Sustainability 2020 is a step in the right direction for USC

As the fall semester came to a close, the Daily Trojan entered its winter hiatus,and students across campus started to leave for other parts of the country and world, thousands of students — I’m sure — clicked “trash” when they saw yet another memo from Provost Michael Quick. Unfortunately, doing so may have neglected one of the most groundbreaking commitments from the University, as well as the culmination of years of student and faculty advocacy.

I’m talking, of course, about Sustainability 2020, the comprehensive sustainability plan which could set the University on the course to becoming a pioneer for sustainable planning in the realm of higher education. That resolution, however, comes with a big “if” — it can only succeed if students continue to hold administrators accountable, and if administrators are transparent with students about the implementation of Sustainability 2020 and continue to keep student leaders involved.

Granted, it’s high time that such an extensive plan hit Trousdale Parkway. As the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s biggest institutional customer, the University plays a major role in local energy consumption, and an overhaul of its sustainability plan could set precedent for other major corporate citizens in Los Angeles. Moreover, if Sustainability 2020 materializes fully, it would effectively create a blueprint for other major universities to follow nationally. So there’s a lot riding on the success of this plan.

The plan encompasses much of what would be expected in one aimed to make the University more green — water conservation campaigns, waste diversion and responsible purchasing practices. However, it’s also surprisingly innovative. The promise to incorporate environmental literacy into science curricula and the commitment to make campuses “living laboratories” for sustainability by further engaging students in green projects hint at an approach that is both interdisciplinary — which is oh-so-USC — and heavily dependent on student involvement.

But sustainability advocates can’t get too busy celebrating their victory to forget the work that still needs to be done, both to implement Sustainability 2020 and to expand its breadth. The details of the sub-plans within Sustainability 2020 — including the Climate Action Plan which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a formal bike plan which has been discussed for years to no avail — remain to be seen. The University’s employee transit policy, which was changed to incentivize employees to park cars instead of take public transit, still remains in place with no plans within Sustainability 2020 to remove it. And the University has still not tapped enough into renewable energies, including solar energy, despite student protests in favor. Students should keep a watchful eye — not just now or this semester, but over the next few years — to ensure that Sustainability 2020 really is achieved and continue to push for bigger and better sustainability goals.

The University, however, has made a real commitment to creating realistic objectives — at least until 2020. Sustainability advocacy at this University can feel slow, especially when students are met with lackluster administrative response. But considering that Undergraduate Student Government’s Environmental Student Assembly was created just two years ago, it’s exciting to see students taking part in creating real, meaningful change — and the University collaborating with them to do so.

But though environmental student leaders have been doing their part working on Sustainability 2020 — and Undergraduate Student Government just funded the Environmental Student Assembly’s plan to attend a sustainability conference in Oregon — it’s tragic that there just hasn’t been the same kind of excitement around sustainability, even as our campus saw a well-documented rise in political activism last semester. Moreover, having lived through what mainstream media has again and again described as a “historic” drought this past year in Southern California, Trojans really should be paying attention. Maybe a look through the e-mail archives to find “Memo: Sustainability 2020” is a good place to start.

Sonali Seth is a sophomore majoring in political science and policy, planning, development. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. “’SC, What’s Good?” runs every other Thursday.