Jan Nowak, a senior at the Elliott School of International Affairs, is the Student Association’s vice president for sustainability.
Sustainability is no longer an official value of GW.
It is absent in the core values of the University’s strategic plan as well as those listed on the human resources and development website. The strategic plan outlines a “path to preeminence” for GW over the next five years, and sustainability must be part of this path forward.
The current plan focuses on four pillars of education, each of which is connected by what the institutional culture initiative determined to be our values: integrity, collaboration, courage, respect, excellence, diversity and openness. Sustainability has vanished from discussions of the core values and key objectives of GW, despite it previously being a value at the heart of our institution’s action and identity.
In past years, GW has committed to prioritizing sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint. Fifty percent of GW’s electricity comes from off-site solar, our student-led composting program has consistently grown and 11 of GW’s buildings are LEED certified. The minor in sustainability is GW’s first interdisciplinary minor that includes classes from five schools and boasts more than 200 students. Classes like Jose Andres’ “World On A Plate” inspire students like me by highlighting the complexity, challenges and beauty that surround a subject as deceptively complex as food.
GW’s ability to lead as a world-class institution and adequately educate its students is undermined by excluding sustainability in its core values. Sustainability is more than environmentalism – it is about achieving an inclusive, equitable and healthy future for all. It represents a holistic process of coordination and cooperation to address a wide variety of interconnected goals.
Above all else, valuing sustainability will better equip students to find meaningful jobs, solve problems and adapt to new challenges.
From my own experiences as part of the Class of 2020, I know that members of the GW community are eager to understand critical sustainability issues like climate change, poverty reduction and improving human health. Students are excited to engage in solutions through courses, research, action and careers – and administrators should listen to student feedback. Expanding our focus on sustainable practices at GW, in the classroom and on campus, will encourage students to become leaders that can better address the challenges of the coming decades.
Unfortunately, GW’s commitments to sustainability appear more superficial in other areas. The Sustainable Investment Fund, part of GW’s endowment sustainably invested in an ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) portfolio, represents $2 million of the $1.7 billion endowment – approximately .01 percent – while $27 million remains invested in the top 200 carbon-producing companies. A report on food access conducted by members of the Student Association and The Store last academic year found that almost 40 percent of students had faced food insecurity on campus. Most notably, according to a Public Citizen report, the Regulatory Studies Center, which presents itself as unbiased and objective, almost universally advocates for environmental deregulation and relies on researchers with ties to groups funded by the Koch family, known for pouring their riches into a powerful right-wing libertarian movement. We can, and should, do more if we genuinely want to lead into the future.
With courage and collaboration, GW can lead the way in the sustainable investment of our endowment without making financial sacrifices. It can promote greater diversity among its student body with greater multiplicity and adaptability. GW is poised to innovate with creative, sustainably-focused solutions to food insecurity on campus, and, valuing integrity and openness, GW must take steps toward greater transparency and accountability in the RSC.
Sustainability must be reinstated as an explicit value of the University to make our priorities clear and accurately reflective of the needs of the community. Sustainability is essential in guiding GW toward becoming a more equitable, just, interconnected and successful University.