Sustainability illustration



Sustainability takes center stage at town hall event

EARTH MONTH: Representatives of the USC Office of Sustainability spoke with students about what’s been done, what’s in the works and what needs to happen to create a greener university.

April 23, 2024 By Grayson Schmidt

Several months after opening, the USC Sustainability Hub on the University Park Campus was filled with students, all with a similar question: How can they learn about and get involved in more sustainability efforts across USC campuses?

Assignment: Earth logo
Learn more about USC’s Assignment: Earth initiative.

Thursday’s Student Sustainability Town Hall addressed those questions and more, showcasing what the university is doing to create greener campus communities. The conversation ranged from USC President Carol Folt’s sustainability “moonshot” to education tools from the USC Office of Sustainability.

“To get something done, it helps to have that top-down leadership, but also to have bottom-up grassroots support, which is where you all come in,” Mick Dalrymple, USC chief sustainability officer, said to students.

The town hall — put on by the USC Student Sustainability Committee of the Presidential Working Group on Sustainability and the USC Environmental Student Assembly — provided an opportunity for students to engage in an ongoing conversation with sustainability leaders across USC campuses.

“Find people to collaborate with you, build bridges to research, to arts, to public service — connect with the staff and faculty who’ve been working on these issues for many years,” Folt told the town hall over video. “They are doing game-changing work, and many are right there with you today.”

Connecting sustainability issues across disciplines and campuses

The USC Office of Sustainability highlighted its Sustainability Course Finder as an important tool for helping students identify sustainability-related courses. The tool — which launched about a year ago — provides students with a user-friendly way to see how individual classes relate to various sustainability topics, while also spreading awareness of sustainability issues across disciplines and campuses at the university.

All classes are shown in relation to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as part of the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Students can filter courses by each individual U.N. goal, course number, college, subject and general education requirement.

“I can’t even believe what collectively everybody has built here today at USC in terms of sustainability,” said Ellen Dux, associate director of the USC Office of Sustainability. “There’s a real force that is happening on this university.”

Getting students involved on and off campus

Students at the event were also encouraged to complete the Student Sustainability Training to not only familiarize themselves with Assignment: Earth, the university’s sustainability framework, but also to learn how to adopt sustainable behaviors in their daily lives. The training also spreads awareness on how students can get involved in sustainability-focused organizations on USC campuses and in the community. “That is the most efficient way to get everybody up to speed on what they should be doing, and from there it’s just chock-full of resources,” Dux said.

As an incentive, USC is giving away $50 USC Bookstore gift cards to select students who complete the training by April 30.

USC sustainability town hall: Creating a more sustainable community

Efforts to educate students, faculty and staff about sustainability efforts at USC don’t stop when  people walk off campus. That’s where Effie Turnbull Sanders, USC civic engagement and economic partnerships vice president, comes in. Sanders described her office as the “bridge” to the community that’s able to ensure that all the research and initiatives at USC keep the greater Los Angeles area in mind.

“When we do our work, we really think about how this elevates the university’s position as a civic leader,” Sanders said. “Also, how does this benefit the community and how can students potentially participate?”

Sustainability leaders agreed that while USC might have its own sustainability goals, these initiatives have a direct impact on the communities surrounding the university’s two Los Angeles campuses. With presidential goals of being climate neutral by 2025, being zero waste by 2028 and adding 10 sustainability courses each year, the bar is set high. But town hall speakers stressed that USC, with its available resources and a passionate team of staff, faculty and students, is well-poised for the task.

“We need your voices and your ideas now more than ever,” Folt said. “It is all hands on deck — your time at USC is your training grounds.”