DePaul students demand sustainability plan

DePaul’s newest student-run environmental organization, Climate Reality: DePaul Chapter, recently launched the “What About DePaul?” campaign, after learning that DePaul is one of the only major Chicago based universities that lacks an official sustainability plan.

With climate change being one of the greatest challenges of the present day, Nicole Granados, the chair of the chapter, felt compelled to take action upon returning from a national training that Climate Reality led along with the organization’s original founder, Al Gore last year in Los Angeles. 

When Granados tried researching DePaul’s sustainability initiatives, she was surprised to find little literature on the matter.

“A lot of the information that was on DePaul’s website was outdated and just wasn’t up to par with what I wanted to see that DePaul has done sustainability wise,” she said.

Upon speaking with other students, Granados learned she wasn’t the only person who was shocked to find out that DePaul hasn’t published an official sustainability plan.

“Many students had come up to me before, saying they thought that we had already gotten started on a lot of these things,” she said “When I expressed to them the actual numbers and facts behind it,they were shocked,.”

The Sustainability Initiatives Task Force (SITF) is a volunteer research team, mainly made up of faculty from DePaul, which worked on a sustainability plan and proposed it to the university. The plan was rejected, primarily  because of the lack of student demand for a plan.

Christie Klimas, assistant professor of Environmental Science and Studies, was part of the Curriculum Working group for the research effort.

Part of the proposed plan’s efforts included creating a sustainability coordinator position. Klimas said even though there are groups on campus who are interested in working toward creating sustainable practices, it’s difficult for efforts to be cohesive and movements to push forward without a coordinator.

“Because we don’t have a sustainability coordinator or core group that has oversight over this, we oftentimes don’t know what we’re doing, and efforts aren’t as cohesive as they could be if we were collaborating together,” she said.

Klimas explained that hiring a sustainability coordinator was a financial rejection.

“It’s not that the university doesn’t support it; they think it’s great, but we just don’t have the funds for someone hired specifically as a sustainability coordinator,” she said.

Despite DePaul not having an official sustainability plan, the university has taken steps toward reducing environmental impact. In addition to DePaul being a fair trade university, solar panels on select buildings and recycling bins are present throughout the two main campuses.

“DePaul has definitely gotten started on sustainability,” Granados said. “One of the main things behind DePaul’s sustainability initiatives is the fact that there are some and they’re there, but they just haven’t been able to express that for students to let them know that they are there. We just want to help them further that, and create more”.

One major reason DePaul hasn’t approved an official plan is that there has not been an overwhelming student demand for one.

“We are a bottom-up university in that students have a lot of power to make changes,” Klimas said. “We’re a fair trade university, not because of faculty and staff, but because students pushed to work with all stakeholders so that they could get this fair trade designation and maintain it.”   

“Most of shifts we see are because students push for different things, and part of this is because you’re here paying tuition,”she said.

Other Chicago-based universities, including University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola University, have implemented concrete sustainability plans with established goals, such as making their campuses carbon neutral and zero waste within the coming years.

Zach Waickman, biodiesel lab manager at Loyola University, said required sustainability courses have played a part in maintaining the commitment to sustainability on their campus.

“We have […] really a lot of excitement about the sustainability initiatives from the student body all the way up through the administration,” he said “That’s what allows us to create this sustainability ethic that runs through the university. Students are required to take sustainability courses as part of our core curriculum, no matter what your major is.”

The start of Loyola’s biodiesel program was the result of a course called “Solutions to Environmental Problems” in 2007. The course was launched from their Center For Urban Environmental Research and Policy.

Biodiesel is a transportation fuel created from used cooking oil. Their lab collects used oil from museums and universities across Chicago, including DePaul.

The lab also diverts waste by turning some of the biodiesel production process byproducts into something usable.

“Our long term goal of being a zero waste production facility aims to turn those byproducts into other useable, sellable products ideally right here on Loyola’s campus,” Waickman said. “The best example of that right now is a soap that’s used in all of our restrooms on campus that’s made from our glycerin byproduct.”

Klimas said expanding environmental education at DePaul was also part of the proposed plan. Creating a mandatory sustainability minor is something SITF would like to see in terms of sustainability initiatives, but there are restrictions in place that would first have to be worked out regarding the curriculum.

In terms of DePaul investing in comprehensive technology to reduce their footprint, it isn’t the only immediate solution.

While establishing lofty goals related to renewable energy commitments are important, Klimas explained that at a more reachable level, finding ways to encourage more sustainable shifts in consumption are impactful too.

“We would like to see DePaul commit to living-wage apparel for all-athletic apparel, and all that’s sold promoting DePaul,” she said.  “Renewable energy is important, but so is making sure that our supply chain is a best practices supply chain, and not just a supply chain with no problems.”

For DePaul’s new chapter of Climate Reality, voicing student’s desire for DePaul to create an official sustainability plan will be at the forefront of their campaign.  Granados defined the “What About DePaul?” campaign as having two main goals.

The campaign is one, meant for students to increase awareness of what DePaul has done in the past and what we could possibly do to improve,” Granados said.

Students who wish to get involved in sustainability on campus can join the Climate Reality Chapter that has biweekly meetings on Thursday nights in Arts and Letters building, room 112.

Klimas also recommended the Student Government Association as a point of contact for students interested in voicing their sustainability concerns. SGA has a senator for sustainability, Kaitlyn Pike, who Klimas highlighted as a good resource.