By Deanna Howes Spiro, Director of Communications, AJCU
Five years ago, Pope Francis issued Laudato Si’, an encyclical (or letter) on the importance of caring for the earth, “our common home.” Since then, Jesuit colleges and universities have been among the institutions of higher education across the world to respond to the Pope’s message by making positive environmental changes on their campuses. This month’s issue of Connections highlights six of those schools: Creighton, Georgetown, Loyola Chicago, Loyola Maryland, Rockhurst and the University of San Francisco.
The theme for this issue was set last summer, but the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate, given the impact that the coronavirus pandemic is making on our world today. In one of the more prescient sections of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes:
(140) “Although we are often not aware of it, we depend on these larger [eco] systems for our own existence. We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about. Once they become conscious of this, many people realize that we live and act on the basis of a reality which has previously been given to us, which precedes our existence and our abilities.”
Two paragraphs later, he writes:
(142) “If everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life. ‘Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.’ In this sense, social ecology is necessarily institutional, and gradually extends to the whole of society, from the primary social group, the family, to the wider local, national and international communities. Within each social stratum, and between them, institutions develop to regulate human relationships. Anything which weakens those institutions has negative consequences, such as injustice, violence and loss of freedom.”
At first glance, you might read these passages and feel even more out of control than you already do in the midst of a pandemic that has altered every aspect of life. There has already been so much tension in our nation for the past two decades (dating back to the terrorist attacks of 9/11) and in some ways, the coronavirus feels like the sour icing on top of a moldy cake.
But, as we have done before, we can turn to our faith to help us during these challenging times, and look at the opportunity we have to finally make our world the place we all dream it can be. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that our time on this earth is finite and precious. We are more aware than ever of our mortality, but also of our ability to make change happen today.
Pope Francis concludes Laudato Si’ with two prayers: one for those who love the earth, and one for those who do so from a Christian perspective. In the former, he writes an intention that feels more important than ever before:
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
I hope that you enjoy reading this issue of Connections and are inspired to answer the call to care for our beloved planet Earth every day.
By Nia Hightower, Office of Communications, Georgetown University
Georgetown University’s experts in science, history, international affairs and health say that COVID-19 has not only deeply impacted our physical and financial well-being, but also the world’s carbon footprint. But the pandemic, while devastating, also presents numerous opportunities for long-term environmental protection strategies, as described by the following members of Georgetown’s faculty:
Peter Marra, Director of the Georgetown Environment Initiative (GEI) & Laudato Si’ Professor of Biology and the Environment
Noting how Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment, urged the world to care for its common home, Marra says it’s essential to continue to engage around the complex issues of the environment and sustainability to advance the common good, even as we weather a global pandemic.
“With a reduction in planes, trains and automobiles moving around on the planet, there has definitely been significant global reductions in various atmospheric pollutants – up to 30%,” says Marra, also a professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy. “We have seen these responses before in times of crisis and human suffering – after the 2008 recession and 9/11. The problem is that these responses have, in the past, been temporary.”
The conservationist believes efforts to revive global economies may run the danger of eroding environmental gains countries secured before the current pandemic. “We must use this as an opportunity to rethink our day-to-day practices, both at an individual and institutional level,” he adds. “Maybe we don’t need to travel as much. Can we telework more? Maybe go to fewer conferences? Are there other practices we’re doing now that make us more sustainable that we can make permanent? These are really important questions.”
Laura Anderko, Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values-Based Health Care
Anderko notes that satellite photos of Wuhan, China – taken by NASA in February – revealed a significant decrease in air pollution compared to the previous month.
“It is estimated that over 700,000 lives will be saved in Wuhan alone as a result of better air quality,” says Anderko, Director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment. “We are seeing reductions in air pollution in the U.S. as well. During these times of profound suffering, that we hope never to repeat, there are abundant opportunities in which we can explore health improvements from environmental protections, including changes in our automobile-dominated culture.”
