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The USGA sustainability petition is making waves | The Triangle

The USGA sustainability petition is making waves

The Drexel University Student Government Association’s sustainability leaders posed for a photo in Drexel’s iconic Main Building. (Photograph courtesy of Timothy Hanlon.)

Members of the Drexel University Undergraduate Student Government Association are advancing in their fight for more sustainable practices on campus, having garnered support from thousands and formally proposing an Office of Sustainability to a group of University administrators.

Timothy Hanlon, a junior biology student, currently chairs the USGA’s sustainability committee, an ambitious group of nine who are spearheading efforts to instate an administrator dedicated entirely to overseeing Drexel’s sustainability measures.

The committee most recently drafted a revised, 35-page proposal of 12,000 words arguing for the necessity of an Office of Sustainability. Katy Indvik, Policy Engagement Specialist within the Dornsife School of Public Health, contributed to the proposal.

A petition of support is also circulating online and has already received over 2,000 signatures from faculty, staff, alumni, student organizations and community members.

“In total, we have the support of over 2,000 people to make this [sustainability] office happen,” Hanlon said. “Notably, we have signatures from Dean Cohen of the Pennoni Honors College and an individual from the Swarthmore Sustainability Office.”

The revised request for an Office of Sustainability comes after a proposal by the sustainability committee was denied last year, Hanlon said. The initial proposal was shorter and focused on the sustainability work that the USGA had done, but lacked other information, like statistics and the efforts made by community members.

“The initial proposal … [for an] Assistant Director of Sustainability was much less extensive than this new, revamped version,” Hanlon said. “With this new proposal, we tried to take a much more holistic approach to represent some of the work that Drexel students and student groups along with faculty [and] staff and various community members are undertaking.”

More statistics are included in the revised proposal, emphasizing Drexel’s sustainability ranking among other institutions and how the Office of Sustainability would be structured and funded. The committee also responded to the concerns and pushback they have received.

Drexel is a member of the Sustainability Tracking and Rating System and in comparison to its “peer” institutions, like the Community College of Philadelphia, Montgomery County Community College, University of Pittsburgh, Villanova University and West Chester University of Pennsylvania, Drexel falls short.

Pitt, Villanova and West Chester have all identified dates by which their campuses plan to be entirely carbon neutral. Drexel has not yet set its deadline, Hanlon said, and, by lacking in sustainability efforts, is not fully honoring the university’s mission.

“Drexel continuously claims to be the most civically-engaged university in the entire country,” Hanlon said. “But I believe that is an immense disservice to a large number of other universities across the nation because of our lack of commitment to the environment.”

True civil servants do things for the greater good, Hanlon explained, and this includes taking the initiative to create and carry out more green, sustainable practices. But failing to measure up to the University’s mission is not the biggest consequence Drexel is facing.

“The Princeton Review reported in 2019 that [64 percent of college applicants] said having information about a college’s commitment to environmental issues would contribute to their application decisions, with [23 percent] indicating it would contribute strongly,” Hanlon said.

If Drexel continues to remain silent about its sustainability efforts, it will isolate itself from these prospective students. Hanlon said further promotion and public display of Drexel’s accomplishments is a good way to combat this issue.

“I think it is important to note that … Drexel does a significant number of things [in regard to sustainability] and each day, I learn of new things students and various groups are doing,” Hanlon said. “[However], the University does not publicly display the [sustainability] efforts in a coherent, showcasing way. [So], in the eyes of an outsider, … Drexel is lacking.”

In an attempt to spread the word about Drexel’s efforts, the USGA is currently developing a coalition for all students, student groups, faculty, staff and anyone in the university community to meet and discuss the sustainability measures being taken on campus. This will present the opportunity for feedback and campus-wide dialogue.

The second way that the USGA wants to spread the word is by establishing an Office of Sustainability. Their proposal to upper-level administrators was given March 2.

In attendance were: Subir Sahu, Senior Vice President for Student Success; Scott Cooper, President and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences; Lucy Kerman, Senior Vice Provost; Don Liberati, Assistant Vice President of Business Services; Donald Moore, Vice President of Real Estate and Facilities and Erin Horvat, Senior Vice Provost.

“While there was tremendous support for our proposal [by the attendees] and all of the work students have achieved, … the room was split on what exactly to do next,” Hanlon said. “Some of the members were very vocal in their stance to create a position for an administrator for sustainability, while others seemed to be less convinced.”

The attendees agreed that the USGA has done “way too much,” Hanlon said. But it is committed to doing that much — and more — until Drexel makes strides in a greener direction for itself. The USGA wants to see tangible action.

“In some instances, groups have worked on the same or very similar projects that could have been further amplified if they combined energy and resources,” Hanlon said. “By having a centralized administrator for sustainability and eventually an office, we will [hopefully] be able to avoid this duplication and save resources in doing so.”

The Office of Sustainability would ensure continuity and consistency that is currently lacking at the administrative level, Hanlon explained.

USGA is calling on Drexel to notice the effort and support of so many members of the community who are passionate about bettering the university and the environment. Hanlon is urging Drexel to see, within the proposal, the science it is teaching in its own classrooms and discovering in its own laboratories.

“This proposal and its content would not be possible without the great work of many students, student groups, faculty [and] staff and other community members,” Hanlon said. “We feel that, while the proposal was written by the USGA Sustainability Committee, the proposal is on behalf of all of those who take some stake in the future of sustainable practices not only on this campus but in the greater global community.”

According to Hanlon, the City of Philadelphia and Temple University’s sustainability offices have said Drexel is the “missing puzzle piece” in terms of Philadelphia’s sustainability. Drexel misses out on opportunities for conversation because it is lacking an Office of Sustainability.

“[A.J. Drexel] founded Drexel on an underlying foresight that bears true today,” Hanlon said. “Educational institutions are the grounds for progress and advocacy on behalf of the local, national and global community. To fulfill its role as a socially-responsible institution, it is imperative that Drexel seeks opportunities to contribute to a more sustainable city and globe.”