President Folt joins L.A. Mayor Garcetti to discuss local sustainability work

The panel event focused on how local governments and universities can work together and separately to address the effects of climate change in their communities.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and USC President Carol Folt joined a virtual discussion on the role local governments and educational institutes can play in sustainability, green jobs and equitable communities.

The April 1 event, “Cities and Universities for Sustainable Future: The Importance of Community-focused Partnerships,” was coordinated by USC, the Office of the Mayor of Los Angeles and The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).

NASEM opened the event with their report on “strengthening sustainability” programs and curriculum, discussing how higher educations should promote experiential learning and integrate diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Folt began her statement by crediting students for pushing USC to pursue greater sustainability.

“It is our students who are so actively pushing us,” Folt said. “They care.”

Folt and Garcetti discussed the important roles their offices play in the L.A. community and how they hope to achieve goals in regards to sustainability initiatives.

According to Garcetti, national and international goals are not possible without local work.”Every single thing we do, from what we buy in the physical plant to the way we house our students, to the way we move them around the campus and the neighborhood and the way we plan a city or build a campus,” he said.

Garcetti also mentioned that when the pandemic first started, he gathered with the leaders of the biggest cities in the world to discuss taking action against climate change. Both he and Folt said sustainability should be incorporated into policies across the board.

“Every single plan has to have a sustainability component,” she said, adding that the different schools within USC have their own sustainability programs. Folt discussed the link between social justice and the environment. She said she expects students to press for university and government policies to address both social and environmental issues when they return to campus life.

Folt recalled her first day as president of USC, when a climate strike took place on campus. Since, she has made sustainability one of her top priorities, revealing a university 2028 Sustainability Plan. Her goals include strengthening the university’s zero-waste policy, expansion of recycling programs and the elimination of single-use plastics. Folt also seeks to reduce greenhouse gases, in part by installing more electric car charging stations in USC parking lots.

In 2019, Garcetti unveiled Los Angeles’ Green New Deal which seeks to build a zero-carbon electricity grid to provide the city with only renewable energy by 2045. In addition, Garcetti wants to make all LA buildings emissions-free by 2050 and recycle all wastewater by 2035.

To create a zero-waste city, the mayor is also looking to phase out styrofoam by the end of 2021 and stop the use of plastic straws and disposable plastic containers by 2028, as well as to stop sending trash to landfills by 2050. Currently, Los Angeles is set to achieve renewable electricity by 2045, possibly even by 2035, according to the Los Angeles 100% Renewable Energy Study.

After the discussion with Garcetti and Folt, a similar panel spoke on sustainability education in community focus partnerships. This included USC environmental studies professor Jill Sohm, USC sociology professor Manuel Pastor and, recent USC graduate and student sustainability leader Tianna Shaw-Wakeman.

Pastor said USC and Los Angeles are uniquely situated to deal with climate change.

“We are in a place that’s been racked by environmental injustice,” said Pastor. “That’s given birth to some of the most vibrant environmental justice movements in the country.” Pastor added that there is no reason why USC shouldn’t be leading the country in terms of sustainability research, teaching and training in the country.

The recording of the event will be available early next week on the NASEM website.