The School of Nursing & Health Studies professor’s current research includes testing air quality at Washington, D.C. schools. “We will be analyzing the impacts of less traffic and [air quality’s] impact on the microclimates at schools within the District – determining whether getting ‘back to normal’ will result in higher levels of air pollution near our school yards,” Anderko says. “Health professionals should seize this moment to advance cleaner, healthier ways of living.
Dagomar Degroot, Associate Professor of History
A roughly 4% global reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is anticipated for 2020, according to Degroot. “That’s far and away the largest-ever recorded decline, equating to 1.6 billion fewer tons of CO2 in the atmosphere,” he explains. “It is good news that comes at great cost, of course.”
The environmental historian says we would need to have a 6% annual decline to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above the late 20th century average global temperature. “Climate change, pollution, deforestation and pandemics – it’s all part and parcel of the Anthropocene, the present era of unsustainable exploitation and destruction of Earth’s resources,” Degroot says. “To the extent that the pandemic causes us to change some of our most destructive relationships with our biosphere, it will have done a modicum of good. It certainly is showing us that scientific predictions can suddenly come true.”
Degroot says the pandemic is not only a devastating, largely preventable tragedy for the world, but it has stalled the momentum of a rising climate change protest movement, and further indebted countries that will need massive public investment to begin the transition to a low-carbon economy.
But while Degroot notes the setbacks to combat climate change, he’s encouraged by the way citizens have galvanized during this difficult time. “What I communicate to students and will emphasize going forward is today’s extraordinary example of what we can all accomplish when faced with an imminent threat,” he says. “In country after country, citizens have changed their daily lives at tremendous cost, while doctors and nurses, delivery personnel and factory workers, supermarket employees and police officers place their lives on the line for the common good. All this – rightfully – for a pandemic that may have a less than 1% mortality rate. If we can undertake such unprecedented action now, I am absolutely certain that we can do it again, to overcome the even greater danger of a crumbling environment.”
Joanna Lewis, Associate Professor of Energy and Environment & Director of the Science, Technology and International Affairs Program (STIA)
“In the face of the economic slowdown, not all energy industries are being affected equally,” says Lewis, a professor in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. “Coal power plants are running less due to lower demand, and that could lead to their early retirement. Fossil fuel companies are struggling with low oil and gas prices. And while clean energy industries are also experiencing slowing demand, they are still growing.”
Lewis says this trend means that renewable energy likely will account for over a fifth of U.S. electricity consumption this year – the largest share yet. But she notes that it can be a challenge to continue important sustainability efforts in the midst of an economy heavily impacted by COVID-19. “We are already seeing pressure placed on environmental regulations because they are seen as potentially hampering economic growth,” she says. “But there does not need to be a trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection.”
Lewis says the economic stimulus measures being discussed around the world present an opportunity for countries to invest in clean energy technologies. “All countries should be thinking strategically about how the record-level of stimulus support being proposed by policymakers can be used to direct investments toward lower carbon technologies,” she adds.
John McNeill, University Professor of History, School of Foreign Service
Though short-term environmental effects of the pandemic are many, McNeill believes the reduction in air pollution is temporary and that in two years, former levels of pollution will return. The environmental historian also says, however, that the regulation of wildlife trade and habitat destruction or modification might be one possible exception.
“At the moment, the genomic analysis of SARS CoV-2 suggests it originated with bats, like many viruses, and was passed to humans via an intermediary species, perhaps pangolins,” he explains.
Pangolins and civet cats – both indigenous to Asia and Africa and enjoyed as delicacies or believed to hold medicinal properties – have been linked to COVID-19 as well as the 2003 SARS outbreak. “One way to reduce the frequency with which viruses circulate and become human pathogens would be to reduce the trade in wildlife,” McNeill says. “Another would be to reduce the habitat pressure on wildlife of all sorts, but especially bats and rodents, as they seem to be the likeliest sources of unfamiliar human pathogens.”
Uwe Brandes, Professor of the Practice & Faculty Director of the Urban and Regional Planning Program
Brandes says that the impact of the global response to COVID-19 may have a complex series of impacts on both the natural and built environment, but the most immediate is a growing awareness of how individuals relate to their communities.
