SUstainability: It’s Core to our Jesuit Identity

Posted by Yolanda Cieters Sustainability Manager, Seattle University CEJS on Thursday, April 4, 2019 at 10:25 AM PDT

This week marks the beginning of Earth Month, a celebration that holds great significance for our campus community. As Father Steve remarked in his campus-wide announcement on April 1, 2019, “as a university committed to building a more just and humane world, we are well aware of the existential threat climate change poses to all peoples, especially those living on the margins of society.”

Seattle University is committed to more comprehensively addressing climate change, advancing sustainability and educating students as thoughtful caretakers of our natural and social environment. We take our cue from Pope Francis who, in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si', challenges humankind to take responsibility for the planet and be mindful of those who are suffering most from the ecological crisis before us. In February 2019, the Society of Jesus released its four global “apostolic preferences” with the third being “Care for our Common Home” or a focus on environmental justice and sustainability. 

Deepening Sustainability across Seattle University
The commitment to sustainability at Seattle University began with ecological preservation in the 1960’s. Practices have since expanded to include sustainable landscaping, strategic energy and water conservation, waste management, transportation programs, as well as advancing sustainability in teaching, learning, research and scholarship. When Seattle University joined the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC; 2007) and adopted a Climate Action Plan (2010), Seattle U pledged to further deepen and strengthen its commitment to environmental justice.

In 1989, our campus was designated a Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and since 1998, SU has been a pesticide-free campus. In 2018, SU received the Tree Campus USA designation after developing a tree care program that aims to ensure a safe, attractive and sustainable campus urban forest.

The 2018 Sustainable Campus Index published by AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) ranked Seattle University's sustainability curriculum and related academic offerings third in the country. 80 faculty members have conducted sustainability research, 62% of students are engaged in community service and 400+ sustainability-related courses are offered. Thanks to student-led action, Seattle University became a single-use plastic water bottle-free campus in 2010 and obtained the title of Fair Trade designated campus in 2015.

In September 2018, Seattle U made the headlines when the Board of Trustees voted to divest the university’s $230 million endowment from fossil fuels within the next five years, becoming the first university in Washington State and the first Jesuit university in the world to do so.

In 2016, Seattle U began participating in AASHE’s rigorous benchmarking STARS program and out of the gate achieved a gold rating, which improved in 2018. STARS counts more than 900 participants in 30 countries and is the most widely recognized framework worldwide for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. With a GOLD STARS rating under our belt, in 2018 Seattle U made its debut in the top 10 of the Sierra Club’s “Cool School Rankings,” and was named one of only 26 universities to The Princeton Review Green College Honor Roll. In early 2019, SU received the EnviroStars “Champion” designation for its demonstrated success in the areas of energy and water conservation, pollution prevention, use of safer products, sustainable transportation, and recycling and composting. 

These honors highlight the many ways Seattle University is working to care for our common home, but as President Sundborg rightly stated, “we know we must do more.”

Earth Month at Seattle University
During Earth Month 2019, Seattle U has several initiatives and events aimed at engaging our campus community in a reflection on how SU can further the university’s path towards a more just and sustainable world.

Alumni, note the following opportunities during Earth Month:

  • Students, faculty, staff and alumni are invited to submit their “SUstainability Idea” in this online survey. The contributions will help guide the university’s new Sustainability Action Plan, which the President’s Committee for Sustainability (PCS) will soon start work on.
  • Thursday, April 25: Interfaith Earth Day Speaking Event
  • Thursday, April 25: Earth Day Video Contest Showcase and Documentary Screening "United by Water" 
  • Monday, April 29: Achieving Carbon Neutrality: Microsoft, Seattle Sounders FC and Seattle University

Learn more about these and other Earth Month events and Seattle U SUstainability.