As Humboldt State students prepare to graduate, they take a pledge before they walk across the stage and receive their diplomas.
“I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.”
The university makes it clear they want all students to take sustainability into account throughout their careers, but does the school itself practice what it preaches?
The answer to this question by many standards is yes.
In 2017, a Climate Action Plan (CAP) was put forth by HSU in order to integrate climate change and sustainability into the curriculum, conduct more research on climate change and resiliency, and reduce the direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions of the school.
The plan also includes strategies to curb emissions from energy and utilities, transportation, and waste. This is just a small fragment of what the 26 page plan aims to achieve.
The most ambitious aspect of the CAP was to reduce the university’s emissions to complete carbon neutrality by 2030, and begin on a carbon negative path thereafter. This course of action comes with progress reports that include an update on the implementation of the CAP’s 55 strategies used to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The last report was released in November of 2019, and it states that out of the strategies, 45% were completed, 18% are in implementation, 22% are in development, and 15% are not yet started. While the school is making significant progress, the ambitious goal of reaching carbon neutrality was pushed back to 2045.
The university budget cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have not had a significant impact on the progress of the CAP.
“Many of those initial strategies that were completed [in the CAP] were zero to moderate cost (e.g., policy or procedural changes or non-construction related),” Morgan King, climate action analyst for HSU, said. “But some projects requiring a large initial capital outlay (e.g., solar, electric vehicle charging) did not move beyond an initial exploratory phase in part because of funding, but that was an issue before the pandemic.”
Some of the goals in the 2019 progress report include a reduction in facility and fleet greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the end of 2020, a further reduction in emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2040, and an achievement of carbon neutrality by 2045.
King is drafting an update to the CAP which the university is calling the CAP 2.0. “We currently have leadership actively engaging with sustainability into all facets of the university,” King said. “So I am optimistic that we will be able to push forward some of the more capital intensive strategies in the CAP 2.0. For example, the campus is already pursuing a microgrid with solar and battery storage, which is a critical element to building resilience and drawing down emissions.”
The university practices sustainability throughout its curriculum as well. Environmental Studies Associate Professor and Department Chair Dr. Sarah Ray emphasizes the importance of environmental awareness in a social justice based interdisciplinary curriculum.
“The work of Katie [Koscielak] and Morgan [King] in sustainability is cross-cutting; they go beyond the facilities box and are doing what has to happen on all campuses of merging academics and facilities much more intensely,” Ray said. “The biggest thing we can do to achieve this even better is to continue to center the conversation around social and racial justice– how might those lenses shape what we do environmentally? What and whose traditions are we hoping to sustain, and how do we know what approaches are best for the environment?”
Environmental studies student August Andrews says that he sees various ways in which environmental awareness is presented by the university outside of the classroom.
“I definitely see HSU doing so outside of the courses they offer,” Andrews said. “HSU is not only known for its environmental curriculums but, simultaneously, it seems to be rapidly striving to be as ‘green’ of a university as possible, which is inspiring.”