For over ten years, GW has made steady progress toward its vision for a sustainable university, striving to make a positive impact on the planet and its inhabitants, while equipping students with the skills and knowledge to contribute to a sustainable future. Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the planet and society, today and in the future. Further, the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the enormous impact humans have on the environment, and the need for more inclusive and equitable structures in our society.
This week, based on recommendations from the Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) Responsibility Task Force of the Board of Trustees, GW has announced a renewed commitment to addressing climate change. The sustainability community at GW has consistently called on the university to take bold action to address climate change due to its impact on the planet and people. The Task Force took input from students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of GW. These voices are important in the shared governance of our university.
In the announcement GW renewed its commitment to addressing climate change, including divestment from fossil fuels. The university has committed to not make any new endowment investments in businesses that derive the majority of their revenue from the extraction of fossil fuels, and to eliminate 100 percent of all such investments from its endowment over the next five years.
Divestment is only the beginning of what is necessary. Leading institutions can amplify their efforts to address climate change if we reach back to remove our past, cumulative carbon emissions. As such, in addition to divestment, GW announced a commitment to remove all greenhouse gas emissions it has produced in its nearly 200 year history.
“In order to authentically commit to climate justice, we must look to the past to reclaim the future,” according to Peter Harrison, GW Trustee and Chair of the ESG Task Force. “Our moonshot approach to climate change takes responsibility for not just the university’s current carbon footprint, but also our historical emissions. We hope to inspire GW’s experts, partners, and peers to collaborate and emulate the pathway to historical decarbonization.”
The university will also accelerate plans to achieve carbon neutrality, release a plan for climate resilience for the university’s operations, phase out single use plastics on campus, capture stormwater, provide more outdoor green spaces to improve biodiversity, and convert university operated transportation to zero-emissions vehicles. Additionally, GW will develop a prominent transdisciplinary academic home, such as a Sustainability Institute, and ensure that every GW student has an opportunity for an academic experience that promotes innovative thinking in sustainability.
“Our students understand that their generation will bear the burdens of a changing climate, unless action is taken now,” said Dr. Tara Scully, Director of the Minor in Sustainability. “GW is not only addressing its own footprint, but also educating students to create a sustainable world.”
“Working through Sustainable GW, faculty across campus are developing transdisciplinary research projects to address some of the most complex problems facing society. These projects develop new technologies and also analyze public policy and social science to ensure that the technological solutions are effective,” said Robert Orttung, Director of Research for Sustainable GW.
While the ESG Task Force will now turn to social and governance matters, all three areas are interconnected. The social justice implications of climate change are real: disadvantaged groups suffer the most from environmental degradation.
“By curbing its contribution to climate change, GW intends to lead by example and show how institutions might help reduce the negative impact on populations around the globe,” said Meghan Chapple, Director of GW’s Office of Sustainability. “The comprehensive commitment to climate change was instigated years ago by GW Fossil Free students, now championed by Chair Grace Speights and Trustee Peter Harrison, and guided by faculty experts.”
While the Office of Sustainability will work with the GW community to deliver on these commitments, the progress GW has made in sustainability is due to the tireless efforts of students, faculty and staff across the university. Your contributions will be critical going forward, as well.
To learn more about the details of the announcement, see the resources below: