Optimism and determination mark grand opening of USC’s new Sustainability Hub

Sam Schongalla, left, and USC Viterbi Professor Mahta Moghaddam, right, give USC President Carol L. Folt a tour of the Sustainability Hub. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)


Optimism and determination mark grand opening of USC’s new Sustainability Hub

GREEN WEEK: The 1,500-square-foot hub is a collaborative, inclusive and multiuse gathering space for advancing sustainability at USC.

September 06, 2023 Greg Hernandez

USC’s new Sustainability Hub quickly accomplished its goal of bringing people together as more than 450 Trojans gathered for grand opening festivities on Wednesday. Another 1,000 people or so stopped by the sustainability resource fair held in conjunction with the festive opening.

“Happy Green Week, everyone,” USC President Carol L. Folt said as she welcomed students, faculty, staff and community members to the opening. “We’re here because we care about creating a sustainable, livable planet, where we meet the needs of all people.”

USC Sustainability Hub: Carol L. Folt speaks to the crowd
USC President Carol L. Folt speaks to the crowd gathered outside the Gwynn Wilson Student Union building during Wednesday’s event. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

The 1,500-square-foot hub is a collaborative, inclusive and multiuse gathering space for students, researchers and staff focused on advancing sustainability at USC. It is also the home of Assignment: Earth, USC’s framework to ensure that the university remains at the forefront of sustainability operations, research and education.

The hub features a biophilic color palette designed to give the illusion that the indoor space is connected to the outdoors. It has large windows, natural light and wall coverings that feature trees and plants native to California. The space, a key piece in Folt’s sustainability “moonshot” for USC, also features sustainable building materials and furniture to help lower its carbon footprint, including photo wall coverings made with biodegradable ink and lounge chairs made with 99% recyclable materials.

“I know we’re going to see inspired thinking, and it’s going to come out of this beautiful, light, airy campus space,” Folt said. “This hub that we’re celebrating today was a dream by a lot of our students and our staff. They wanted a place to gather, to collaborate and share a love of the natural world.”

The hub is located in the Gwynn Wilson Student Union building at the heart of USC’s University Park Campus.

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“What’s so meaningful to me is that this is a student union; it has students coming in and out all the time, from every area,” Folt said. “Now they can all collaborate with each other on this shared passion for sustainability. That’s how we can make USC a gold standard for sustainability in education, research, innovation and operations.”

Sustainability successes

During his remarks, USC Senior Vice President of Administration David Wright pointed out that USC now offers 1,200 sustainability-focused or -inclusive courses and that the president’s sustainability internship program will have 16 student interns this year. The university has completed multiple solar installations, including one at the Galen Center, and now receives 25% of its electricity from solar-generated sources. USC has also eliminated single-use plastic beverage bottles on campus, resulting in more than 1.5 million of them to date being saved from landfills.

Wright also paid tribute to Folt’s steadfast leadership in the area of sustainability.

“It was at the top of her priority list on day one at USC, and I’m proud to say that it still is,” he said. “Since that time, we’ve experienced incredible progress on our campuses.”

Sustainability fellows pleased

On hand for the opening were the five inaugural recipients of the new, two-year Presidential Sustainability Solutions Fellowship who are pursuing an array of research projects and working out of the hub.

“I look forward to spending many hours here collaborating and having discussions about how we can improve sustainability and get more people involved,” said David Bañuelas, a sustainability fellow who recently earned his doctorate from the University of California, Irvine. “I think the spirit of sustainability really depends on collaboration across disciplines and it’s a really good opportunity for all of us to be here.”

Another sustainability fellow, Anna Vinton, has been enjoying her time in the space.

“When I’m just sitting in there working, I meet other interesting people who are interested in sustainability,” she said. “It’s great for networking and meeting people who are interested in the same things and have common goals.”

USC Sustainability Hub: student JJ Flores
JJ Flores, a junior who is working with the Presidential Working Group on Sustainability in Education, Research, and Operations, discusses the importance of sustainability at Wednesday’s event. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Becoming a “climate ambassador”

During the grand opening speeches, USC’s Chief Sustainability Officer Mick Dalrymple introduced the crowd to inspiring USC Viterbi School of Engineering junior JJ Flores, a student activist who is advocating for composting in residential colleges and zero waste dining.

Flores grew up near USC. When Flores’ parents brought them to campus on weekends, Flores noticed water bottle refill stations and wondered why there weren’t any at their high school campus, where students routinely threw plastic water bottles away. Observations like these inspired Flores to become a teen activist who now challenges others to become a “climate ambassador” in their networks.

“This is the perfect time to help your network explore and dive into climate [issues],” Flores said. “All it takes is one moment, one conversation, one event to turn apathy into audacity and to believe that a better alternative is possible.”

Bustling resource fair at USC Sustainability Hub opening

USC Sustainability Hub: Carol Folt with artist Andy Johnson and sculpture
USC President Carol L. Folt greets student and artist Andy Johnson near his work: a nearly 10-foot-tall sculpture of a polar bear. The piece is made of 1,500 pounds of garbage — close to the amount generated by the average American each year. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Before addressing the crowd, Folt was among those who paid a visit to one of the most popular stops at the resource fair: a nearly 10-foot-tall sculpture of a polar bear made from 1,500 pounds of garbage.

Artist Andy Johnson created the sculpture to highlight that the average American produces more than 1,500 pounds of garbage each year. The USC Roski School of Art and Design senior also sought to put a spotlight on how polar bears are affected by climate change.

“I just dumpster-dived,” Johnson said. “I was embracing getting my hands dirty and was finding materials everywhere that I didn’t have to pay for.”

More than 50 student groups and other university organizations took part in the fair set up along Trousdale Parkway to share information on their sustainability efforts and how they’ve woven sustainability into their work.

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“People are typically more engaged now and they’re getting to be more informed, even if it’s not a direct passion of theirs,” said graduate student Sander Profaci of the USC Marshall School of Business, who serves as president of the Marshall Energy & Sustainability Club. “We help people take that curiosity, help them get a little more informed, then help them get involved.”

USC Sustainability Hub: Carol L. Folt and members of the USC Trojan Marching Band
Members of the USC Trojan Marching Band await their cue behind the president. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Trojans want to learn more

The USC 2023 Sustainability Literacy, Behavior and Cultural Survey showed a 2% increase in sustainability literacy from 2022. More than 75% of respondents are interested in learning more about sustainability practices, and more than 50% of those surveyed said they usually make efforts to reduce their environmental impact.

USC Marshall graduate student Deeksha Agarwal, vice president of Marshall Net Impact, said she enjoyed interacting with students, faculty and staff at the resource fair and was deeply moved by what was said during the grand opening of the hub.

“We all had goosebumps listening to those speeches, to be honest,” she said. “I’m really, really proud of being a Trojan and just having this kind of event that rallies support for the cause and gets all the like-minded people together on campus. I’m really glad that it happened before I graduated and that I get to be a part of it.”

The Sustainability Hub is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Learn more at the Sustainability Hub homepage.