Environmental groups navigate through coronavirus impacts


first_img“[Having] everybody talk about what they’ve been doing … until now and see it all in one place and you’re really struck by how much everybody has accomplished this year, the student groups in particular,” Dux said. “It’s phenomenal.” As USC continues to adjust to the economic impacts stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, it has adjusted or paused some sustainability initiatives. Students, faculty and staff acknowledged the halt in progress along with the survival of environmentally friendly initiatives at Wednesday’s Spring Sustainability Forum hosted virtually as part of the USC Office of Sustainability’s Earth Day celebration. The divestment campaign started by the Environmental Student Assembly, Environmental Core and Undergraduate and Graduate Student governments through their Divest SC rally in January is currently on hold. However, ESA co-director Nathaniel Hyman told the Daily Trojan the campaign will continue once students return to campus.  In an opening speech, President Carol Folt said that although the outbreak has caused unprecedented challenges, she commended the collaborative nature of many USC students and groups as they continue to strive for sustainable change and push for new environmentally friendly initiatives on campus, such as the approval of Meatless Mondays to dining halls.  “My fear is that it will probably set back some sustainability initiatives, but I do continue to believe that the situation will get better, and we will still have sustainability at the forefront of our thinking when we are going into the next few years,” Fritz said.  In an interview with the Daily Trojan, USG President Truman Fritz said with the economic impacts the coronavirus will potentially make on the University, he is concerned USG may slow down ongoing environmental initiatives.  “[Project Wren] is going to focus on building more tools that help improve accessibility for [customers], providing the tools and resources [and] expanding our offering, so non-paying customers have their own profile pages, more social elements of Wren,” Stanfield told the Daily Trojan. “This is all stuff we were already planning on doing, but COVID has accelerated the rate at which we’re actually pushing out those features.” The Sustainability 2020 Plan has met most of its goals, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on campus by 33% and a decrease in the number of single-occupancy vehicles traveling around campus, with carpools increasing from 6-10%.  “It’s about making ourselves leaders or leading for the things we believe in, in sustainability and climate change,” Folt said. “Every single part of the institution has people in it who have wanted to be a part of [sustainability change] and already have been so instrumental in pushing things faster just in eight months than we might have believed possible.” Although these and other sustainability projects are on hold, some initiatives have continued to make progress.  Student innovators have also been affected by the spread of the coronavirus, including the creators of sustainability-focused companies Infinity Boxx, Cirqular and Project Wren. Ben Stanfield, 2019 alumnus and co-founder of Project Wren, a startup aimed at offsetting customers’ carbon footprint, said that although the business has seen slower traffic on its website, his team has moved to provide helpful resources for customers during the pandemic. center_img “We’re gonna eventually recover from this and we’re going to decide, ‘Where do we invest our endowments?’ and I hope ESA is there to say that it better not be in fossil fuels,” Hyman said. “If you unload assets at the moment, that can hurt pensions, that could hurt our financial aid and we’re not trying to punish students or workers to achieve that at a time where the damage we’d be doing wouldn’t compare to what’s happening through [this] financial crisis.” The Divest SC campaign, an initiative implemented in January to urge USC administration to divest from the fossil fuel industry, is currently on pause as the University adjusts to the economic impacts created by the coronavirus crisis. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan) The 2019-20 academic year was filled with numerous environmental accomplishments, Office of Sustainability Associate Director Ellen Dux said. However, attendees noted the reality that many initiatives, including the Divest SC campaign and the Sustainability 2028 Plan, have had to halt as USCshifts gears to address coronavirus impacts, including switching to virtual learning and allocating funds for students and community members in need.  The Sustainability 2028 Plan has also been placed on hold. With planning starting last July, the committee looked to present its Sustainability 2028 Plan proposal to senior management in April. Even with the spread of the coronavirus placing the plan six weeks behind schedule, Dux said the committee is looking to continue where they left off in a meeting with the chief financial officer May 1. They will continue to discuss costs of future initiatives, including transitioning to a zero waste campus by 2022. The Presidential Sustainability Working Group and USG have also helped implement new general education sustainability courses for Spring 2021 and have recommended to senior administrators to hire a chief sustainability officer who will directly advise the President in decisions regarding sustainability.  Since late January, students have been working with USC administrators to discourage investment of $277 million in the fossil fuel industry from the University’s $5.5 billion endowment, with a goal to shift the endowment to reinvestment in renewable energies. The Sustainability 2028 Plan looked to continue many of its 2020 Plan initiatives and also includes aggressive sustainability goals, including achieving a carbon neutral campus by 2028 and a zero waste campus by 2022. With the University’s focus on responding to coronavirus impacts on campus, meetings regarding these initiatives have stopped for the time being.  “We don’t have an expectation that sustainability is off the table; we do understand that our timeline has shifted but it’s still a priority, it’s still a focus,” Dux told attendees. “We’re still planning on having a plan launching in January and we will keep everybody up to speed as we get more clarity — when people can sort of take a focus back off of emergency and back into next-to-normal and what that’s going to look like.”  Despite challenges faced by the pandemic, Dux said projects reported by speakers during the virtual celebration show the achievements in sustainability that groups have made on campus in an interview with the Daily Trojan. Meatless Mondays, spearheaded by ESA’s director of advocacy Ben Cho, was also approved by USC Residential Dining in April and will begin in the fall. last_img

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