By Yannick Matia
“USC vs The World” was written and published as part of ECore’s special on energy sources, energy use, and solar power, Operation: Energize.
How could one deny it?
University of Southern California is a fantastic institution of higher education. As a top research university in the Pacific Rim region, this school offers a multitude of opportunities to all of its students, with courses ranging from athletics to overseas studies to community outreach. However, USC still has much room to grow in several notable areas, none being more critical than sustainability.
Many universities across the United States have joined the green movement, pledging to adopt sustainability as a core value at their institution and taking steps towards implementing sustainable development in the form of solar power generation, zero waste initiatives, and energy efficiency projects. Rankings in the Princeton Review provide individual profiles of the top 361 green schools in the US that have fully integrated sustainability into the fabric of their university affairs. USC is nowhere to be found on this list of 361 green schools in the US. It is clear that USC is forgoing a huge opportunity to further improve the standards set by this institution. So then, just how can students, faculty, staff, and administration take the necessary steps towards propelling USC into the 21st century and pushing for sustainability on campus?
To know where USC explicitly needs to start, it is imperative to analyze what comparable universities on the Princeton Review’s Top 361 Green Colleges List have done with regards to sustainability. In terms of the closest regional competitors to USC, UC Berkeley and Stanford University are far ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability. Both institutions have a fully-funded, project-oriented Office of Sustainability and numerous, active student organizations dedicated to environmental issues. Outlined in their Sustainability reports and plans with the support of the President/Chancellor and Provost’s Office, each school has taken a different approach towards bringing sustainability to their campuses. UC Berkeley in particular has campus initiatives and goals for each aspect of sustainability, ranging from solar power to transportation. The University of California system as a whole has promoted sustainability as a core value at each of their institutions, and UC Berkeley has taken the lead on the issue by a wide margin. Similarly, Stanford University has separate mission goals for each aspect of sustainability, but their Office of Sustainability has worked in conjunction with administration at every step of the way. From auditing potential retrofit projects and solar-ready construction projects to planning, funding, and building an off-site solar generation plant in a deal with SunPower, Stanford University has become one of the nation’s leaders in solar power. USC, in comparison, has absolutely nothing to bring to the table. Despite Provost Quick dubbing climate change and sustainability “wicked problems” that the university could lead the global dialogue on, and despite regional efforts to reduce waste at the Coliseum and the introduction of Sustainability 2020, USC is nowhere close to being on the radar for sustainable development in the United States. It seems that USC is stubborn in its ways towards evolving for the current conditions of the world we live in, and this is unacceptable considering the scope of the problems everyone and everything on this planet faces due to climate change. In such, USC must emulate its competitor universities in UC Berkeley and Stanford, as well as look to unconventional tactics put forward by Northwestern and the comprehensive plans put forward by Emory in order to get on the right track towards bringing sustainability into the lives of students, faculty, staff, and the greater Los Angeles community.
In examining these comparable universities, the steps USC needs to take have been laid out:
- Making the Office of Sustainability the leading department for all sustainability-related initiatives, along with providing proper funding and structural adjustments for staffing.
- Instituting sustainability into the academic curriculum for all students, as well as promoting the benefits for sustainability in campus climate and culture.
- Active student engagement and involvement in comprehensive plans for projects, such as waste and energy reduction.
- Collaboration with departments within the school as well as outside groups in addressing the financial and ecological impacts of sustainable development plans introduced to the school.
- Total and complete support from University Administration, nominally the President’s Office and the Provost of the University.
Based on what has been observed so far, it is not likely that the higher-ups of USC will suddenly flip the switch one day and go full throttle in favor of sustainability. The burden falls upon the greater student body and the resources made available to us to begin the journey towards transitioning USC into a green institution with a mission of promoting sustainability and preparing all those who attend this university for a world impacted by climate change. It is up to us to gradually change this institution for the better. Through methods such as mass petitioning, protesting, strategic meetings with sub-committees, student groups, and key individuals high on the chain of command, we can be the energizing force that finally takes USC over the top and puts us on track with our competitor schools. The time is now for USC to address campus sustainability and raise the standards for success to be met by this institution. This effort is not limited to hardcore environmentalists such as us, but also to everyone interested and concerned with issues facing our society today. Together, we can overcome the obstacles set in place and improve this school for the better.