Better energy management, better waste reduction habits and better energy conservation are all coming to campus thanks to a recent plan that University President Thayne McCulloh signed Thursday, Oct. 7.
The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) recognizes the need for educational institutions to lower global emissions of greenhouse gases and work toward fostering a curriculum that educates students on the importance of sustainability.
Gonzaga's Advisory Council on Stewardship and Sustainability (ACSS) presented this commitment to McCulloh. ACSS is a university committee composed of Gonzaga faculty, staff and students responsible for making recommendations to the University president's Cabinet regarding the University's impact on and stewardship of the environment.
"In the spring the ACSS forwarded a resolution to President McCulloh asking him to consider signing the Climate Commitment. In signing the Climate Commitment, President McCulloh renews and expands Gonzaga's longstanding commitment to responsible environmental stewardship," ACSS co-chair and associate professor of psychology Brian Henning said.
The ACUPCC comes with significant responsibilities and some major changes for the Gonzaga campus, all of which the ACSS will be responsible for overseeing.
"We must have a comprehensive inventory of our carbon emissions within one year of signing the document," ACSS co-chair and assistant professor of psychology Monica Bartlett said. "We started the process last spring and are nearly finished with this initial inventory. In partnership with Plant Services, the Advisory Council on Stewardship and Sustainability will use the Clean Air – Cool Planet tool to calculate emissions and will draft an annual report to track progress toward reducing its greenhouse gas emissions."
In addition to the inventory it will be ACSS' responsibility to oversee the creation of GU's climate action plan within two years. The climate action plan, or the Comprehensive Stewardship and Sustainability Plan, will dictate how Gonzaga plans to move toward eventual carbon neutrality.
The plan will include proposals to better manage energy, improve waste reduction habits and initiatives, increase energy efficiency and conservation, increase alternative and mass transportation use, and transition to renewable energy sources, said Bartlett.
"As part of the commitment we must make progress toward issues of sustainability being a part of the curriculum and other educational experience for all students. Gonzaga University has already created an environmental studies major and minor, with global climate change courses accessible to all students," Bartlett said. "In addition, Gonzaga is participating in conversations with regional universities and The Washington Center to discuss ways of incorporating discussions of stewardship and sustainability across the curriculum and core."
While the ACSS will have a significant increase in work, the council remains optimistic and welcomes the additional responsibilities.
"The signing of the ACUPCC is great news for Gonzaga. Our student creed states that we should respect our community, which includes our environment. This is the first step of a long journey in lessening our negative environmental impacts to an acceptable level," said senior Thomas Whitney, one of three GSBA appointed students for the ACSS Steering Committee.
With 674 signatures to date, ACUPCC looks to increase its signatories in an effort to move the nation forward on climate education and emissions reduction, ACUPCC Program Director Toni Nelson said.
"We periodically reach out to presidents at non-signatory schools with information about the commitment. Support efforts, however, focus on the almost 700 institutions, representing about one-third of all students in higher education in the U.S., who have made the commitment," Nelson said. "Many schools who have not signed the ACUPCC are modeling its guidelines, and in this way the ACUPCC is helping the whole sector to make progress in addressing climate disruption."
In January 2009, Bartlett and Henning founded the ACSS, and the signing of the ACUPCC is a significant achievement for the council.
"I am immensely pleased that President McCulloh has chosen to sign the commitment," Bartlett said. "In a substantial way this marks the seriousness with which the Gonzaga community is taking, and will continue to take, issues of sustainability. This hands significant responsibilities to the ACSS but also gives us the support that we will need to carry out these tasks."