Deepening Our Leadership on Sustainability and Environmental Justice

November 3, 2021

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

As I said in my remarks at inauguration in September, the existential threat that is climate change is one of the three great challenges we face as a society. We can no longer responsibly talk about it as a looming threat—its impacts are evident all around us. As a Jesuit and Catholic university, we are committed to caring for the Earth, our common home, one of the universal apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus. This commitment calls us to respond to the challenge in a special way. 

One way we are doing this is by signing onto Pope Francis’ Seven-Year Journey Towards Integral Ecology. This commitment puts concrete action behind the goals outlined by the pope in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Sí: On Care for Our Common Home. As a university committed to advancing sustainability and environmental justice, the initiative goes to the heart of who we are and the impact we strive to make. Being one of the first institutions of higher education to take this step very much fits with our mission.

Over many years, Seattle University has distinguished itself as a leader in sustainability, including our recent #14 ranking in Sierra magazine’s list of Cool Schools. Under the outstanding direction of our Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability and the President’s Committee for Sustainability, we continue to make strides in further lightening our impact on the planet while incorporating sustainability into our curriculum. For instance, this year we will achieve Scope 1 carbon neutrality, which applies to our direct emissions. And over the next two years, we will be reimagining our curriculum as part of the Reignite Strategic Directions process, with an eye towards making climate change and sustainability central features of the Seattle University educational experience.

To lead Seattle University’s participation in the Journey Towards Integral Ecology, I have appointed Dr. Jeanette Rodriguez as chair of our Laudato Sí Action Platform Steering Committee. A distinguished theologian and director of our Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, Dr. Rodriguez brings to the role a unique perspective and wealth of scholarly activity and accomplishment. She has assembled a committee whose members are listed below.

The Laudato Sí Action Platform Steering Committee will bring together and meld in a mutually reinforcing way SU’s Jesuit and Catholic educational mission with our ongoing work as a leader in sustainability. Specifically, the committee will lead the efforts towards the following goals of Laudato Sí:

  • Respond to the Cry of the Earth
  • Respond to the Cry of the Poor
  • Foster Ecological Economics
  • Adopt a Sustainable Lifestyle
  • Offer Ecological Education
  • Develop Ecological Spirituality
  • Support Local Communities

I look forward to the committee’s work and know that Dr. Rodriguez will be sharing updates on our progress. 

Additional Thoughts

As we move into November and prepare to observe Veterans Day on Thursday, Nov. 11, I do hope that you take this time to reflect with gratitude on the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served our nation, as well as the loved ones who have supported them. Veterans Day is also the formal start of Seattle University’s 2021 Homecoming celebration. I encourage you to connect as an SU family and participate in the various festivities throughout the weekend, which include our men’s basketball team’s first game at the beautiful, new Climate Pledge Arena (5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 14, vs. Idaho St.).

And, as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to express my appreciation for the care and compassion you have shown for one another so far this fall academic term as we all have navigated the transition back to in-person learning and work. You have done a superb job under challenging circumstances. Our random testing of students, faculty and staff has shown that the COVID presence on campus has been almost zero. That is due in no small part to your diligence and concern. I wish you all well as we move into the final stretch of the term and thank you for all you do to contribute to Seattle University and its mission.


Eduardo M. Peñalver

Laudato Sí Action Platform Steering Committee

  • Jeanette Rodriguez – Director, Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture and Professor, Theology and Religious Studies
  • Shannon Britton – Grounds and Landscaping Manager, Facilities Operations
  • Yolanda Cieters – Sustainability Manager, Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability
  • Jessica Palmer – Assistant Director, Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture, Co-chair, Creation Care Network (Western WA Catholic organizations and parishes)
  • Mike Thee – Internal Communications Manager, Marketing Communications
  • Phil Thompson – Director, Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability and Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Jen Tilghman-Havens – Executive Director, Center for Jesuit Education, Co-chair, President’s Committee for Sustainability
  • Lupita Torrez – Early Learning Manager, Center for Community Engagement
  • Pat Twohy, S.J. – Indigenous Peoples Institute
  • Jason Wirth – Professor, Philosophy