ESA holds open forum about sustainability

The Sustainability 2020 plan was the topic of discussion at an Environmental Student Assembly open forum with Office of Sustainability Manager Halli Bovia Wednesday night in The Forum.

The Sustainability 2020 plan is an initiative launched by the University in December to reach certain environmentally conscious goals and benchmarks by 2020 in the areas of education and research, community engagement, energy conservation and greenhouse gas mitigation, sustainable transportation and procurement, waste diversion and water conservation. The plan was created after a vetting of university practices in 2013 revealed that USC lagged behind most other schools in sustainability.

“We actually achieved a rating, a bronze rating,” Bovia said. “USC is not a bronze school. Most of our peers have achieved at least silver, some gold.”

After the plan was written, Provost Michael Quick emailed a memorandum to students on Dec. 15, 2015 that outlined the goals of Sustainability 2020 to students.

When asked about the memorandum, Bovia was optimistic that the memorandum would allow students to hold the administration accountable if the goals set for the University are not reached by 2020.

“The best incentive we have is a letter from the provost, so hopefully that’s enough,” Bovia said. “It’s encouraging because we’ve never had a letter from the provost.”

However, some students, such as Ailish Ullmann, a sophomore majoring in environmental science and health, are still confused why USC is lagging behind other universities when it comes to making environmentalism a major campus priority.

“Why is the administration dragging their feet to be a leader in sustainability? Because I feel like every time I hear about this it’s ‘USC wants to be a leader in this’ and ‘USC wants to be a leader in that’ and then there’s nothing,” Ullmann said.

Major issues that Bovia noted were the high costs associated with sustainability and how the university’s buildings are designed, which makes it difficult to implement practices such as placing solar panels around campus that would benefit the environment.

“I think the real issue right now is cost,” Bovia said. “[The university is] not going to put solar panels everywhere because they have an aesthetic issue with that, which is too bad, and they keep designing the buildings to not take them.”

In addition to the environmental benefits, Bovia said that part of the goal of the Sustainability 2020 plan is to help the university become more of a “living laboratory”, or a place where students and faculty can experiment to utilize what they’re learning in the classroom on campus.

“[The living laboratory] is the idea of connecting students and faculty to real-life applications of what they’re studying on the campus, such as creating a solar-powered car,” Bovia said. “Using the campus as a living laboratory to understand energy use for buildings, water use for buildings, is important. This is not something that USC culture really has right now.”

When asked about other more collaborative sustainability plans that are occurring within the Pac-12 as well as on a national scale, Bovia responded that the University has a tendency to solve these kinds of problems internally rather than partner up.

“USC doesn’t like to be a joiner,” Bovia said. “They’re more inclined to invent things themselves, to create a new system.”

But overall, Bovia reaffirmed her belief that the Sustainability 2020 plan is the right move for the University and will go a long way toward making USC a more environmentally friendly university.

“This plan is not perfect,” Bovia said. “This is the right plan for USC right now.”