The University rebranded its home for sustainability research and student engagement this fall.
The Sustainability Collaborative, a collection of research programs, was dissolved following the departure of a major sustainability official this summer, but the University reorganized the projects under the purview of “Sustainable GW,” an initiative that also houses nonacademic sustainable work. Officials said the realignment will help stakeholders more closely work together to bolster sustainability efforts at GW, including promoting the sustainability minor and implementing new strategies to make the University more eco-friendly.
“Since the core and the heart of the University is really around teaching, learning and research, that was an area that was a huge priority, in addition to the University’s own footprint,” Meghan Chapple, the director of the Office of Sustainability, said.
Under a new name
The University originally housed the Sustainability Institute, which was created in 2009 and replaced by the Sustainability Collaborative in 2014, but the research efforts now exist under the “umbrella” of Sustainable GW, she said.
Chapple said Sustainable GW will encompass both sustainability research and academics, as well as efforts to engage students and faculty in GW’s sustainability work. She said the Office of Sustainability will host an event specifically for faculty to come together and discuss sustainability research and future initiatives on Oct. 26.
Chapple said officials are “revamping” the Office of Sustainability’s website to feature sustainability researchers and experts. She said the website will also include information like how to recycle on campus and how students can become Eco-Reps – student representatives who promote sustainability initiatives in residence halls.
Under Sustainable GW, officials will offer a new scholarship – the student sustainable scholars award – through Gelman Library that will award five students up to $5,000 each and $1,000 for the advising faculty member, Chapple said. She said the applications are accepted on a rolling basis, but the first awards will be given out this semester.
Chapple said the grants are made possible because the Save a Million Campaign, which called on students to print double-sided last year to save paper, connected the University with the vendor that supplies WEPA printing kiosks and the company contributed money to the fund.
She said the office will release a report by the end of the academic year outlining the University’s progress in becoming more sustainable. She said the report will include updates like a 22 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 77 percent improvement in waste diversion, a 12 percent increase in the amount of green space on campus and an 11 percent decrease in water usage.
She said the Office of Sustainability is also partnering with The Textile Museum to address issues of fast fashion, looking at the “true cost” of clothing from a social perspective, not just an environmental perspective.
“A lot of times people think of sustainability as environment only – so yes, we hug trees and we love trees, but we’re doing that because trees benefit humans and we want to make sure that we have them to benefit us in the future,” she said.
Terry Murphy, the deputy provost for academic affairs, said collaboration between Chapple, Tara Scully, the director of the sustainability minor, and Robert Orttung, the director of research for Sustainable GW, will better align administrative processes with the academic side of sustainability.
“I think what we’re seeing this year that I’m really very excited about is a real emphasis on collaboration between this side of the house, the action side of the house and the academic side of the house, and I think that’s really energizing to see that occurring,” Murphy said.
Evaluating the sustainability minor
Scully said the minor has never been fully assessed, and she is currently reworking the entire experience – with the help of current students – based on student feedback from evaluations from previous semesters.
“It’s a little challenging, but I’m very excited because I think the students are enjoying it,” Scully said.
Scully said officials implemented a practitioner’s forum, which provides students with networking opportunities, to allow students to access a “variety of different players” in sustainability in areas like politics and business.
“It’s very relevant to them, hopefully, getting a job or going where they want to go in the future since it’s the last time we’re going to see them,” she said.
Scully said she is also looking to tie the program more closely to Planet Forward – a multimedia project focused on sustainable storytelling housed in the School of Media and Public Affairs – and the Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service to collaborate on future projects.
She added that about two weeks ago, a working group of faculty members met to discuss future research endeavors, and an official faculty advisory board for the minor will form this academic year. She said she and Orttung, the director of research for Sustainable GW, are reaching out to other departments to get other faculty members involved in sustainability-oriented research.
“When you email one person, you say, ‘hey listen, if you want to forward this to somebody else please invite them to this meeting,’ we’re just trying to make those connections,” she said.
Expanding sustainability research
Orttung said he wants to create more multidisciplinary teams that can address current sustainability issues, like urban sustainability in arctic regions.
He said researchers at GW who focus on politics, sociology and geography are working together to address issues like the thawing of permafrost – a subsurface layer of soil that remains frozen – and how the changes affect infrastructure in arctic regions. He added that the project received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Orttung said he wants to draw in more faculty from different schools like the Elliott School of International Affairs, the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the School of Business to put together a University-wide response fund to promote resilience to natural disasters, like hurricanes and wildfires.
“The idea is that no one department at the University can solve these kinds of big problems that we’re dealing with, and it’s necessary for everyone to work together and that requires a new way of thinking,” Orttung said. “You can’t just think like a political scientist or geographer, you need to think in ways that bring all these different perspectives together.”