Post contributed by Shelby Hall, Office of Sustainability Intern
This spring, Auburn will begin reassessing the campus to renew its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System (STARS) rating. STARS is a self-reporting assessment used by universities and colleges to measure sustainability progress on campus. The program was developed by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education to empower leaders in higher education to take charge in the ongoing sustainability transformation. STARS also helps to build a network for sharing information about sustainability in higher education, and provides incentive to improve sustainability initiatives and build community on campus.
Economy, environment, and society are considered to be interconnected components of sustainability, with each aspect depending on the others. AASHE defines sustainability to encompass human and ecological health, social justice, secure economy and a better world for generations to come. The goal of STARS is to convert these broad ideals into measurable objectives that can be used to monitor innovation and progress across college campuses.
There are four major STARS categories, which engage with all aspects of higher education: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning and Administration. Schools pursue credits to earn points in each category, along with optional Innovation and Leadership points, to be awarded a STARS rating.
Academics considers curriculum and research. Engagement involves both the campus and the public. Operations is a wide view of many different aspects of campus, such as air and climate, buildings, energy, dining, water, waste and transportation. Planning and Administration takes a look at diversity, affordability, wellbeing, investment and finance, and coordination and planning. The optional category gives insight to the university’s innovation and exemplary practices.
There are 5 different ratings that can be awarded to participating schools: Reporter, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Three schools have recently obtained the highest honors, a STARS Platinum rating. This is an incredible milestone that gives hope to the progress of STARS participants.
Auburn last completed a STARS certification in January 2016, earning a silver rating. As Auburn begins a comprehensive assessment of sustainability practices on campus, the goal is to achieve a gold rating. Over the next year, data will be collected in order to submit a new assessment. We are excited to have the opportunity to renew our commitment to sustainability here on campus, as well as measure the progress that has been made in recent years.
Post contributed by Kelsey Lawrence, Office of Sustainability Intern
With the election for the President of the United States on the horizon, it is crucial to have done research on the candidates. This month’s topic of conversation is one of many important issues one must consider during election season, so continue reading to learn where each candidate stands on climate change. All information is taken directly from the candidates’ websites.
Clinton’s website contains the most specific plan for tackling climate change. She hopes to continue the pledge to which President Obama committed at the Paris climate conference. Within ten years, she hopes to generate enough renewable energy to power each home in the United States, install half a billion solar panels, cut energy waste by one-third, and reduce oil consumption by one-third through cleaner fuels and higher efficiency. She also wishes to cut carbon and methane pollution via investment in clean energy infrastructure and innovation; thus making the American economy more robust. Additionally, Clinton wants to make environmental justice a priority by setting bold national goals, similar to the Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the United Nations. Lastly, she aspires to promote conservation by strengthening protection of natural resources, parks, and other public land.
Gary Johnson’s environmental tagline is “Protect the environment. Promote competition. Incentivize innovation.” He believes the role of the government is to enforce environmental protection, while maintaining a free market. In other words, he believes the government should prevent pollution, but avoid having politicians in D. C. vote on behalf of energy-related industries. He further elaborates that in a government that runs well, entities like the Environmental Protection Agency should keep citizens safe, and that a free market would allow innovators to bring about appropriate environmental restoration and protection. On his website, he says, “Too often, the winners are those with the political clout to write the rules of the game, and the losers are the people and businesses actually trying to innovate.” Johnson believes that because the climate is “probably” changing due to man, the federal government should prevent future damage by focusing on regulation that prevents it, rather than regulation “driven by special interests” that costs jobs and freedom.
Jill Stein’s running platform, the Power to the People Plan, is directly influenced by climate change. In Stein’s own words, her plan “offers direct answers to the economic, social, and ecological crises brought on by both corporate political parties.” She considers her plan to be “The Green New Deal,” as she vows to create millions of jobs through switching to entirely clean renewable energy by 2030. In doing this, she makes it clear that it is necessary to rid our country of its dependency on fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, and uranium mines. Stein also wishes to dedicate more of the budget to public transportation infrastructure, sustainable agriculture, and ecological conservation. She is very interested in protecting public lands, water supplies, biodiversity, and pollinators. Overall, Stein desires for the United States to be a leading force in halting global climate change, and to protect the rights of future generations.
