USC announced that it will eliminate single-use plastic beverage bottles from all of its campuses beginning July 1 to further the university’s goal of achieving zero waste in a university-wide email from USC’s director of sustainability, Michael “Mick” Dalrymple. This is the latest initiative to be part of USC’s 2028 Sustainability Framework, Assignment: Earthwhich will guide the university’s actions to build a greener and more sustainable campus.
In a video released Monday to kick off USC’s Earth Week events, USC President Carol Folt said the university hopes to achieve zero waste by 2025.
“It was one of the very first sustainability priorities I set when I was inaugurated,” Folt said in the video. “It’s going to require everyone to help out.”
Ditching plastic is expected to prevent nearly 15,000 plastic bottles from reaching landfills each week, according to the university.
USC Auxiliary Services, Purchasing, and General Counsel are working with Reyes Coca-Cola Bottling to transition all Coca-Cola beverages to glass bottles or aluminum cans in canteens, most vending automatic, the Colosseum and Galen. Schools and administrative units are encouraged to use the university’s “preferred” suppliers to organize plastic-free events. Restaurants and retail locations in the USC Village can still sell beverages in plastic bottles and will transition on an individual basis.
There may be price increases for some products due to the transition, the university said.
“We know that plastics are harmful to the environment, wildlife and marine life,” Folt said in the statement. “And by switching to eco-friendly beverage containers, we’re making a huge difference in protecting the planet, alongside our business partners.”
Although USC cannot require all individuals to eliminate single-use plastic from their own lives, the university encourages students to use its Sustainability Map to locate hydration stations, use a refillable water bottle, support vendors who do not sell single-use plastic, and properly sort waste on campus.
This year’s Earth Week is overshadowed by the recent trio of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the last of which was released at the end of March. These insights ratings paint a bleak picture of the future of our world if changes are not made soon to our carbon and fossil fuel production. The oceans will rise and move thousands of people; we will see more intense wildfires, droughts, heat waves and floods; people will starve and animals and plants will disappear.
Large organizations like universities recognize their role and responsibility when it comes to creating sustainable ecosystems given the substantial endowments, public funding and energy consumption they encompass. A 2012 study found that US universities emit about 2% of the country’s greenhouse gases, which is comparable to about a quarter of what all of California emits.
USC’s climate journey gained momentum on Folt’s inauguration day. After being officially named president at a zero waste event in 2019, Folt went to Hahn Plaza where Tianna Shaw-Wakeman, now an alumnus, was co-hosting a climate strike for the Environmental Student Assembly. Instead of ending the strike, Folt – an environmental scientist – joined hundreds of students to speak through a megaphone about her plans for the university.
Embracing the student-led climate strike set the tone for the final three years of his presidency. Since then, Folt has helped plan and implement a number of actions to prioritize sustainability at USC.
“USC’s leadership and focus on sustainability, both operationally and in terms of academics, has taken a 180-degree turn since I arrived on campus in the fall of 2016,” said said Shaw-Wakeman, who now works as the environmental justice program coordinator. for black women for wellness. “When Dr. Folt came along, it was really just a complete change.”
Prior to graduating in June 2021, Shaw-Wakeman was also a member of USC’s Presidential Task Force on Sustainable Education, Research, and Operations and a co-founder of the DivestSC committee — a coalition that sought to reduce ties. of USC with the fossil fuel industry.
Due in part to the efforts of DivestSC, the Investment Committee of the USC Board of Trustees voted in February of this year to halt all new fossil fuel investment and liquidate current fossil fuel investments. over the next few years.
Abby Lundstrum currently serves on USC’s Investment Accountability Advisory Committee and was previously co-chair of DivestSC. Lundstrum explained that although divestment is not straightforward and opposed by many critics, it has been shown to increase the cost of capital for fossil fuel companies.