“We have become highly sensitized to the potential impact we have as individuals on the health of others, to our dependence on community health systems and to the supply chains that are our lifelines,” says Brandes, who also serves as faculty director of the Georgetown Global Cities Initiative. “The collective awareness generated by the pandemic will help us make better long-term decisions regarding what we deem sustainable urban infrastructure, and how we value the consumption and protection of natural systems.”
This story originally appeared on Georgetown University’s website, georgetown.edu, and is republished here with permission from the University.
By Nancy C. Tuchman, Ph.D. Founding Dean, Institute of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago
My colleagues in the sciences at Loyola University Chicago’s (LUC) Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES) spend much of their time researching ways to help the planet repair itself. They ask the practical questions: Which plants are best at pulling lead out of contaminated soils? Which evolutionary traits in plants can help us devise more sustainable agricultural practices? How can we convert campus food waste into clean, renewable energy?
But my IES colleagues in humanities spend much of their time asking the big questions: How do we shift our way of looking at nature from the perspective of a free storehouse of exploitable natural resources, to a sacred gift that gives life? How do we fall in love with nature and experience its awesome beauty so as to truly see its intrinsic value?
At IES, we’re integrating the sciences and the humanities to respond to Pope Francis’ impassioned call to care for creation. In his 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, the Pope reminds us that we must design academic programs that not only teach fundamental science, but also provide the humanistic conditions for ‘ecological conversion’ within our students.
Pope Francis describes our intimate connection with nature as an ‘integral ecology’. Three points inform and inspire the interdisciplinary science and humanities work we do at IES to build that into a reality:
1. All Life is Interdependent, Connected and Related
The first living organism on earth, a bacterial life form, came into existence 4.1 billion years ago. From there, all other higher forms of life arose. 360 million years ago, the process of evolution created diverse forest ecosystems. The tree of life continued to proliferate and today, we have over 12 million distinctive species of advanced life forms, in addition to an even higher number of simple life forms.
Each species fills a vital ecological niche in earth’s fantastically complex web of life. Some species are food to others; some provide physical habitat; some decompose the waste of plants and animals; some convert CO2 to oxygen; and some convert oxygen to CO2. Together, all species support the balance of the entire biosphere. The biosphere, in turn, helps to regulate earth’s systems, such as the hydrological cycle, the biogeochemical cycling of elements, and the climate system.
This is what Pope Francis means by an “integral ecology”: everything is connected.
In this remarkably intricate design of nature, everything is interdependent. The Pope challenges us to listen to the voice of Indigenous People around the world, who remind us that we are relatives to the plants, animals and abiotic processes around us. Pope Francis poignantly writes in Laudato Si’ (11):
“[St. Francis] would call creatures . . . ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’ Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism . . . [being] intimately united with all that exists [entails] a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.”
2. Human Population Growth is Disrupting Nature’s Delicate Balance
Humans didn’t appear on the evolutionary tree until very late in history; we existed as nomadic hunter-gatherers living in small groups of 20-40 people for most of our existence.
Our survival is completely dependent on all other forms of life in the biosphere. In the last 200 years, we have grown from 1 billion to more than 7.7 billion people on the planet, heading for 10 billion by 2050. This unsustainable population explosion is overwhelming the earth through deforestation, extensive agriculture, overfishing the oceans, and dumping waste into the atmosphere, oceans and on land.
Pope Francis is correct to point out that global population issues should not blind us to the serious problem of First World consumerism and waste. In Laudato Si’ (15), Pope Francis says, “We must draw on “the results of the best scientific research available, letting them touch us deeply.”
The best science is showing us that it is not possible for our earth to sustain the projected human population densities, as our rate of consumption and waste production continues to increase.
3. Linear Economic Models Are No Longer Sustainable
Our economic model of infinite growth is flawed for a planet with finite resources. Our economy is driven by extracting natural resources to make goods that are mass produced, sold and used lightly so as to perpetuate a single-use-disposable system. We are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We must develop an economy that is circular and based on healing and restoring the earth, instead of stealing and exploiting it.
