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Partnerships at USD tackle climate change


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SAN DIEGO — The University of San Diego was quick to heed Pope Francis’ call to action on environmental stewardship.

The pope issued his encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home” in late May 2015. The following year, when USD released a strategic plan in preparation for its 75th anniversary in 2024, the encyclical’s influence could already be felt.

“Care for Our Common Home” is one of USD’s six strategic “pathways” toward its goal of being the standard-bearer for a contemporary Catholic university. The pathway calls for the message of “Laudato Si” to be embodied in teaching, scholarship, campus culture and community partnerships.

USD’s efforts represent one of the many ways that the local Church is providing leadership on this issue.

With “Laudato Si” marking its sixth anniversary, members of the USD community recently reflected on the university’s accomplishments and what they have learned in the fight against climate change.

Dr. Michel Boudrias, associate professor of Environmental and Ocean Sciences, is director of USD’s Care for Our Common Home Pathway.

He said that one of “the most powerful” attributes of “Laudato Si” is that, unlike the typical encyclical, it was written as “a letter to the world.” Catholics and non-Catholics alike were encouraged to do something for the planet.

“We have to work together to solve this issue,” said Boudrias, expressing what he believes to be one of the main messages of the papal document.

USD has embraced that spirit of collaboration.

On campus, climate change is an issue that is not restricted to science classrooms, but which has been introduced into a variety of academic fields.

“We really need to be thinking across disciplines to be successful,” said Boudrias, who explained that the university has created an interdisciplinary space where students can take courses that are team-taught by professors from different departments.

For about a decade, Boudrias has lectured to students in Sustainable Supply Chain classes about the science of climate change and its impact on businesses. Through a similar but more recent partnership with the Theatre Department, its students are honing their storytelling skills by writing and performing short plays with environmental themes; Environmental and Ocean Sciences students serve as scientific consultants on the plays.

Boudrias is also one of 12 members of the university’s Environmental Integration Lab, which facilitates coordination among all environmentally related courses and projects on campus and provides a virtual hub for those faculty and staff members.

During the current academic year, the Care for Our Common Home Pathway teamed with USD’s Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture and the Office of Mission and Ministry to mark Laudato Si’s anniversary with virtual presentations open to students, faculty and staff, as well as the community at large.

Trey McDonald, director of USD’s Office of Sustainability, shares Boudrias’ sentiments about the need to work together on environmental issues.

“This has got to be a partnership, it’s got to be an effort where we’re all involved, and I think that’s where things at USD look really good,” he said.

McDonald is a key player in USD’s “Campus as a Living Lab” concept, which allows students to contribute to campus-wide sustainability efforts through research projects undertaken as part of their coursework. The Sustainability Office approves the projects and connects the students with subject matter experts on campus.

He said such projects have resulted in significant savings in both money and resources for the university.

As the result of analysis performed by a group of students in a Supply Chain Management class, McDonald said, USD stopped receiving deliveries of 5-gallon water bottles in favor of installing on-site water filtration and dispensing units. He said this project alone reduced greenhouse gases, because the delivery trucks no longer needed to drive to campus, and has saved more than $50,000 in estimated annual costs.

However, USD’s partnerships on climate change are not limited to the university’s Linda Vista campus.

The San Diego Regional Climate Collaborative, an initiative of The Nonprofit Institute housed at USD’s School of Leadership and Education Sciences, is a network of cities and regional agencies that facilitates opportunities to reflect on challenges and best practices in climate action planning.

The Collaborative describes its mission as “connecting the region to advance climate change solutions.”

“The Climate Collaborative was formed in 2011 by a small group of motivated individuals who saw the need for a unified space in order to move the needle towards climate action for cities and agencies – knowing that only together we will be prosperous and resilient,” explained Darbi Berry, program manager. “Across the region, staff from 28 cities and agencies actively participate in Climate Collaborative dialogues, and having access to this community of best practices also helps to support USD in its own campus efforts toward climate action.”

The Collaborative has been under the aegis of The Nonprofit Institute since 2018.

Six years after Laudato Si, USD is not content with its accomplishments.

USD’s president, Dr. James T. Harris, signed a Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment in October 2019, joining a network of U.S. colleges and universities that  have pledged to go carbon-neutral by 2035.

McDonald said that achieving this ambitious goal will require an interdisciplinary, interdepartmental effort, “because every aspect of campus will be affected.”

But he is excited by the challenge.

Through 2019, USD has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 17 percent, he said, but meeting the carbon-neutrality goal means “we’re going to have to be more aggressive and, hopefully, do some more daring, exciting things.”

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