Reflecting on USC’s promise of sustainability

Has USC made progress on the goals established in last year’s State of the University Address?

Carol Folt stands with a microphone in a blue suit

Last year, during her State of the University Address, USC President Carol Folt outlined the steps USC would take to protect the environment; the university would achieve carbon neutrality by 2025 and be waste-free by 2028.

Listed in USC’s Sustainability 2028 Framework, the two goals are just one component of Assignment: Earth — the university’s framework for a “greener campus and planet.”

Nearly one year later, USC Chief Sustainability Officer Mick Dalrymple said he believes the university is still on track.

“It’s like having a moving target,” Mick said in an interview from February 24 with Annenberg Media. “Zero waste is zero waste, 100% carbon free or energy is 100% carbon free energy … we’re just really trying to push for that growth.”

During the 2022 address, Folt also said that the Presidential Working Group (PWG) on Sustainability in Research, Education and Operations — which is made up of over 100 USC faculty, staff and students — was the “driving force” behind USC’s sustainability initiatives.

Sean McCalla, a member of the PWG Student Sustainability committee, said he thinks the university is on track to accomplish their goals by 2028.

“I think that we are on track to accomplish the 2028 framework,” McCalla said. “The goals within Assignment Earth have almost holistically been met up until this point, and I don’t see many reasons for them not to be [in the future].”

McCalla credited Folt with much of the recent progress.

“I think she’s done a fantastic job … It’s very easy to kind of be overtaken with hubris when it comes to sustainability efforts and become really wide ranging really quickly and go over your head.” McCalla said. “That’s something that I think [Folt] is incredibly cognizant of and is being careful not to fall into. So a lot of the sustainability work comes to creating strong data points to go after, and that’s exactly what she’s done.”

McCalla said that Folt’s promise of climate neutrality has been especially imperative to the project. Highlighted in the Office of Sustainability’s annual report released last month, absolute greenhouse gas scope emissions have seen a 31% reduction since 2014.

“We’ve gone through the various ethics and the various standards of carbon offsets and created a guideline or a framework for the university to purchase offsets that are sound,” McCalla said.

Students are also hopping on the green wave. Yusung Hong, a freshman majoring in business administration, said USC’s sustainability efforts caught his eye even before attending.

“I definitely love it,” Hong said. “Before I even applied to this school, I was looking at the sustainability initiative and I was amazed by it; it’s actually working out around the campus.”

Others, however, called for more channels of dialog between USC and the student population.

“There should be more communication channels,” said Andrew Ta, a graduate student studying computer science. “I know I get some emails from the university, but most of them are not environmental or related to the environment.”

Sydney Byun, a junior majoring in law, history and culture, reaffirmed the notion.

“I think, generally, the student body is not super aware of USC’s. sustainability efforts. I know they send out a sustainability survey every year,” Byun said. “[But,] I do think implementing more student awareness could definitely help.”