Susanna Hamilton, Sustainability Action Plan Coordinator
Office: Old Main 475C
Western’s Sustainability Action Plan, adopted by the institution in September 2017, is the University’s road map for protecting local and global ecology, upholding social equity, creating economic vitality, and maintaining human health
Western has been a leader in many areas of sustainability since it established the nation’s first College of the Environment, Huxley, in 1969. Our students voted to collectively fund the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits in 2005, making Western the first campus in the US to offset 100% of its carbon emissions from electricity usage with a self-imposed student fee. In 2007 Western became one of the first 50 signatories to the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment. In 2015 Western established the Institute for Energy Studies, an interdisciplinary program that brings together science, technology, public policy, business and economics to prepare graduates to address the complex issues in sustainable energy. This year, the Sierra Club recognized Western as one of the top 30 sustainable schools in the US. Western continues to innovate through its academic programs, student-led initiatives to bring in local food to the dining halls, and staff enterprises to create innovative solutions to antiquated practices.
With this tradition of environmental leadership, one might ask why Western needs a Sustainability Action Plan. Our vision is for sustainability to be something that all members of the Western community can embrace and put into practice here on campus, as well as in their home lives and communities. As we expand our understanding of the impact of human activities on the world, our perception of what it means to be sustainable grows.
Another reason for Western to adopt a Sustainability Action Plan is to honor the way sustainability is interconnected with our core values around social and economic justice. While living wages and social justice may seem distantly connected to carbon emissions and recycling, a sufficiently global and informed perspective reveals that a truly sustainable world must be as just as it is green.
Western’s path to a sustainable future will be determined by our students, staff, and faculty, and it must be bold. This Sustainability Action Plan is the product of voices from all sectors of the University, and I am grateful for the passion, commitment and hope that they have invested in this comprehensive and aspirational document. It reflects our values and vision, not only for what we hope Western will become, but for the kind of world we want to live in and help create.
Western Washington University graduates will be instilled with an appreciation and understanding of the impact of human choices on people around the world and the planet itself. Those graduates will be force multipliers, taking their knowledge and passion to the home and workplace, promoting, influencing, and encouraging responsible, sustainable, and ethical practices in all aspects of their lives.
Sustainability Action Plan History
This Sustainability Action Plan is both a strategic and tactical document that brings together a number of important initiatives and plans across campus, including Western’s Climate Action Plan, the Sustainability Academy’s White Paper, and Western’s Sustainability Tracking and Rating System (STARS) report. The purview of the SAP includes ten areas of activity that reflect the framework of STARS, the standard for campus sustainability assessment.
In 2014, the Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee was charged by President Shepard to critically review the Presidents’ Climate Commitment and 2010 Climate Action Plan and offer prioritized recommendations to fulfill Western’s obligations with regard to those commitments.
This Sustainability Action Plan addresses the continuing need for programs that improve and enhance Western’s brand of sustainability, sets a vision for growing the intellectual and curricular scope of our influence, while continuing to operate in a budget constrained environment. The plan identifies goals, strategies, metrics, and benchmarks that collectively will keep Western at the forefront of sustainable universities.
To produce the plan, the Committee engaged the entire campus through a series of public meetings, participatory seminars, and ongoing surveys. Students, faculty, and staff provided over 1,800 comments and suggestions that are integrated into both the strategic goals and the recommended actions and metrics that will contribute to realizing those goals. To ensure the broadest involvement in the process, the Committee formed ten teams focused on nearly every function of the university. Participation was open to volunteers, however efforts to recruit team members also focused on individual expertise, interest, and diversity.
Some of the recommendations within the SAP are immediately actionable, while others will require new technology and/or changes to the economic picture. Many recommendations will have to compete in our resource allocation process and may not be funded in time to meet some of the articulated aspirational goals.
Sustainability Aims to Protect People and Planet
While some would argue that current climate conditions are simply a result of natural climactic cycles, the evidence is irrefutable that human activities directly contribute to the types of emissions that are associated with climate change. Global warming is now recognized as one of the most important threats to ecological sustainability and human civilization. Global surface temperatures are on the rise, snow packs and glaciers are melting, and ocean levels are rising.
These changes are also impacting social equity across the globe, aggravating climate sensitive diseases and inhibiting the abilities of developing nations to enhance the quality of life for their citizens. The strategies included in Western’s Climate Action Plan must not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also meet the needs of low-income communities. Part of sustainability is consideration of economic equity and social justice. Historically, we have seen poor people throughout the world and in our community suffer the most from both the impacts and the suggested mitigations of environmental threats and catastrophes. Our plan must make social justice a priority.
As such, the solutions our community proposes and implements must be sensitive to a broader set of societal concerns. Addressing climate change locally is not only an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also an opportunity to build a positive, community-based movement which results in increased empowerment, civic pride, and improved quality of life.