University President Thayne McCulloh, on Jan. 11, approved the Climate Action Plan (CAP), an initiative that outlines the actions Gonzaga will take to reach climate neutrality by 2050.
At climate neutrality, GU would emit no greenhouse gases. Though the University recognizes that it is not possible to completely eliminate all carbon emissions, it can achieve net zero by offsetting unavoidable emissions with sustainable practices.
The plan comes at an appropriate time, as 2012 was the warmest year on record in the contiguous U.S., according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Similar record average highs were reported around the world.
The NOAA reported that the global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.11 degrees per decade since 1880, with scientific studies pointing to an increase in greenhouse gases as the cause.
The goal of the CAP is to reach climate neutrality in 2050 by reducing at least 20 percent of emissions by 2020 and at least 50 percent by 2035. GU estimated in 2009 that it emits 25,696 metric tons of emissions annually.
Gonzaga’s Advisory Council on Stewardship and Sustainability (ACSS) began working on the CAP after McCulloh signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in fall 2010. As one of 665 signatories of the ACUPCC, Gonzaga commits to promoting education and research to raise awareness about the state of the biosphere and human practices that impact it.
More than 148 members of the GU community participated in developing the CAP with the ACSS, including 42 faculty, 27 staff and administration and 79 students.
The CAP 2013-2035 Road Map report on GU’s website said that the scientific consensus is that global emission of greenhouse gases must be reduced by at least 80 percent by 2050 in order to re-establish the stable climatic conditions that have made human progress, over the last 10,000 years, possible.
Sophomore Mari Schramm, assistant to the co-chair of the ACSS, says she thinks it is important for universities to educate students about how sustainability will affect their field of study in the future.
“As [we] students enter the working world, we’re going to have to deal with [climate change]. In the coming years, every industry will be affected by climate change and sustainability efforts,” she said. “This CAP is a roadmap for the university, giving these efforts a concrete direction and validation. I think it is very important that everyone learns to respect and understand how sustainable practices can and will fit into everyday life in the future.”
The CAP establishes four goals: Deepening sustainability across the academic curriculum; increasing sustainability relating co-curricular programs; expanding sustainable practices in University operations; and coordinating and facilitating implementation of the Climate Action Plan.
These goals will be advanced through education, research, student development programs, operational change and knowledge sharing, according to the CAP Road Map report. The report also describes the ways in which each school within GU will incorporate sustainability into its curriculum.
The CAP seeks to implement a series of sustainable purchasing and design practices, mainly by improving the efficiency of campus facilities, vehicles and equipment, and by increasing recycling, reusing, reduction and composting activities. It also includes plans to increase the percent of staff, faculty and students who carpool to GU.
The Road Map and its advocates emphasize the importance of student involvement in the eventual success of the CAP.
“It’s our experience that students — especially GU students — are passionate about issues of social justice,” said nursing professor Lisa Miklush, a faculty representative on the ACSS steering committee. “With environmental justice being an integral part of social justice, it’s hoped that involvement in the CAP would be a natural fit for students.”
In addition to following the global trend toward sustainability, GU created the CAP as part of its Jesuit mission. The General Congregation, the highest authority of the Society of Jesus, emphasized the importance of responding to ecological or environmental challenges in order to “appreciate more deeply our covenant with creation,” in 2008.
In 2011, the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat at the General Curia of the Society of Jesus published a document titled “Healing a Broken World,” which focuses on the reality of environmental degradation and climate change with regards to the Jesuit mission. The text encourages Jesuit institutions to “root university teaching, research and service activities in social and environmental justice issues.”
Religious studies professor Anastasia Wendlinder, a faculty representative on the ACSS Steering Committee, said that the cultural emphasis on sustainability is an important reminder for the Church to include environmentalism in its mission.
“Our Jesuit, Catholic mission offers society powerful critiques on the trend toward increasing consumerism and self-centeredness and calls us to a life of being ‘for others’ – including being for the Earth – and for respecting life and creation as a gift from and an expression of, God,” she said.
Schramm and Wendlinder said the ACSS is organizing a series of events and competitions surrounding sustainability on campus. “[We] are hoping to tie these events to other popular events on campus, like basketball games and popular speakers,” said Schramm.
Even with a highly detailed plan like the CAP, increasing sustainable practices throughout all parts of campus may be challenging.
“I believe the most difficult challenge is changing student habits,” said sophomore senator Caitlin Grant, who represents GSBA on the ACSS. “These habits include turning lights out when leaving one’s dorm, taking shorter showers, not leaving the water running when brushing one’s teeth and the list goes on. It will definitely be a challenge to reach every student and really push the change of habits,” she said.
Grant said she is also working on Gonzaga’s Green Fund Committee. If established, the Green Fund would implement a $5 to $10 opt-out fee for students at the beginning of each semester. The money would then be available to students for sustainability projects.
“This has been done successfully at some other schools – it gives the students ownership of environmental responsibility,” said Wendlinder.
The progress of the CAP will be reported in an annual Campus Sustainability Report along with the required public reporting to the ACUPCC every two years, beginning January 2015. The ACSS will also work with University Relations to report progress to the campus and the community. It plans to reach out to relevant stakeholders to facilitate sustainability efforts in the larger Spokane community as well.
“Gonzaga can serve as an example for members of the Spokane community in environmental awareness and action,” said Grant. “In terms of benefits to be gained, current and future Gonzaga students will be able to enjoy a cleaner campus.”
The ACSS used plans from Pacific Lutheran, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara and Seattle universities as samples when writing the CAP for Gonzaga, said Schramm.
“Presently our CAP includes many of the initiatives implemented by other universities, but as we continue to make sustainability more integral around campus, we will invent more initiatives unique to Gonzaga,” she said.