kind at USC — was undoubtedly a progressive move. The public won’t see the baseline emission numbers as flattering, but it will see them. This opens the floor for discussion, for collaboration and, hopefully, for innovation.

It can also be a source of encouragement for the environmentally conscious; the report shows that our greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 3 percent since 2007.

USC’s drive toward sustainability isn’t just on paper. A university-wide Energy Institute was created in 2008 to explore ideas for water conservation and renewable energy, among other things.

Our college sustainability report card finally jumped to a B- last semester after a string of C+’s. And as recently as last year, the USC Board of Trustees pledged to make every building on campus LEED certified.

When this goal will actually be realized is hard to say, but it hasn’t proven to be an empty promise so far.

The Ronald Tutor Campus Center is already LEED-approved, with the School of Cinematic Arts building and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine hopefully following in its wake, according to the Office of Sustainability’s website.

The university is picking up speed, and there’s plenty of room for student involvement for those who want to get on board.

USC Sustainability offers green workshops and certification programs, and the numerous on-campus environmental groups, from Beyond Coal to CalPIRG, are always looking for fresh ideas.

USC is continuing to slowly increase its focus on sustainability and environmental education.

The topics are already off the back burner, and the time seems ripe for the university to make its next move.

Whether that means exploring ways to go carbon-neutral or something less traditional like installing wind turbines on the roofs of campus buildings, á la Arizona State University.

“We’ve been sort of behind the curve on sustainability issues, but we’re catching up,” Mark Bernstein, managing director of USC’s Energy Institute, told the Daily Trojan last fall.

UCLA has set a standard with an organic garden. USC has greenhouse gas emissions three percent lower than what they were four years ago. It’s not our coup de grace, but it is progress.

Soon, it might even be competitive.

Kastalia Medrano is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism and associate managing editor for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Green Piece,” runs Tuesdays.

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