Pope Francis puts his finger precisely on the problem in Laudato Si’ (22):
“We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet…”
Integrating the humanistic dimensions of Laudato Si’ with solid science encourages environmentally sustainable action. In some cases, the actions are simple mimics of nature.
Here at Loyola Chicago, in the IES aquaponics systems, where fish and crops grow together in a recirculating system, fish waste provides the fertilizer needed by plants. Plants in turn act as the biological filter, removing waste and oxygenating the water for the fish. Resources don’t get depleted and wastes don’t build up because nature has a circular economy.
Another earth-healing action is converting waste vegetable oil from our cafeteria’s deep fat fryers into biodiesel to fuel our shuttle buses. This diverts waste from the landfill and offsets our petroleum diesel consumption.
Our students are also driving change. At LUC, students led the way toward our banning the sale of bottled water and the use of plastic bags in our campus stores. They have also worked with vendors to help make our athletic events zero-waste.
We are striving toward a circular economy on our campus at LUC, where consumption and waste are reduced, and every-day materials are re-used. Every action, decision and purchase we make has a ripple effect both upstream in the supply chain, and downstream in the waste stream.
Pope Francis teaches us to recognize the urgent need to become integral ecologists: people who dare to imagine a healed earth and are willing to put their shoulders, hearts and minds into the task. In so many ways, the science-humanities partnership at IES strives to meet Pope Francis’ call.
By Mary McInerney, Editor, USF Magazine and USF News, and Maura Sullivan Hill, USF News Contributor
Since 2017, the University of San Francisco (USF) has been making great strides in the care of our common home. From achieving carbon neutrality, to divestment of fossil fuels, to the purchase of California’s oldest certified organic farm, USF continues to live up to its mission to ‘Change the World from Here.’
Carbon Zero, Global Hero
USF met its goal of zero net carbon emissions in 2019, more than 30 years ahead of its 2050 target date, set in 2014. This was accomplished through a series of large and small steps, including reducing campus water use by 30 percent; switching to green cleaning supplies; installing micro turbines that produce heat and electricity right on campus; and purchasing mission-driven carbon offsets.
“As Pope Francis wrote in his challenge to the world, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, every one of us has a responsibility to participate in swift and united action to repair humanity’s relationship with the Earth,” said USF’s President, Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J. “For USF, this is both a matter of justice for the poor who even now suffer greatly from pollution and climate change, and a matter of justice for future generations who will suffer the consequences of the deleterious changes to our environment. The work USF has done as a community to reduce our carbon footprint aligns with the University’s mission and values, as well as our hopeful vision for our common future.”
After setting the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, USF made its next change: tackling the plastics problem.
Before 2016, USF’s main cafeteria used single-use disposable to-go containers and cutlery. While all of that plastic was recyclable, it still left a heavy carbon footprint. So USF switched to reusable plates, containers and cups, and stainless steel utensils — and saw profound changes. During the 2016-17 school year, the Market Café produced 25 percent less waste than the year before, and reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent. It also cut costs by 53 percent.
These changes illustrate just one of many ways that USF has worked to reduce its carbon footprint over the past decade. Boilers, heating systems, windows and lighting systems have been upgraded, and most of the lights on campus run on motion-controlled systems to reduce energy use. More than two-thirds of waste generated on campus is diverted from landfills through reuse, recycling and composting. USF has also reduced campus water use by 30 percent since 2014, through water conservation initiatives, new pool filtration and kitchen equipment, and high-efficiency water fixtures.
Because commuting, transportation and travel account for about half of USF’s carbon emissions — everything from an employee’s daily car commute to the carbon emissions generated from a professor’s air travel for fieldwork — the University encourages public transit for both students and employees, giving undergraduates MUNI passes and offering discounted passes to faculty and staff. Many campus vehicles are electric, and members of the University community are offered incentives to use bike-sharing programs to get to campus.
Food on campus is largely sourced through local farms. In 2017, the University acquired Star Route Farms, California’s oldest certified organic farm, as part of its efforts to mitigate climate change and work toward fair ecosystems for all.
