week two: climate on college campuses

Institutions of higher education should be held accountable for inclusive policies and integrating the realizations of the changing world into how they approach regulating their own campuses. And oftentimes, these campuses are pushing the envelope on robust initiatives. Now that the world is finally taking environmental justice a little (emphasis on LITTLE) more seriously, I figured the logical first step in research was looking at how other universities have attempted to tackle this problem of environmental justice. Here I give a rough break down on two of the better plans I have seen.

Arizona State University

I chose to start at ASU because they are a leader in sustainability in the sphere of college campuses. The first document I looked at was the 2018 sustainability operations report which is a annually published document that “distills a wide variety of metrics …into one reference document”. The document is comprised of 8 critical goals out of which I would consider 1.5 ( I say .5 because it’s not truly robust) are leaning towards equity and intersectionality.

The first is community success which they explain as “a New American University measured not by whom we exclude but rather by whom we include and how they succeed, we must embrace the diversity that charter brings to improve understanding, acceptance and wellbeing of all campus community members and, thus, broader society”. This section includes a sustainable supply chain, diversity in student population demographics, small business investments, and fair trade campaigns. The second is food reconnection which talks about donating produce to local food banks and implementing a circular resources concept to reduce waste.

In 2019 ASU also published a sustainability impact report which featured their progress in this area in terms of the UN SDGs. As written in the report for 2019, Arizona State University ranked top in the U.S. and fifth in the world out of 766 institutions in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In the annual rankings published April 22, 2020 by Times Higher Education magazine, ASU scored 96.3 out of 100 points, ahead of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Penn State. In my research I have found that universities who tend to use the SDG method automatically to better in terms of inclusive policy because there’s a given guideline to be inclusive written into these SDGs. ASU highlights their achievement in gender equality, quality education, affordable and clean energy, reduced inequalities, etc. These are not usually included in climate policy plans and my critique here would be: why can’t these be included in a climate sustainability plan and why does it have to be a separate document? The issue of climate justice is a human rights issue so it’s time we start treating it like one.

A&M University

One of the other plans I want to highlight is the 2018 Sustainability Master Plan from Texas A&M University. I chose this plan because they eloquently highlight the exact problem I am looking into. Here are some excerpts from their plans that I hope every university can read and take into account:

“Social sustainability has largely been absent in mainstream sustainability debates as it is the most elusive of the three pillars. However, the conversation is evolving and higher education is investigating better ways to incorporate the topic. Social sustainability encompasses a broad range of ideas, attitudes, and initiatives and cannot be universally prescribed or measured in the same way as many standards for environmental and economic sustainability”

“Many institutions house an office dedicated to spearheading equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts while a separate office focuses on resource conservation, environmental awareness, and economic payback initiatives. Largely missing in higher education are the rich opportunities that can result from addressing sustainability in a quilted fashion where environmental, social, and economic issues are integrated into a collaborative fabric in lieu of acting in individual silos. It is hoped that the quilted model of environmental, social, and economic sustainability issues within this 2018 SMP leads to a more integrated approach to sustainability within the University community”

A&M also chooses to include the UN SDGs into their climate plan which is a trend I have noted that positively influences intersectional policy. However they did not expand on goals 5 and 10 which are gender equality and reduced inequality which is extremely disappointing.

Looking more specifically at the content of the plan the document has 4 major themes or focus areas: physical environment, waste management, social sustainability, and institutional effort. I chose to pick out the specific times I noticed they highlighted social sustainability.

  1. Campus mobility
  2. Built environment and site design: this was one of my favorites as they talked about reflecting the diversity of their students in the public and civic spaces around the campus by commission artists from a diverse background. This is a unique and special aspect of this plan I really appreciate.
  3. Social Sustainability: EDI/DEI is directly built into their climate plan. Specific goals include increasing demographic diversity, fostering inclusive voices, etc.
  4. Instruction, Research, and Innovation: here they talk about including technology to aid those with disabilities

Areas of improvement: I do want to note that they do not include a social sustainability point in their waste management. I think it’s important to think about where your waste is going and what communities that waste is affecting.

Above is a very high level overview of what I took away from the campus plan. It is leaps and bounds ahead of many climate plans I have seen and I hope that they continue pushing these initiatives forward and more importantly, act on these promises instead of just writing about them.

I chose to only highlight these plans because I honestly felt like they were the only ones of value. Most other universities either had what felt like a “token” diversity statement in their climate plans or simply did not mention it at all. The ones that did have anything of value often times just used the UN SDGs but didn’t actually put any effort into discussing how their campus will integrate those and act on them. Here’s to hoping for a more inclusive future on college campuses.

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