Opinion: The sustainability department should be a priority, not an afterthought

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Over the last decade, Boise State has implemented various sustainable solutions around campus, like the geothermal energy loop and the rooftop bee keep. These projects provide a strong start to Boise State’s sustainability journey, but hardly qualify our school to be a role model to other institutions.

With growing environmental studies programs on campus and an obvious global demand for environmental justice, it is difficult for me to understand why our Department of Sustainability lacks prominence within our university.

The mission statement of Boise State Campus Sustainability is as follows: “As Boise State rapidly advances and grows as a research university of distinction, we must ensure that we do so with mindful focus on creating a campus with an environmentally neutral footprint while advancing research in sustainability. Boise State seeks to become a model of low-impact development for other universities.”

While sustainability has often been used as a “hot-button” term associated with different business strategies or political parties, the true fundamentals of the study are much more objective. Sustainability is equally triangulated by three principles: economics, environment, and ethics — three areas that Boise State’s sustainability mission should be tackling. 

Sustainability students look to implement environmentally friendly and economically feasible solutions to real world problems that affect all of us. 

Boise State does not currently have a sustainability major program, and the sustainability minor falls under the umbrella of the economics department. The creation of a sustainability major and full-fledged academic department could substantially increase the potential of students who are looking to make a difference within our campus community and, hopefully, the world.

To make any significant differences, we must start with the fact that Boise State does not have any definitive guidelines for sustainable policies and procedures, specifically regarding operational facets like building projects, energy usage or carbon emissions.

Brian Ertz, public interest attorney and environmental ethics professor at Boise State, said  the absence of explicit material regulating Boise State’s environmental impact is a real problem.

“They advertise the fact that they are environmentally conscious, but Boise State hasn’t really developed discernible standards or criteria that it could hold itself to,” Ertz said. “And a necessary part of making that [sustainable]claim is developing and promulgating policies that would be transparent and that would require objective standards.”

Of course, it is easy for environmentalists like Ertz and concerned students like me to point fingers and demand action from those in power, but it is just as easy for the administration to point back. And their fingers are directing us to Kat Davis, the sustainability coordinator and lone staff member of the Department of Sustainability.

Davis is often the only person held accountable for anything related to sustainability on campus, whether it be positive or negative. While the current administration appears to have an optimistic outlook on our sustainable future, the department is not able to orchestrate these initiatives alone. 

Boise State, this “department” is overworked and underfunded. 

Sustainability should not be designated to an individual department, let alone a single person. It needs to be integrated into our entire administrative system. We must develop a dialogue and employ standards across the board.

As governments and corporations continue their complacency, we are living in a period of mass extinction and detrimental climate change. If we do not act now, then nothing else will matter. 

If we are not part of the solution, then we are only part of the problem. Even though I write this through tears of frustration, I hope only to convey the urgency of this global crisis. Just because the consequences may not be obvious to us in Boise does not mean we are exempt.

In fact, we have the opportunity to become leaders in our community, our city and our state. We can change the standards in how universities and other institutions impact the planet. We must take the initiative. If not for ourselves, then for the generations to follow. 

The sustainability program needs adequate resources to grow and actualize. We need it now more than we ever have, and that need is growing exponentially every day. 

You have my support and that of many, many other university and community members.

To the Boise State Administration: we need sustainability, and sustainability needs you.

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