Los Angeles, CA - The doors to USC’s new Sustainability Hub swung open Wednesday, marking a historic moment for the university. President Carol Folt, alongside members of the Presidential Working Group (PWG) on Sustainability, inaugurated the event by cutting the yellow ribbon, accompanied by the triumphant melodies of the Trojan Marching Band.
The Sustainability Hub provides both a physical and symbolic space where diverse ideas and capabilities from all disciplines unite. It seeks solutions that open the doors to unimagined green businesses, innovative policies and new health solutions. This collective effort embodies USC’s commitment to urgent action.
Constructed entirely from reusable materials, the center finds its home in Student Union, Suite 101, the space previously occupied by the USC Pharmacy.
Throughout the two-hour opening, students and staff gathered on Trousdale to exchange stories and future plans for sustainability projects at various booths, capturing the interest of all event-goers. At one of the stations, the Roski School of Art and Design laid out discarded cardboard and timber collected from old construction sites encouraging visitors to craft and mount environmental posters.
Right across, artist Andy Johnson showcased a life-sized polar bear sculpture made entirely from found trash. Weighing 1,500 pounds, the statue symbolizes the yearly waste production per American.
Despite finding our campus surrounded by an urban landscape, the USC Garden Club reconnects students with the earth and its roots by tending the Parkside Garden. The club is looking forward to expanding its current composting partnership with Parkside Residential and encouraging non-member students to regularly utilize their community compost stations.
“The Sustainability Hub allows us to expand our reach,” said Esther Jeon, a Garden Club member excited about the potential to raise environmental awareness and sustainability outreach.
Mia Fong, a student data analyst intern on the USC Student Sustainability Committee and a SC Mappers member, spearheads a Geographic Information System (GIS) project to reduce contamination by mapping waste bins and creating a waste directory.
“We hope to start that big culture change so that we can actually divert our waste from the landfill,” said Fong. She helps the USC Office of Sustainability booth by handing out, among other informational resources, name cards printed on paper pressed to hold wildflower seeds.
Folt’s words resonated throughout the event, emphasizing the need for immediate and patient action in the face of climate change challenges.
“At USC, one of the world’s greatest leading research universities, we have the potential and the passion powered by all of you people here today, by our beautiful Trojan Family, to make great advances at speeds we’ve never before considered,” Folt said. “We’re not trying to do it in 20 or 50 years; we’re trying to do it right now.”
Since launching the PWG in November 2019, Folt has overseen the collective efforts of students, faculty, staff and community members in pioneering sustainability initiatives, positioning USC as a model of sustainability. She highlighted the importance of ‘speed’ and ‘scope’ in our sustainability efforts moving forward.
“We want to get it done, we can get it done,” Folt said.
Folt commends the many initiatives driven by USC faculty, fellows and interns. Among these noteworthy endeavors, Mahta Moghaddam’s radar imagery stands out, helping Arctic scientists monitor permafrost loss; Chief Heat Officer Marta Segura returns social justice to the community through addressing extreme heat; While biological sciences Professor Sergey Nuzhdin researches new methods to grow essential crops.
“As I learned so many years ago: all it takes is one moment, one conversation, one event, to turn apathy into the audacity to believe that a better alternative is possible,” said JJ Flores, co-chair of the Student Committee on the Presidential Working Group on Sustainability.
Flores shared their journey of turning ambition into action, culminating in USC becoming a pilot site for green campuses around LAUSD. Their speech encouraged attendees to become climate ambassadors in each of their own networks, to start conversations on climate and to move those around us to care.
The USC FPM Facilities Planning and Management showcased a prototype of a bin labeled, “I Don’t Know,” adorned with a thinking emoji. Staff members, eager to boost diversion rates — the amount of waste redirecting waste away from traditional disposal methods, such as landfill or incineration — plan to pilot this new initiative to decrease waste contamination. This move, complemented by clearer signage and educational videos, propels USC towards achieving 90% diversion rates by 2028.
Going forward, the Sustainability Hub will provide another location where students and faculty can dispose of their used batteries and electronics.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that President Folt has initiated this kind of green revolution at USC,” said Diane Dimitrius, the director of student services for the School of Engineering ECD. She speaks enthusiastically about the imaging work that her Ph.D. students do for detecting plastics in watersheds.
As the event concluded, Dimitrius’ concern for the environment echoed in her words. “I’m disturbed about the oceans and about landfills and about plastic, and it’s just too much already.”
USC’s Sustainability Hub represents a pivotal step towards addressing these concerns and nurturing a greener, collective future.
It’s not just a physical space but a symbol of USC’s unwavering dedication to a sustainable world—a testament to the university’s potential and its passionate community working tirelessly to create meaningful change.
In the end, Folt’s closing remarks left students with motivation and hope for a better, greener, collective future.
“You have a chance to build the career of the future as well as having a passion-filled life that has no boundaries,” Folt said. “It is really, really, a moment and I know you all care about it, and I think I can’t wait to see what you’ll do.”