“Sustainability is an important issue for the USF community of students, alumni, employees, faculty and neighbors. People want to align their values with the organizations they are connected to,” said Susan Hopp, an adjunct faculty member who teaches courses in sustainability leadership, and who helped create the USF sustainability plan in 2016. “Expressing the values of USF through committed actions is really integral to a healthy university.”
Another major component of achieving carbon neutrality is USF’s purchase of carbon offsets, which financially support projects that reduce emissions. After calculating the total metric tons of carbon that USF produces each year, the University purchases enough offsets to account for carbon emissions that cannot be eliminated by its other actions.
All of the carbon offsets that USF supports are mission-driven, with a focus on environmental justice. Examples might include reforestation projects, capturing methane gas in garbage dumps, or replacing dirty stoves with clean ones in Africa.
Putting Down Roots
If the University is to care for the earth, it helps to have some earth to care for — in a direct, hands-on way. USF’s purchase of Star Route Farms in 2017 is a living example of that.
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis wrote: ‘Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.’
With 40 acres under cultivation and 60 acres of woods and ponds and wild hillside, Star Route Farms offers many educational opportunities, including student field trips, research projects, and group workshops and retreats for students, staff and faculty. For example: the environmental science department is measuring carbon storage in the soil to see if the farm is shrinking the University’s carbon footprint, and students have learned how to monitor water quality in the creek that flows through the farm.
USF’s hospitality management program has used Star Route Farms produce — everything from kale, tatsoi and Little Gem lettuce, to strawberries, blueberries, carrots and artichokes — in cooking classes and for some campus events.
Biology students have visited the farm to study how drought affects pollination, and the undergraduate California Ecology class has visited to study sustainable agriculture and ecosystem ecology — how living beings interact with their environment.
“Star Route Farms and the beauty of Bolinas is a perfect combination for us to get this central insight of Pope Francis and see how we are all part of nature. And, that all of creation is connected,” said Rev. Donal Godfrey, S.J., associate director of faculty and staff spirituality.
What Does the Future Hold?
Moving forward, USF continues to deepen the commitments to its mission and Laudato Si’ by making bold strides in sustainability and conservation. Last month, the USF Board of Trustees announced that it will divest fossil fuel holdings over the next twelve months, ceasing investments in any company or fund whose primary business is the exploration or extraction of fossil fuels, including all forms of coal, oil and natural gas. The University will continue to seek investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and other companies contributing to our transition to a more sustainable world.
Click here to view USF’s new video to celebrate Earth Day 2020.
By Tim Linn, Assistant Director of University Relations, Rockhurst University
Last fall, Rockhurst University embarked on an experiment of sorts.
The very first cohort of students moved into the Kateri Community, opening up not only a whole new housing option, but a new range of possibilities of what residential living on the University campus could look like, and what it could allow students to do.
Kateri Community consists of two floors, each with its own distinct mission. On one floor, residents are encouraged to explore Ignatian spirituality more deeply. On the other, students strive to live out “care for our common home” as exemplified in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’, which called attention to the need for the Church to care for the environment.
Kateri Community is a place where, each year, students can work to fulfill that promise of sustainability on a small scale, “care for our common home” together, and maybe even change their surrounding culture for the better.
Gianna Carleo, assistant director of campus ministry, said the idea of creating an intentional community was an important part of the project from the start, underscoring the extent to which care for the planet we share is an act rooted in solidarity.
“I think any opportunity to come into contact with the environment or ‘our common home’ is an opportunity for the lesson that we belong to one another, and are a part of something much larger than ourselves,” she said. “The environment doesn’t have one lesson to teach—it has billions everywhere we look. This community expresses care for our common home through a practice of receptivity of all that is happening and all that we can bring ourselves into awareness of when being a companion to the environment.”
Sophomore biology and Spanish major Kayla Donjuan said she learned about Kateri shortly after it was announced in December 2018, looking at first for a change of pace from the typical residence hall experience.
