Sonoma State hosts first meeting of President’s Sustainability Advisory Council

November 12, 2019
President’s Sustainability Advisory Council

President Judy K. Sakaki signs the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment in April 2019. The commitment has led to the formation of the newly formed President’s Sustainability Advisory Council which convened its first meeting on Oct. 26.

(Rohnert Park) — With a goal of overseeing and advancing Sonoma State’s stepped-up commitment to sustainability and building resilience, the newly formed President’s Sustainability Advisory Council convened its first meeting on Oct. 26. The meeting took place a day before the campus was closed for a week as a result of planned power outages and impacts from the Kincade fire in northern Sonoma County.

Sonoma State President Judy K. Sakaki announced the formation of the council at the start of the 2019 fall semester, just a few months after signing the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment, the most rigorous commitment a university can make to address the causes and impacts of climate change. The council will oversee the three primary aspects of the Climate Commitment:

  • Achieving carbon neutrality for electricity-powered campus operations by 2045, if not earlier.
  • Integrating sustainability and resilience into SSU curriculum and research.
  • Collaborating with surrounding communities to build awareness and resilience in the face of climate change

The council, co-chaired by Sustainability Programs Director Claudia Luke and Craig Dawson, Sonoma State’s director of Operational Sustainability, is made up of representatives from departments throughout the university and includes students, faculty and staff. Committee recommendations will be made directly to Provost Lisa Vollendorf and Joyce Lopes, Vice President of Administration and Finance.

“As I mentioned during the signing of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment on April 5, we need small action and we need big action - to strengthen our planet’s resilience,” said President Sakaki. “And we need to work together. This Sustainability Council will ensure we are doing all of these things – and more.”

During the council’s inaugural meeting on Oct. 25, Provost Vollendorf and Vice President Lopes made clear that the council members had the support of the president and the Cabinet to not just make small moderations to the university’s sustainability efforts but to make transformational change in how the Sonoma State operates at all levels. They noted that recent North Bay fires and planned power outages underscored the importance of the council’s mission all the more.

“Currently, all of the reports coming out of the United Nations and elsewhere are indicating that we have to make transformational change across all sectors of society in the next ten years or we’re going to be facing some really severe and drastic consequences,” said Dr. Claudia Luke.

The first task of the council will be to draft SSU’s Climate Action Plan, which includes identifying the steps SSU will undertake to integrate sustainability and resilience into student learning. The plan will need to be completed within the first three years.

At its first meeting, the council also reviewed some of the accomplishments that have been made on campus since the signing of the President’s Climate Commitment in April. These include:

  • Banning the use of glyphosate (RoundUp) on campus and replacing it with organic orange peel herbicide.
  • Installing a new “Know your Farmer” food tracking software in Culinary Services that keeps tabs of where food that is served originates.
  • Appointing of a new Entrepreneurial Services Sustainability Coordinator on campus.
  • The launching of an Energy and Water Conservation Competition that is now underway in the Tuscany Village where meters allow student residents to see and compare their usage of both electricity and water. Residents are competing to see who can save the most of both resources by unplugging  electronics while not in use, turning off lights when possible and shortening showers.
  • The creation of a redesigned Sustainable SSU website where readers can read stories about the university’s progress toward building a more regenerative and resilient future for everyone.

Dr. Judith Ford, a Postdoctoral Fellow, who is working on sustainability and resilience programs for SSU’s Center for Environmental Inquiry, presented the findings of a series of interviews she completed with campus faculty, staff and students concerning what would be needed to make this cultural shift on campus toward greater resilience. Although the support for the initiative was strong, Ford said, many responded that they felt they lacked adequate resources or proper empowerment to make substantial change. A key area of concern was about students and the role of the university in helping them develop skills “that are really going to be life skills,” said Ford. “We need to ask students what we can do to help them be more sustainable. What is that they need?” The council plans to address those questions.

The membership of the council has been broken down into four working groups: Communication, Strategy & Advancement; Academics & Student Life; Campus-Community Resilience; and the Zero-Impact Working Group. A complete list of the council membership is available on the Sustainable SSU website.

Each working group will meet biweekly while the full council will meet on the first Tuesday of the month from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Updates on SSU’s progress toward meeting its sustainability goals, as well as the text of the charter for the President’s Sustainability Advisory Council, are available on the Sustainable SSU website. To see the text of the President’s Climate Leadership Commitment, go to the Second Nature website.  

Media Contact

Paul Gullixson