Ryan Chartrand

It is obvious our world is changing. Recent events like Focus the Nation and the spotlight on the presidential race have moved the sustainability debate from niche to mainstream. You can’t open the newspaper these days without seeing a mention of sustainability, climate change, or ethical business practices in some context. So you may be asking yourself, what is a leading university like Cal Poly doing to reduce its ecological footprint and ensure its students are well prepared for the current influx in green jobs? Well, the administration is not doing a whole lot.

Cal Poly is one of the few remaining universities in California to not sign the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, which was signed by hundreds of universities across the nation. The Presidents Climate Commitment provides a framework and support for America’s colleges and universities to go climate neutral. The commitment identifies the unique responsibility that universities have as role models for their communities and in training the people who will develop the financial, social and technological solutions to reverse global warming. The universities that put sustainability at the core of their education model not only have a strong competitive advantage in the short term, but a long-lasting education model in the long term. For universities, going green is as much about doing the right thing as it is about staying ahead of the game.

Historically, Cal Poly has been a trendsetter in providing the most innovative curriculum with its “learn by doing” motto. But Cal Poly is not seriously addressing the issue of sustainability, and as a result students are not prepared to address the key issues that the private and public sector might encounter in the future. In order to adequately prepare students in green business practices and social responsibility, sustainability must become more than a buzzword on campus, but rather a structural pillar in the foundation of this university.

This week the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) released a draft of a campus sustainability rating scale called STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System). STARS is designed to help measure the progress of colleges and universities toward sustainability in all sectors, enable meaningful comparisons of universities across the nation, and create incentives for continual improvement toward sustainability. But where will Cal Poly rank? My guess is not very high.

It is essential that Cal Poly not let his happen. Many other ranking scales will appear in years to come, so Cal Poly needs to take action before U.S. News and World Report begins incorporating these scales into its college rankings. Is not taking action on sustainability worth losing the No. 1 spot as the “Best in the West”?

Rather than continually waiting for student-led initiatives, the Cal Poly administration needs to actively pursue the “triple bottom line” approach, where financial, social and environmental issues take equal priority. This philosophy will impress perspective students, motivate professors, engage existing students, and support the community while reducing costs. Sustainability is sometimes mistaken as a cost, but in reality it is an investment. Cost has no return, while investment does.

Cal Poly is in a unique position to start pursuing sustainable initiatives before we reach a tipping point of no return. Leadership is needed at all levels. So students, professors and administrators must work together to tackle these issues and ignite mass positive change. After all, citizenship is not a spectator sport! We have an ethical duty to accept responsibility for what we do, pay attention, and subvert conventional thinking. We can believe in the future and work to achieve it, or we can whirl blindly on, acting as if one day there will be no one to inherit our legacy. The choice is ours.

Blake Hudelson is a city and regional planning senior, historian for the Empower Poly Coalition and a new environmental columnist for the Mustang Daily.

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