Sustainability Forum Solicits Student Input

The Georgetown Office of Sustainability, Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation and Georgetown University Student Association held a daylong Sustainability Visioning Workshop Friday to discuss university-wide sustainability goals.

With approximately 20 students and multiple administrators in attendance, the workshop solicited student input about the university’s environmental efforts. Students were placed into groups charged with proposing solutions to issues related to waste, carbon and water, which will directly guide the university’s sustainability plan later this year.

Some of the changes that students suggested include implementing an energy retrofit process for existing buildings, reimagining the annual move-out drive and creating an umbrella structure to increase the exchange of sustainability ideas between students, faculty and other partners.

Office of the President Chief of Staff Joseph Ferrara introduced the event with a quote from Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical. Ferrara linked the workshop to the Pope’s concept of a “circular economy,” which encourages reusing and recycling materials rather than producing nonsustainable products.

“He stresses the importance of having the right attitude versus talking the talk but not really walking the walk,” Ferrera said. “Sometimes people can have all the correct attitudes … and that sounds good, but what are you actually doing?”

Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Christopher Augostini followed Ferrara, presenting the origins of the workshop and encouraging participants to adopt ambitious goals.

“The origins of creating this laboratory came from a meeting that Audrey [Stewart, Office of Sustainability director], Robin [Morey, vice president for planning and facilities management] and I had with a few of you on Earth Day earlier this year,” Augostini said.

Augostini also stated that although the university would likely continue its sustainable investments — like its partial divestment from coal last year — he hopes that the workshop will “broaden the conversation.”

Additionally, Augostini hopes that the university will become “carbon positive” by detracting from the amount of overall carbon dioxide emissions produced each year.

“Let’s be carbon-positive, however long that takes us,” Augostini said. “I think the objective ought to be the principle, not the time frame. We want to place that out there as something for this group to think about.”

Beeck Center Director of Engagement Liz Anderson explained that the goal of the workshop was to tackle issues related to the treatment of waste, energy and water on campus.

“We had students refine those goals and create actionable plans in terms of how they would then meet those goals,” Anderson said.

Steward said she was impressed by the quality and ambition of student feedback at the workshop.

“We got great feedback from students on both big-picture goals for our campus footprint and operations, and also specific project ideas,” Steward wrote in an email to The Hoya. “In general, the feedback was in support of thinking very ambitiously about the topics and really challenging ourselves as a university to set an ambitious vision.”

Steward also emphasized that university officials would take student opinion into account in their sustainability planning.

“Our goal is to support the student leaders who developed the ideas, and to work collaboratively with students and other partners in refining and testing the solutions on campus over the coming year,” Steward wrote.

The workshop used a process called the Smallify Rapid Innovation Lab, an idea development model intended to facilitate expedited brainstorming and problem solving. Initially, the workshop focused on design thinking, then transitioned into narrowing down ideas during the afternoon.
Deputy GUSA Secretary for Sustainability Aaron Silberman (SFS ’18) credited Smallify for leading the workshop.

“What we’ve been doing is engaging in a multiplicity of conversations thanks to Smallify, who is the organizer and lead facilitator of this meeting, regarding energy, waste and water,” Silberman said. “And so far, we’ve managed to get down a ton of good ideas. Everybody is coming from different perspectives, so we’ve all got specific expertise.”

Elena Itameri (COL ’18) was a member of the carbon innovation group, which was tasked with the problem of making the university carbon-positive by 2025.

“We essentially started out in pairs, and we brainstormed what we thought were the most efficient actions we could take to get the university to that point, and then we regrouped,” Itameri said. “We found similarities between our ideas, and we started trying to come up with a larger solution or action to take based on all the ideas we compiled.”

Itameri said that she was impressed with the outcome of the workshop.

“I think it’s relevant because most people who are in attendance today either have a specific interest in sustainability or are actively involved in a campus organization. … I thought it went really well,” Itameri said.

Silberman said he expects the university to take action on many of the student proposals from the workshop.

“The plans are going to go directly into the sustainability plan for the university, so the university is developing a framework and this is going to inform the direction of the plan, and then the specific actions,” Silberman said.

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