But almost immediately upon moving in, she said Kateri became more than a convenient option — it became a close-knit community in its own right, despite the busy schedules the residents keep as students. “I wanted to move in there because I thought the rooms looked nice. But now, I think we all think of it as a house,” she said. “I’ve definitely met some of my best friends since moving in here.”
The community’s namesake is St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first American Indian to be canonized by the Catholic Church, and the patroness of ecology and the environment. A devout Catholic and member of the Mohawk tribe, St. Kateri is recognized in the Church as a symbol of “care for our common home.”
In the spirit of that legacy, the residents of the floor dedicated to sustainability receive ongoing guidance, ideas and opportunities from the campus ministry team. To kick off the year, they took part in an environmental-themed retreat led by Carleo that helped set the tone for how they might approach their work as a community.
Other activities have included regular meetings and meals as a community, where residents share their “spiritual autobiographies,” as well as regular service projects, which have helped connect the residents not only to each other, but to similar-minded organizations in the Kansas City area. Behind the building, garden beds allow residents to grow their own food.
All of these things help underscore for the residents the spirit of Laudato Si’. “All the little things — having light and the plants that give us oxygen — you can’t take that for granted,” said Donjuan.
For Donjuan, the importance of caring for the Earth was made apparent when her father had a heart attack. It was a wake-up call not only for her parents, but for everyone else in the family — health was important, and having a planet able to offer fresh food was critical. “Before that, we didn’t really eat healthy or exercise,” she said. “And that flipped a switch – we started using more fresh ingredients and started our own garden.”
Emily Duff, a senior studying organismal biology and English literature, said that her interest in “care for our common home” was stoked when she was at an academic crossroads. After deciding that she didn’t want to be a physician assistant anymore, she spent a summer with the Maine Conservation Corps. As part of this Americorps program, Duff was part of a team that helped with recreation and conservation projects, including some on the Appalachian Trail. She said, “I learned a lot of useful skills like tree identification, stone staircase building, and tree maintenance.”
Through spending so much time in that beauty, Duff also developed an appreciation for why it’s important to care for the environment and how she demonstrates that with her fellow residents at Kateri. “As a community, we’ve been practicing more sustainable habits, like composting and making our own cleaning products.”
Both Duff and Donjuan said that their experience as part of the Kateri Community has been powerful, influencing both their academic and career goals, and helping them to forge new relationships with like-minded students. Donjuan has long aspired to be a dentist, but now hopes to one day open her own practice based in sustainable “green” practices. For Duff, being steeped in the culture of sustainability at Kateri has motivated her to pursue environmental science as a career.
As part of the first group of residents to call Kateri home, the students both hope that they helped to give this community a life of its own, something that Duff hopes they can pass on to the next group of passionate students to build on.
“I think Kateri has started to create an identity,” she said. “And I hope that Kateri’s residents can learn more about being better stewards of the Earth through their residence.”
By Eugene Curtin, University Communications, 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.
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.”
By Rita Buettner, Director of University Communications, Loyola University Maryland
Take a walk on Loyola University Maryland’s grassy Quad and you’ll find yourself gazing up at the leaf-filled branches stretching overhead. The 80-acre Evergreen campus in Baltimore, MD boasts more than 2,200 trees that represent 114 varieties, including 33 native species.
In recent years, Loyola has worked to have the Evergreen campus designated as an accredited arboretum by ArbNet, an international network for arboretum professionals. Loyola was awarded Level I Accreditation in December 2013 and, six years later, achieved Level II accreditation, thanks to expansion and enhanced preservation.
Those accreditations make a statement to the campus and to the broader community that Loyola values its trees—and invites visitors to engage with them directly through a self-guided walking audio tour. “The Loyola Arboretum directly engages hundreds of Loyola community members in the vast and critical beauty of biodiversity,” says Taylor Casalena, Loyola’s sustainability program manager. “The arboretum supports Loyola’s Climate Action Plan goal to reimagine the campus landscape to protect biodiversity and inspire environmental stewardship.”