“Divestment can be like a very hot activism activity,” Lundstrum said. “But I wanted to make sure it actually made a difference. There is beginning to be evidence that divestment does indeed make a difference in limiting the exploitation of fossil fuels. She added that the University of Cambridge had made a depth study when they decided whether or not to divest and found that it was indeed effective.
“Fossil fuel company executives have actually said publicly that it’s making it difficult for them, that their cost of debt is high because of divestment,” Lundstrum said.
While a number of organizations, students and faculty fought for better sustainability practices before Folt took over, Shaw-Wakeman said she believes there needs to be both an approach “bottom-up” and “top-down” for change to happen at scale. , especially at institutions like USC. While they had students advocating from below, they needed leadership to help from the top.
“There were embers that had been burning for so long, but it really needed a bigger spark,” Shaw-Wakeman said. “The passion, the dynamism, the intellect and the know-how were there. We just didn’t have as much direction as Dr. Folt gave.
Shaw-Wakeman said that in his first meetings as part of the presidential task force, Folt told them to “shoot for the stars” and recommend things they might not have been able to pass before. Paired with the Office of Sustainability, USC has committed to a number of environmentally friendly and sustainable changes.
In late 2021, USC announced it was on its way to becoming carbon neutral by 2025 — three years ahead of schedule.
“2025 is realistic, but it’s ambitious,” Dalrymple said in an interview. He noted that much of the groundwork to achieve this goal has already been planned or put in place. Carbon neutrality – which is different from net zero climate neutrality – means that the university will significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and use carbon removal or offset projects to address the remaining emissions.
USC plans to achieve carbon neutral status by improving the energy efficiency of campus buildings, installing solar panels in select parking lots and buildings (although the Galen Center already has solar panels), electrification of campus infrastructure and vehicles, and development of carbon removal programs.
Becoming carbon neutral can be difficult because it is difficult to extract carbon from the air. As a researcher, Lundstrum said her job is to measure carbon in the air. While startups using direct aerial capture to suck carbon from the atmosphere exist, the technology is not yet at scale.
“We are just beginning to understand how companies quantify their carbon footprint,” Lundstrum said. “How do they disclose this to investors and how do investors choose based on carbon based on the carbon footprints disclosed by companies? We are all learning this together as a community now.
Although 150,000 energy-saving LED lights were installed on campus in 2020, Dalrymple said the university will then consider which buildings need new lights or energy-efficient renovations. Renovations help turn off lights, heating or air conditioning at night or when no one is in the building. While all of this costs money, Dalrymple noted that because of the energy savings these additions provide, projects pay for themselves in 18 months.
“We have a lot of older historic buildings, and there’s a lot of energy saving opportunities there,” Dalrymple said.
Since transportation is one of the largest fossil fuel emitters in the world, Dalrymple said the school would also look to transition the university’s fleet to electric vehicles. While the goal requires the planning of charging stations and the acquisition of certain permits, Dalrymple says they are working with other organizations to develop a long-term plan to tackle this problem from all angles.
The university already offers employee discounts for bus and train passes to encourage public transport. USC will also add bicycle and scooter infrastructure on campus and consider using carpools and bus routes.
“We’re trying to figure out what’s the most effective use of limited dollars to try to help people use alternate modes more and get more people out of cars,” Dalrymple said. “Because in the end, it’s the best solution. Fewer cars means less need for parking spaces, which is really nice.
Now, USC is turning to zero waste.
Zero waste has been one of Folt’s goals since 2019, but the university still has a long way to go to reach the City of Los Angeles goal of 90% waste diversion by 2025. According to the Office of Sustainable Development Final progress report of the 2020 planthe university only achieved a diversion rate of 33.7% that year, less than half of its 75% target.
However, zero waste efforts become more visible at campus-wide events. In April, a career fair for new grads and students provided students with a “zero waste sorting station” to recycle or compost all materials acquired throughout the day.
In fall 2021, USC installed 98 new gray trash cans on campus with separate compartments for compost, landfill, and recycling, and USC Trojans are now playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in a zero waste facility.
Next: Eliminate plastic bottles.