SustainNU set to release its second 5-year sustainability strategic plan in 2022

SustainNU is on track to complete the creation of its new strategic sustainability plan this fall, setting new goals and benchmarks for emissions reductions, conservation, resource management and more.

But some students say the University could work on broader climate change reforms.

The first sustainability plan, released in 2017, established a number of goals to promote renewable energy and a more sustainable environment on campus over a five-year period, ending in 2021. It included five program areas different: built environment, transportation, resource conservation. , Experiential Learning and Communications and Engagement.

A steering committee of senior University administrators and officials oversaw the pursuit of these areas and the working groups of NU students, faculty, and staff assigned to each.

The success of SAP implementation has been recognized nationally. In 2020, NU became the first university to win the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year – Sustained Excellence award from the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, an accolade it received again in 2021 and 2022. Greg Kozak, director of sustainability, said NU had a responsibility to maintain its green reputation with a new, updated SSP.

“We have to take a leadership role,” Kozak said. “We have brilliant minds on campus – students, faculty and staff. And we are seen as a leader in this area, so we should do everything we can to set the University up for success from a sustainability perspective.

Development of the next sustainNU plan

SustainNU will likely complete and unveil the plan, which has been in development since April 2021, later this fall, Kozak said. The University has met or exceeded most of the material targets set in the first plan, he said, and plans to set more ambitious targets for the new SSP.

According to Julie Cahillane, Associate Director of Sustainability, the development of the past five years allows sustainNU to act with valuable insight.

“We have something to compare,” Cahillane said. “Now we can look at what we’ve done, where other institutions are at, and where we want to go to stand out.”

Until sustainNU releases the plan, Kozak said none of its details are set in stone. But the model plan currently being discussed has seven program areas, he said: Energy and emissions; Transport and Mobility; Waste and Procurement; Buildings and Infrastructures; Water and Ecology; academics, experiential learning and innovation; and Communications and Engagement.

The new plan will likely also focus on crafting goals using a social lens and examining how equity and racial justice intertwine with sustainability at the NU, according to the coordinator of the sustainNU program, Cria Kay.

“For this one, we really wanted to make sure that we met with all areas of the campus community to make sure that this plan can be implemented and that the people who will implement it will be involved and have a say. about how it will look on campus,” Kay said.

Concerns about sustainNU’s engagement practices

However, some students say the University would be better served with a different approach to public engagement. Weinberg senior Jack Jordan, who helped organize the Generations of Environmental Justice event on Earth Day, wrote his thesis on the history of climate action planning in Evanston. He said he saw a critical disconnect between NU and its surrounding community in the development of sustainability goals.

The result, he said, is a broad lack of awareness and investment in these goals among the broader campus community and Evanston residents.

The university doesn’t develop goals in the open, Jordan said, and details aren’t released until the plan is officially approved and released, leaving the general public without a chance to have their voices heard in any forum or forum. city ​​hall. Jordan said NU should be even more transparent and accessible in the development process than it already is.

“The main thing I want to see is greater opportunities for public participation, greater opportunities for students, faculty, Northwestern workers, whoever you are, to have a say in what what’s the plan,” Jordan said.

People would buy into the plan more if they could take ownership of it, Jordan said. Introducing public listening sessions and other large-scale engagement tactics could have significant benefits for NU’s own sustainability initiatives, he said.

According to Kay, sustainNU put more energy into audience engagement this time around. They met with a wide range of stakeholders, including Evanston and Chicago officials, members of the Associate Student Government Sustainability Committee, targeted alumni, sustainability-focused student groups, and local community organizations. , among others.

SustainNU can be contacted by anyone through the contact information on its website, but it does not contain large and open forums. The team used an intentional engagement approach to reinforce the plan’s equity and inclusion efforts for each program area, Kay said.

“Hearing people’s opinions on how they want to see the North West change and how they want it institutionalized is really important,” Kay said. “Without some sort of concrete plan, these aren’t always prioritized as they should be.”

Campaigners say university needs broader climate change reform

Public engagement aside, students like Junior Communication and Fossil Free NU organizer Lucy London worry about how the SSP fits into the bigger picture. London said it was concerned the University would pursue its sustainability goals to improve its image, as part of its endowment is still invested in polluting fossil fuel industries.

Divesting from fossil fuels is the most significant step NU can take towards sustainability, London said, but only the board has the power to do so. They said that until that happens, the SSP will not be enough to move the University in the right direction.

“I don’t think he’s accomplishing what he needs to,” London said. “It feels more like a loophole, as if we are doing this so that our institution can continue to operate as it sees fit. But really, everything is going to have to change.

Ultimately, sustainNU can achieve significant gains for NU’s operational sustainability, London said, but the University is doing nothing at this time to address or acknowledge significant issues related to its wider institutional sustainability.

Jordan agreed that board investments undermine the progressive and eco-conscious reputation that sustainNU aims to build for the university. Until NU divests itself of these industries, he said, none of these measures will matter in the long run.

“You can’t pretend to be accelerating climate action while simultaneously having millions of dollars in fossil fuels,” Jordan said. “You don’t have to be a scientist to figure this one out.”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @joshdperry

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