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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Under new Sustainability Action Plan Western pledges to be carbon-free by 2035

By Isa Kaufman-Geballe

Western unveiled its new Sustainability Action Plan this past December, joining 60 other U.S. universities in a 20-year commitment to improve current systems of sustainability across campus.

The plan, which took two years to develop, is comprised of 10 different chapters dedicated to departments such as academics, campus engagement, transportation, operations and waste.

In 2014, former Western President Bruce Shepard tasked the Sustainability Advisory Committee to construct a new plan from 1,800 comments and suggestions given by students and faculty.

John Furman, director of facilities and co-chair of the Sustainability Advisory Committee, noted that this plan is meant to increase opportunity for students to be involved in the projects put forth by the various departments.

“This is a plan that anybody can find something that matters to them,” Furman said. “Doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, there’s something you can latch onto as a component of your personal sustainability.”

Seth Vidana, manager at the Office of Sustainability, is optimistic about achieving these sustainability goals but said he has overseen the plan long enough to know it’s going to take more work and funding from the university to achieve them.

“This is something that’s not intended to sit on a shelf, it has to be a living breathing document that is acutely engaged and involved in decision making,” Vidana said. “The easy part is done, the more challenging part is going to be implementing the plan in the midst of so many resources and time requirements.”

Senior Gwen Larned, the zero-waste coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, has been leading the waste chapter within the Sustainable Action Plan since it started.

Sustainable Action Plan coordinator Susan Hamilton approached Larned as a sophomore to be involved. She helped bridge communication between various waste teams and instilled a zero-waste approach to focus in on how the university can reduce landfill usage.

Now that the plan has been signed, Larned said she can already see the initiatives that she drafted long ago in action.

Larned said there has already been progress in transitioning the Viking Union and residence halls to composting. She said this reduced waste originally sent to landfills by 20 to 30 percent.

The plan also includes a university commitment to becoming a carbon-free university by the year 2035.

Steve Hollenhorst, dean of Huxley College of the Environment and co-chair of the Sustainability Advisory Committee, said Western has already made progress toward that carbon-free benchmark.

Steve Hollenhorst working in his office on January 15, 2018. Hollenhorst has been the dean of Huxley College of the Environment since 2012. // Photo by Mathew Roland

“We’ve already made one big step that has probably the biggest single thing we could have done to reduce our carbon footprint,” Hollenhorst said.

Western recently became a subscriber of Puget Sound Energy’s wind farm along with institutions such as Starbucks, REI, Sound Transit and King County. While Western buys regular energy from Puget Sound Energy, becoming a subscriber of the wind farm will make it so the university will not have to rely on any coal refinery.

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