Pale Blue Dot: Looking ahead, the University must prioritize sustainability

Kylie Harrington | Daily Trojan

As I’m sure no reader of the Daily Trojan needs to be reminded, USC President C. L. Max Nikias agreed to resign from his position Friday. Though a resignation date has yet to be determined, a successor or interim president will hopefully soon be named.

The induction of a new president will be an opportunity to reset the campus and administrative culture, maintaining the high points of Nikias’ leadership with a more transparent, student-focused and morally guided administration. Our new president will be tasked with repairing the University’s reputation and earning back the trust of students, staff, faculty and alumni, all while keeping the school functioning at the high level it is accustomed to. But, as the paper’s resident granola-eating hippie columnist, I hope this change of leadership and campus culture will lead to more  sustainability and environmental conservation efforts.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power lists USC as its largest institutional customer, creating a small city of its own within the Los Angeles power grid. Even the smallest changes made at our campus can affect the ecological footprint of the city, and that is very important in an area as densely populated and resource-starved as Southern California. USC only recognized this fact in 2008, when it opened the Office of Sustainability and began drafting a sustainability plan, but late is better than never in this case, and in the 10 years since, the school has made significant progress in shrinking the impact of our city within a city.

In 2015, the administration and both student government bodies announced the a multifaceted plan for significantly reducing the University’s environmental impact by 2020. The plan, cleverly named “Sustainability 2020,” includes practical goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water, diverting waste and more.

As of April 2018, we are projected to meet most of these goals, thanks to the generous support of USC’s senior leadership. For example, we are on track to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by over 20 percent from 2014 levels, thanks to steps like replacing fluorescent lights with LED bulbs, automating our HVAC systems and receiving LEED certification in all new buildings. Although these projects were expensive, they demonstrate the University’s commitment to environmental stewardship. This plan sets an example for large universities and institutions around the country, giving them a clear set of steps and clear evidence of those steps’ success.

But sustainability requires constant improvement, and even if our campus meets the goals of the 2020 plan by that year, there will still be much more to do. Sustainability 2020 took about four years to draft, and with two years until the deadline, campus leaders must start drafting new goals for 2025. Administrative processes like these are complicated and arduous (well, unless they involve ousting a president); in order to have a plan ready by 2020, we should start working on it now. In the short time that our school has committed to environmental conservation, it has done remarkably well. However, it would be a shame to fall into stagnation after 2020.

Some ideas for this new plan: We can continue to move toward zero waste by adding compost bins in the dining halls, and reduce carbon emissions through an increased emphasis on electric vehicles and the use of public transit in the University Park area. Additionally, we can give more grants to students studying environmental and ecological issues, especially those relating to Southern California. We can also purchase more sustainable and local foods, and start cutting ties with meat and dairy producers at factory farms. If we can stand it, we can even let our emerald lawns go yellow for a few months to save water.

A change in leadership will be tumultuous and exciting, and I look forward to seeing a new president’s induction. But with all of the issues that this president must address, things can slip through the cracks. Based on all of the progress that USC has made around sustainability in the last 10 years, it would be incredibly disappointing to see this issue fall by the wayside.

Kylie Harrington is a junior majoring in journalism. Her column,“Pale Blue Dot,” runs Wednesdays.