Advisory group makes sustainability education a priority

President Carol Folt coordinated with the Academic Senate in September to create the sustainability working group.(Daily Trojan file photo)

In alignment with her plans to make USC a sustainable campus, President Carol Folt announced the Presidential Sustainability Working Group in early February, a task force focused on creating recommendations for a more sustainable campus through education, research and operations.

In the campus-wide email, Folt said the task force was a University-wide approach to campus sustainability by surveying students and faculty on how they can improve the University’s sustainability efforts. 

“Our responsibility is to … think through the kind of institutional changes that are needed to facilitate, to engage, to make it a more viable, sustainable University and recommend things that therefore should be changed or modified in order to accomplish sustainability,” chair of the group and Price School of Public Policy professor Daniel Mazmanian said.

The task force was created by the Academic Senate in September after Folt’s request to include community recommendations to sustainability efforts. Members include faculty, staff and students from eight schools such as the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the Marshall School of Business and the Rossier School of Education. They have since made recommendations to USC about implementing more education about sustainability, more administrative oversight and adhering to the University’s Sustainability 2028 plans, which will include long-term sustainability goals in energy, water, waste diversion and transportation.

The group suggested that USC require all freshmen or students in their first two semesters to take introductory-level sustainability courses focused on educating students about the implications of not addressing climate change, Mazmanian said. The advisory board also recommended that USC create options within each school to offer majors and minors focused on environmentally friendly coursework and be identified as “USC Sustainability Schools” that will help prospective students to identify which schools offer sustainability curriculums.  

“The challenge in these introductory courses by school and discipline, are the existential threat as viewed through the lens of your school and discipline,” Mazmanian said. “In the Price school [it would] be a policy lens. And then you might go over to psychology and it’s a behavioral change lens … all of them triggered by this realization that things are changing dramatically because of the existential [climate] threat.”

The group also advised that the University implement an experiential learning sustainability course to provide a more hands-on experience to sustainability education through activities such as research, field-based and service focused projects.

“The belief of everyone on the committee … was that from a pedagogical point of view, having an actual experience in a community, in an area, with an activity of research that is really about the existential threat, small groups,” Mazmanian said. “Experiential learning activity is a very important way of communicating that there’s a future. There is a problem, but there is a future because people are working on it.”

The task force has also recommended that USC add a chief sustainability officer as a senior-level appointment. Chair of the Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis Department Marlon Boarnet, a member of the task force, said it is crucial for the University to appoint a chief sustainability officer to more efficiently bring student recommendations on sustainability initiatives to administration and the advisory group.

“We did feel that it was important that there be a chief sustainability officer for the University, partly to facilitate some of this cross-talk within the University, partly to signal to a lot of our partners and potential partners outside of the University [of] the University’s commitment,” Boarnet said.

The group is currently in the process of making recommendations to the developing 2028 Sustainability Plan regarding waste diversion, expanding the University’s recycling programs and reducing its carbon emissions, Mazmanian said. The task force suggests USC divert waste and grow the recycle program and reduce USC’s carbon emissions.

“We are charged with thinking boldly about how the University needs to change to become sustainable,” Mazmanian said. “How to help make sure that the University itself is operating sustainability, as in reducing its greenhouse gas impacts, reducing its carbon footprint, moving toward zero waste, being more efficient at how we use our materials … but these are recommendations.”

The advisory board also includes student representatives Nathaniel Hyman, co-executive director of the Environmental Student Assembly, and Tianna Shaw-Wakeman, a representative of Environmental Core, alongside 19 faculty members including Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor Christina Bellantoni and Project Specialist for the Office of the President Nicholas Hudson.

Shaw-Wakeman, a senior majoring in psychology and social entrepreneurship, said the presence of student representatives on the committee allows the group to directly address student concerns about sustainability, emphasizing that conversations about sustainability need to be made accessible to students. 

“[My goal is] to make sure that I am acting as some type of vessel for the student body so that when I am making [suggestions to Folt], I’m thinking about my experiences with undergraduate and graduate students,” Shaw-Wakeman said. “I do think if policies are going to affect students, they should be at least informed [of them].”

Mazmanian said the group will keep working toward making the campus more sustainable as long as they are needed and plans to continue in the upcoming fall semester.  

“We’re going to be in existence as long as they continue to come forward, that someone brings [a suggestion] to the president [and] the president says, ‘Would you please look at this deeply for us?’” Mazmanian said. “We’ll see what those are going to be. I just want to mention this is not just the ending in April or May rather, that the expectation is that we’re going to be in business next year also.”