Op-ed: We want an institutional sustainability plan at DePaul—and we’re tired of waiting


Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia

DePaul University Lincoln Park campus.

It requires no superhuman ability to see the destruction that this year has brought to all corners of the earth, from the Covid-19 pandemic which has consumed our lives for eight months, to the continued murdering of people of color at the hands of police, and the financial disaster and pain that a country slipping into economic depression has brought, yet we continue to ignore a grave, ever-present threat: climate change.

But let me be clear on who that “we” is. It is the institutions and those who lead them who ignore it. It is present at the top, with the U.S. government’s refusal to adequately respond to the changing world and how it affects people across the globe, but it also reaches near to home, at DePaul, whose administration, since at least a decade ago, has refused to adopt an institutional sustainability plan, or ISP for short. 

An ISP lays out a holistic set of goals for the institution to reach, encompassing not simply environmental matters such as installing solar panels, but social matters, such as dignifying all workers at DePaul or on its campuses, as well as economic matters like ensuring our endowment’s portfolio allows the institution to thrive while promoting values that we hold dear to our identity and mission, which is inherently linked with sustainability. If you would like a longer explanation as to how sustainability connects to our mission, read this piece I have written previously on it.

What’s more, DePaul had an ISP which was rejected for a number of reasons, one of the largest being that there was insufficient student demand. Well, this is that demand, and I am not alone. In fact, I can prove that I am nowhere close to being alone.

Along with a few of my fellow students and faculty, we designed a series of Student Pulse surveys centering around sustainability that have been distributed through DePaul’s social media throughout the fall quarter. 

The first installment in the Student Pulse Survey series focused on sustainability. (Screenshot taken from Instagram)

The first in the line of the surveys asked if sustainability was important, which 94.7 percent of the 1724 respondents said yes, it was. We followed this in the second survey by asking if students knew about DePaul’s sustainability efforts, and unsurprisingly they did not, with less than 20 percent of the 1738 respondents having a clue what DePaul does in terms of sustainability. 

But where students really responded was to our last two questions. We asked if DePaul should be more sustainable, and of the 3483 responses from students, 93.5 percent said yes. Let’s pause for a second there. Three thousand four hundred and eighty-three. That’s somewhere around 15 percent of the student body, which is an incredible degree of participation for any survey.

On the final survey, we asked if DePaul should have an ISP, and of the 2782 responses, 96 percent — our highest percentage yet,  and ever for all Student Pulse surveys — said that we should have one. 

It cannot get any more clear than that. Students want DePaul to be more sustainable, and to that end, they want an institutional sustainability plan, and not just one that gets thrown in the trash at the first sign of trouble.

Students want DePaul to commit itself to sustainability, and not a loose and invisible greenwashing which they attempt to pass off as sustainability. Yes, sustainability includes the environmental aspect, but it is so much more than that, and for an institution that is so uniquely tied to our Vincentian identity, it is a disgrace to see us fail to live up to the other two components of sustainability. 

So, let this be the demand, as if the call from student organizations, renowned faculty, staff and the students who walk DePaul’s halls over the years fell upon deaf ears the entire time. And if that is not enough and more formality is needed, I’ll be introducing a resolution regarding this to SGA’s General Body when we come back in January. 

Regardless, I can promise this: Students will not give up, and if it means we have to do much of the heavy lifting to get administration there, then we’ll do it, just like we already have been. 

From student organizations like Climate Reality, the Fair Trade Committee, DePaul Trees, NetImpact and DePaul Urban Gardeners to student government’s own Sustainability Committee, we will continue to work, and most importantly, put our ears to the ground and listen to students, and ask them a very simple, yet fundamental question: What do you want your world to look like?

That question is the fundamental question of sustainability, and when we begin to realize that the world we live in is not just ours, but was someone’s before us, is shared by many now, and will be someone else’s after us, we begin to look at our responsibilities in a much different way. There is no time left for us to delay, and I think, even if DePaul’s administration is unwilling to admit that, we are.