EDITORIAL BOARD: It’s time for USC to recommit to the planet

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

This week, the Daily Trojan launched “Speck of Green,” a news series exploring the topic of environmentalism at USC. Given the spectre of climate change and the undeniability of its effects and existence, we saw an opportunity to engage with the campus community about our role in combating the greatest modern threat facing our planet.

California is no stranger to climate change strategy and activism, having implemented statewide measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Working both domestically and internationally, the state leads the nation in ambitious programs to combat climate change.

USC — an institution that touts itself as a global leader in thought and innovation — has a moral obligation to do its part in California’s charge toward environmental sustainability.

In 2015, the University launched the Sustainability 2020 Plan, a campus-wide effort organized around seven core goals and initiatives. As the titular deadline year fast approaches and the plan’s already-modest goals remain hardly within reach, it’s time for USC to reassess its position of privilege and set a prime example for Los Angeles and the rest of the world.

One of the areas in which the University has excelled is in how it manages its largest facility — the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

In 2015, USC implemented a zero-waste program for the football stadium for both Trojans and Los Angeles Rams games. In 2017, it won the Pac-12 zero-waste competition after diverting more than 90 percent of gameday waste during its annual “Green Game” and became the largest NFL stadium and second-largest college stadium to achieve zero waste. This season, the Coliseum has achieved zero waste in two out of three USC games in which data was made available.

As highlighted in the series, USC is also home to a student-organized housing operation focused on environmental consciousness, as well as a self-sustaining garden that grows and delivers produce to various campus establishments.

Despite all the praiseworthy endeavors the University has undertaken thus far, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

While the Sustainability 2020 Plan is a commendable first step, it is simply not enough. Most importantly, it does not demonstrate a robust commitment from the senior leadership level to addressing the pressing challenges of environmental degradation in a manner that reflects USC’s capability given its immense power and resources.

Whether through letters to the editor, on-campus activism or peaceful demonstrations, USC student organizations have consistently indicated their allegiance to combating climate change. Similarly, in a letter published in Wednesday’s edition of the Daily Trojan, members of the Academic Senate Committee on Sustainability voiced their support for the student groups who took the lead in calling on the University to bring its promises to fruition.  

The University must do better engaging students, who are vital components of the environmental movement on campus. Beyond facilitating transparency of its goals and providing practical education, the administration must collaborate with outspoken student groups — including Environmental Core, Environmental Student Assembly and Undergraduate Student Government — to include student perspectives and more effectively implement meaningful change.

As students, we must mobilize and lobby the University, as well as other institutions that are beholden to us, to take responsibility for their environmental impact. Above all, students must make changes in their own lives by engaging in sustainable practices like separating recycling and compost; reducing emissions by using public transportation and walking or biking whenever possible; and minimizing food waste by consuming locally sourced produce and fewer animal products. Students must always be diligent and informed consumers and producers — and put pressure on the University to do the same.

We understand that the University is busy dealing with a host of administrative issues implicit to running a world-class institution that include a string of faculty scandals and consequent lawsuits. But this is no excuse to ignore the looming dangers facing our increasingly run-down planet: As the global environmental crisis reaches a critical point, it becomes undeniably clear that everyone must focus their time and energy on sustainability. It therefore falls on the University to prioritize the allocation of its resources, do its part in educating its students and fulfill its duty to future generations.

With “Speck of Green,” we join the call in imploring USC to reevaluate its progress toward its current sustainability goals and urging senior University leaders to explicitly assert their support for longer-term, practical and aggressive reform — lest we regret not doing more to save our only home.

Daily Trojan Fall 2018 Editorial Board