The Beauty of Nature
Loyola takes its commitment to the earth seriously. Trees are a defining feature of its historic Evergreen campus in northern Baltimore, adding grandeur, beauty and shade, as well as homes to birds and squirrels.
“Our mission is to provide a beautiful and sustainable environment for Loyola students, faculty, staff and visitors,” says Helen Schneider, associate vice president of facilities and campus services. “Maintaining the Loyola Arboretum is an opportunity to preserve the natural aesthetics of our historic campus and enhance its biodiversity.”
The Loyola Arboretum is just one piece of the University’s overall plan and vision for supporting and strengthening God’s creation. The University has an active and thoughtful Sustainability Committee, which provides leadership and collaboration to help the University achieve the four major goals of its Climate Action Plan. An energy management policy is guiding Loyola’s efforts to reduce energy consumption campus-wide, invest in more renewable energy, and reach the University’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
In recent years, Loyola has begun to introduce native and pollinator-friendly landscaping to the Evergreen Campus, first with a Peace Meadow, and then with a Conservation and Experiential Learning Garden. The campus composting program has been expanded, and Loyola is taking steps to meet goals set in Baltimore City’s plan to eliminate all food waste at higher education institutions by 2030.
The University’s approach to sustainability and food justice extends beyond campus to programs like FreshCrate, which places fresh produce in corner stores along the York Road corridor, just east of Loyola’s campus. As part of Loyola’s York Road Initiative, the Govanstowne Farmers Market is held on Wednesdays between June and September, featuring local growers and food producers from the local community. This summer will be the market’s tenth season.
Teaching the Next Generation of Environmental Activists
Education and intellectual engagement around the topics of environmental science and sustainability can be found inside the classroom (through an interdisciplinary minor) and outside, through events such as Loyola’s Francis Feast and Learn, an annual informative teach-in and dinner featuring local foods.
“As with our global studies initiative, it was really the students who brought environmental sustainability to the forefront,” says Loyola’s president, Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J. “The students are offering the greatest challenge around these questions. It is their future. And we are already seeing how this is unfolding with climate change. The concern for the environment and concern for the materially poor align among young people. These questions invigorate them. When you talk about helping a younger generation move to a hopeful future, that future is deeply tied to the environment.”
Loyola’s work in this area had begun well before Pope Francis published his encyclical, Laudato Si’, in 2015. But the pope’s vision supported and gave added meaning to the importance of the University’s work, leading Fr. Linnane to sign both the Catholic Climate Covenant’s St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor, and President Obama’s Carbon Commitment.
“For the pope, coming from the developing world, he sees how (with environmental degradation) the wealthy and the privileged can avoid the worst of it. But the poor are the most vulnerable,” says Fr. Linnane.
Creating a Culture
The link between sustainability, equity and inclusion is one that Loyola’s community continues to delve into more fully. During Loyola’s Mission Priority Examen process (which concluded last year), these topics emerged as priority areas. At that time, “Caring for Our Common Home” was named as one of the Jesuits’ Universal Apostolic Preferences, further affirming Loyola’ commitment to engagement.
Incorporating the Jesuit mission into the work at Loyola has helped sustainability efforts gain momentum, says Taylor Casalena. Her hope is that, as time goes on, the University won’t even need to talk about sustainability—that it will be so embedded in the community’s behaviors that it will be part of the culture.
“We have so many successes, but also a lot of failures,” Casalena says. “This isn’t something that always goes well. It’s trial and error. It’s behavior change.”
A Gift to the Community
But change is underway, and important—and intentional—steps are being taken.
In Summer 2019, when Loyola leaders realized that a nearly 200-year-old white oak was diseased and needed to be removed from the ground, members of the campus community gathered for a last farewell. Casalena read Mary Oliver’s poem, “When I Am Among Trees,” and the community prayed together, celebrating the gift that the tree had been to the community for generations.
“We can’t replace nature,” Casalena said at the time. “Even if we plant something now, it would take at least 100 years to replace this tree.”
