By Eugene Curtin, University Communications, Creighton University

René Padilla, Ph.D., vice provost for Global Engagement, oversees the Creighton Global Initiative (photo courtesy of Creighton University)

René Padilla, Ph.D., vice provost for Global Engagement, oversees the Creighton Global Initiative (photo courtesy of Creighton University)

When Pope Francis issued Laudato Si’ in 2015, Creighton University took note.

Five years later, Creighton’s sustainability efforts embrace the historic papal pronouncement, as well as the Universal Apostolic Preferences later promulgated by the Society of Jesus, which include “caring for our common home” as one of its four pillars.

“Through academic and extracurricular programming, local and global outreach, research and scholarship, and a wide breadth of campus efforts, Creighton has intensified and sharpened its efforts and focus around sustainability,” said Creighton’s President, Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J.

Last fall, Creighton announced the formation of a Sustainability Governance Committee and a Climate Change Task Force. The governance committee is composed of University leaders who have administrative authority over key action areas relating to sustainability, while the task force is a wider group of faculty, staff and students responsible for helping design an institutional action plan for climate change, and making recommendations on achieving campus carbon neutrality.

René Padilla, Vice Provost for Global Engagement, co-chairs the task force with Creighton’s new Director of Sustainability, Nicholas McCreary. McCreary comes to Creighton from Indiana State University (ISU), where he served as sustainability coordinator since 2017.

McCreary, who holds a Master of Science in Sustainability degree from Saint Louis University, has conducted research on how sustainability science can transition social-ecological systems toward sustainability. While at ISU, he spearheaded a Sustainable Cities initiative, through which the University partnered with the town of Sullivan, Indiana, to produce tangible and relevant sustainability outcomes for the community through service-learning opportunities for faculty, staff and students.

“Nicholas will be an important leader in the continued transformation of our global engagement that cares for our common home,” said Padilla.

During the task force’s first meeting in February (prior to the coronavirus being declared a global pandemic), Padilla and McCreary outlined their goals for the group. “We will, more routinely and intentionally, address a range of sustainability topics, from reviewing investment guidelines and carbon neutrality goals, to assessing our use of plastics on campus and our individual and institutional carbon footprints,” said Padilla.

The task force’s work will build on the momentum Creighton experienced last summer when it hosted the inaugural conference on Laudato Si’ and the U.S. Catholic Church. The three-day event, co-sponsored by the Catholic Climate Covenant, welcomed spiritual leaders and environmental advocates from across the nation, who discussed how to integrate Laudato Si’ into eight areas of Catholic life: adult faith, advocacy, creation care teams, energy management, higher education, liturgy, school education, and young adult ministry.

On campus, Creighton has reduced greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity by almost 25 percent; installed solar and wind energy systems; and pledged to urgently pursue carbon neutrality. Working with an outside partner that specializes in managing energy consumption, Creighton is developing a master plan that will include investing in more energy-efficient systems for lighting, heating and air conditioning, roofing and windows; tuning up older buildings to enhance efficiency; measuring and monitoring energy consumption more effectively through an online dashboard; replacing utility meters with more efficient “smart” meters; encouraging utility providers to increase their amount of renewable production; and purchasing renewable energy when feasible.

Most recently, Creighton announced an airline mitigation program, through which University personnel traveling by air are encouraged to contribute to a fund to be used for environmental enhancement projects, such as tree plantings.

Colin Thomas, a sustainable energy science major, received Creighton’s 2019 Spirit of St. Francis Sustainability Award for his work on campus and abroad (photo courtesy of Creighton University)

Colin Thomas, a sustainable energy science major, received Creighton’s 2019 Spirit of St. Francis Sustainability Award for his work on campus and abroad (photo courtesy of Creighton University)

Creighton’s bachelor’s degree programs in sustainability and environmental science offer students the chance to learn about ecological issues from a multidisciplinary perspective. On the teaching side, faculty have the opportunity to receive the President’s Distinguished Curriculum Innovation and Pedagogical Research Grant Award, which now includes climate research in the Exigent Issues of Global Concern category (an addition that was announced earlier this year).

In January, Creighton hosted a campus forum, Seeking Hope, that offered interdisciplinary perspectives on how Creighton as an institution might respond to the climate crisis. In February, the Investment Subcommittee of Creighton’s Board of Trustees approved a strategy that reduced the University’s investment exposure to fossil fuel companies from 8.9% to 5.7%. And before all campus events were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Creighton had been set to host two speakers on campus in March, as part of its ongoing Planetary Emergency Lecture Series.

Through its Global Engagement Office, Creighton has initiated the Common Home Project, which aims to provide students with a global perspective through direct experience. Common Home has identified six “hubs” where Creighton will invest its resources and the efforts of its students, in order to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and Targets set by the United Nations. Activities through the hubs will impress upon students the interconnectedness of human communities across the planet.

“The whole point of Laudato Si’ is getting us to think of the human experience in three parts — as engaging with God, our neighbors and with creation,” said Lucy Hancock, senior coordinator for international student and scholar services at Creighton. “That is at the core of what we are doing as we build these programs at Creighton.”