Op-ed: We need to prioritize environmental sustainability at DePaul



This Friday, April 11, 2015 file photo shows a view of the Bugey nuclear plant in Saint-Vulbas, near Lyon, central France. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, File)

It’s 2021, and large and historic learning institutions like DePaul need to be making every effort they can to become more sustainable. The DePaul Sustainability group created a petition to encourage DePaul to further its efforts. 

Did you know that 90 percent of the S&P 500 Index companies have published corporate sustainability reports? Or that competing institutions, like Loyola University, acknowledge their commitment to sustainability is actually a strategic recruiting tool and is one reason why 52 percent  of incoming freshmen picked their university? Or that the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement? It’s an exciting time for sustainable efforts because people are finally acknowledging how much value they create. 

In its new mission statement, DePaul has committed to “promoting peaceful, just and equitable solutions to social and environmental challenges,” an admirable goal which we fully support and want to see happen. Yet, did you know that DePaul is the only major university in Chicago that still does not have a sustainability plan, does not have a paid staff member dedicated to setting related goals and tracking efforts across departments in order to ensure DePaul continues to become more and more holistic in its operations and is not committed to any large sustainability agreements? 

That’s not to say that the University has done nothing; it’s developed a strong curriculum in both undergraduate and graduate degrees to prepare students to work in the sector and has invested in other smaller efforts like solar power generation on certain buildings, a composting program and several water bottle refill stations. However, the actual impact of these efforts is not communicated very well, or in some cases at all, to the DePaul community or the public. This means that little is known about the university’s overall impact on the surrounding communities and its stakeholder groups, the environment or DePaul’s bottom line.

As you likely know, climate change is already here and is impacting the most vulnerable populations in our city; Chicago had record flooding in each of the last three springs. For example, due to increased precipitation in the coming years, Chicago is predicted to be at greater risk of flooding than both New York City and Los Angeles (Chicago is 600 miles from the nearest oceanic coastline and roughly 600 feet above sea level) — most of that will occur in low income neighborhoods.

To date, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that a vast majority of DePaul’s efforts to become more sustainable have consistently fallen on students and faculty, who must lead them on their own free time with no compensation. DePaul is rooted in its Vincentian values and guided by its new mission, but more needs to be done, and we need DePaul to commit resources to ensure these efforts have substance and longevity. Such important work should not rely on volunteer time from students and faculty; it should receive serious investment and commitment from the University. Aside from benefitting the surrounding communities, students, faculty, staff and the ecosystems in DePaul’s value chain, these efforts can also save DePaul money and even create new revenue channels.

The primary reason given for why DePaul has taken such little action on sustainability to date is that there has been no demand from students; we know that’s not true. We even conducted four DePaul Pulse Surveys in Q4 2020, which received 9,978 total responses: 94.61 percent said sustainability was important to them, 19.79 percent were aware of DePaul’s current sustainability efforts,  93.54 percent said DePaul should be more sustainable and 95.35 percent agreed that DePaul should have a sustainability plan. But that has still not been enough, so the DePaul Sustainability group created this petition.

As is the case in every problem presented by climate change, no one entity can solve it alone, but if we all take action, we can together. With DePaul being such an important stakeholder in Chicago, it needs to do its part. By signing this petition before June 1, you agree that DePaul needs to prioritize sustainability from here on out. The university should start by creating a new sustainability plan and implementing it across DePaul, and then hire a permanent and full-time coordinator to lead DePaul’s sustainability efforts to ensure that we live up to our mission and demonstrate DePaul’s commitment that “Here, we do.”