Still, even the smallest step can make a difference. This week, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day 2020, a new white oak will be planted on Loyola’s Evergreen campus: a concrete, beautiful way to celebrate the University’s commitment to the earth.
By Jenny Smulson, Director of Government Relations, AJCU
The Passage of the CARES Act: What it Means for the Higher Education Community
In the face of devastating human, social and economic upheaval, Congress and the Trump Administration have been working cooperatively to pass legislation addressing the COVID-19 crisis. In early March, federal leaders agreed to provide $8.3 billion in emergency aid to fight the spread of coronavirus. As a follow-up, they agreed on a package (estimated cost of $100 billion) to provide paid sick leave; extend free coronavirus testing to those without insurance; increase Medicaid and SNAP benefits; and boost unemployment insurance.
Meanwhile, institutions of higher education, including those within the AJCU network, had to close their campuses and swiftly transition to virtual learning. Though this was done to protect their communities from the spread of the disease, it caused enormous upheaval for students who had to move from their dorms and return home. In recognition of these challenges (and in spite of the immense cost), colleges and universities helped students in need by providing them with critical emergency support, including funds for traveling home and purchasing computers, and expanding wireless access and food assistance programs.
In late March, Congress and the President responded to ongoing pleas for assistance by passing and signing into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act of 2020. This $2 trillion economic stimulus package is the third relief and assistance bill advanced by the federal government to address the emergency needs of the nation related to the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to providing cash payments to families, CARES has specific provisions to assist the education and business communities, focusing on both student and institutional needs within the elementary, secondary and post-secondary sectors, as well as the needs of small, medium and large businesses.
The AJCU Government Relations Network advocated forcefully for grant assistance for students and institutions of higher education by sharing information from their campuses with Congressional delegations. Thanks to their tireless work, and that of the entire education community, the $30 billion Educational Stabilization Fund within the CARES Act now authorizes four grant programs for education: Education Stabilization Fund Discretionary grants; Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund; Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund; and the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF).
Of the $12.6 billion made available for the HEERF, grant dollars will be distributed by a formula that takes into account the number of Pell recipients (75%) and the number of non-Pell full-time equivalent students (25%). Of the allocations made to an institution of higher education, 50% of the funds are reserved for student needs and 50% are reserved for the institutions to respond to the coronavirus and prepare for future costs associated with prolonged campus closures. The legislative language directs that funds available to students must be used for direct emergency aid for cost of attendance needs related to disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus.
While seemingly straightforward, there have been many questions about how institutions of higher education can and should distribute emergency grants to students. The U.S. Department of Education has recently updated their website with FAQs that should help address these issues and provide more direct guidance to institutions in using both the student and institutional portions of these grants. Colleges and universities are now able to submit an application for the student emergency grant funds, as well as the institutional grants.
Other programs within the CARES Act may provide relief to institutions of higher education in their role as non-profit, local employers, including federal lending programs and deferment of contributions under the employer portion of the FICA tax. AJCU, along with other higher education associations, continues to advocate for clarity on the eligibility of nonprofits in the CARES-authorized lending programs, and to make recommendations for legislative changes to other CARES lending programs, to allow for greater participation of colleges and universities.
In light of the on-going spread of the coronavirus, our national leaders recognize the need for a fourth stimulus package. The higher education community is requesting $48 billion in emergency assistance that would be distributed using the CARES Act’s HEERF formula. In the weeks ahead, our community will be reaching out to their Congressional delegations to explain the impact this crisis has had on institutions and on students, especially those with financial need. It is apparent that financial need will increase significantly for many families, as they seek opportunities for their children (or themselves) to pursue post-secondary study.
Though COVID-19 is ravaging our nation, it is, at the same time, reinforcing the need for an educated, compassionate workforce equipped with the knowledge, skills and commitment to serve during times of crisis. We need the federal government’s partnership to stabilize and strengthen higher education: a safe and secure future will depend on our investment today in the science, health and public safety sectors, to name a few. Please visit AJCU’s Policy Corner to keep updated on our advocacy work, as well as our coronavirus page for important, updated information about our campuses and their responses to COVID-19.