Students advocate for University Office of Sustainability

March 22, 2012

Last week, a group of students and faculty planted flowers and removed trash along O Street between 35th and 36th Streets in an effort to improve neighborhood relations and demonstrate environmental commitment.

The clean-up was a part of D.C.’s “Adopt a Block” program, and was sponsored by GU Wellness and Off Campus Student Life. The action coincided with a recent Hoya Roundtable on March 16, where Chief Operating Officer Chris Augostini addressed the possibility of creating the first Office of Sustainability.

This program is just one example of how Georgetown students and faculty are ramping up environmental projects and pushing for the establishment of an institutional home for sustainability initiatives at Georgetown.

“By improving sustainability, we demonstrate our commitment to those beyond campus, and this certainly includes our neighbors,” said GUSA’s newly appointed Secretary of Sustainability, Erin Auel (COL ’14).

At the Roundtable, Augostini debuted the student-written “Visions for Sustainable Georgetown.” The report includes a pledge from President John DeGioia for a 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, and calls for a comprehensive Climate Action Plan to lay out concrete steps for accomplishing this goal. Concluding with a list of recommendations for immediate, medium-term, and long-term goals, the plan includes a litany of proposals, from reduced flyering to improved bike access to reusable cups at basketball games.

“Visions for Sustainable Georgetown” also highlights the importance of commitment to the environment as a part of the University’s goal of producing men and women for others. The report claims it is necessary for sustainability to frame the University’s service on campus and beyond. Georgetown Energy’s international projects, such as solar initiatives in housing development in Haiti, it says, exemplify opportunities for on-campus environmental engagement to extend well beyond the front gates.

“By strengthening on-campus sustainability, we acknowledge our role to positively affect our community, locally and even globally,” Auel said.

GUSA Vice President Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS ‘13) said she hopes that the proposed Office of Sustainability would serve that role and “hold our University community accountable.”

Harrison Gale, Georgetown Energy’s project leader of Townhouse Sustainability, said that an Office of Sustainability on campus would also “streamline the communications process between student groups, people with ideas, University administrators and facilities,” all of whom are necessary actors in campus environmental initiatives.

An Office of Sustainability would also be an integral part in responding to GUSA President Clara Gustafson’s (SFS ’13) call for “a more unified educational initiative” that would “get more of the undergraduate student body talking about sustainability.”

As for now, Assistant Vice President of Communications Stacy Kerr said an Office of Sustainability is “something we are exploring.”

The office would also help the University meet the goals set forth in the District of Columbia’s College and University Sustainability Pledge, signed in late February by Mayor Vincent Gray, President DeGioia, and eight other D.C. university presidents. A commitment to pursue sustainability in education, transportation, building, and waste reduction, CUSP is an effort to meet the Mayor’s goal of making D.C. “the greenest college town in America.”

“This is the first partnership in the country bringing the higher education sector together with city government on sustainability,” Kerr said.

In recent years, Georgetown has already taken steps toward sustainability on campus. By the end of the 2010-2011 school year, the University had reduced emissions from 2005 levels by over 17 percent, and the approval of the SAFE referenda this past February marks a new period of environmental engagement on campus. The referenda included the establishment the Social Innovation and Public Service Fund that allocates $1.5 million from a $3.4 million Student Activity Fee Endowment for money to go towards students’ projects.

Gale said these projects “will improve the community and also generate a return on the investment.”

Despite these efforts, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. “Our goal is to continue to harness the immense and unprecedented student support for sustainable initiatives,” Auel said. “All of these great ideas and enthusiasm, however, must have a home on campus—the Office of Sustainability.”

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Fyi– Erin’s last name is spelled Auel.