Donald Trump does not address climate change on his website; however, his approach to climate change can be gleaned from the energy section. His plan focuses on making the United States energy independent by tapping into our country’s fossil fuel reserves of coal, oil, natural gas, and shale.
Climate change is just one of many vital issues to consider when choosing a candidate, and it’s important to consider a candidate’s policy proposals in context of how they might impact not only nature, but also the economy, society, and individual wellbeing. Being an informed voter is an important part of citizenship; so, educate yourself and be sure to vote on November 8th!
“We’ve all but forgotten that public participation is the very soul of democratic citizenship, and that it can profoundly enrich our lives.” Paul Rogat Loeb, Soul of a Citizen
The future of our nation and the planet we inhabit depends on our willingness to more fully exercise our rights and responsibilities as citizens in the public processes of governance. We have rights that empower us to participate. We also have responsibilities to be informed and to engage in public life together if we want to see our democracy survive and thrive.
The way we choose to engage makes all the difference. A functioning democracy means citizens coming together in ways that allow us to express our differences, while maintaining a shared bond of citizenship in community. As Parker Palmer puts it, “It is in the common good to hold our political differences and the conflicts they create in a way that does not unravel the civic community on which democracy depends.”
Democracy depends on “civic community.” We are all in this together. That’s one of the principles of democracy, and it’s also a principle of sustainability. No one exists in a vacuum, or on an island. We are intimately interconnected and interdependent. That is the nature of life itself. And that is why caring for the whole, the common good, the commonwealth, is a central concept of democracy and why citizens understanding and nurturing the common good is so important.
Speaking of vacuums, Aristotle is credited with saying “Nature abhors a vacuum.” What that means for democracy is that if citizens don’t occupy the space of governance by working together representing their different interests in the context of the common good, others will. Narrow “special interests,” those with wealth and power, will dominate government, and public policy will reflect their interests instead of addressing the needs and interests of the people.
A 2014 study conducted by Martin Gilens at Princeton and Benjamin Page at Northwestern found that indeed the wealthy and powerful are dictating public policy to their benefit. The researchers analyzed almost 1,800 U.S. policies created by government between 1981 and 2002 and compared them to what average Americans, wealthy Americans, and special interest groups wanted. Here is what they found: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” In other words, those with wealth and power get their way, and average citizens have essentially no influence.
Even more disturbing is their conclusion: “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”
This is very scary to me, and sounds a troubling lot like an oligarchy, defined as “a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.” Let’s be clear: an oligarchy is not a democracy.
What’s the solution? An informed and engaged citizenry, acting together to ensure public policy is focused on the public interest. To achieve that, we need to cultivate the skills of citizenship. In his book Everyday Politics, Harry Boyte says that means “…learning the skills of negotiation among diverse interest, among citizens of relatively equal standing, across partisan and other divisions, to accomplish tasks or to solve problems.”
We have to be intentional about it. We have to make the effort to appreciate, learn, and practice the skills and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.
The challenge is that our politics have become so toxic, so negative, that as Boyte says we have to “reverse the negative directions of our society and to renew democracy.” We can change the conversation and the context for the conversation. Boyte writes about “creative civic experiments” that in part describe what he means by “everyday politics,” the title of his book. The creative civic experiments he writes about “…have generated an everyday politics of negotiation and collaboration that is more concerned with solving problems and creating public goods than with placing blame.”
Working together this way we can restore and safeguard our democracy. It is in our power. If we do not embrace our power as citizens working together, an oligarchy is what we have. Bill Moyers puts it this way: “The antidote, the only antidote, to the power of organized money in Washington is the power of organized people.”
It is essential that we do this. It is how democracy is designed to work. I have great faith in the ability and power of citizens to work together, through the give and take of debate, advocacy, argument, open listening, and collaboration, to transform our politics and our society. I am convinced, and have witnessed in my own experience, that we have within us the talent and ability to acquire and use these skills successfully.
It gives me hope to know that creative civic experiments exercising the power of organized people are popping up all over. Faculty and students at Auburn University are facilitating such experiments right here in Alabama. Impactful civic experiments are happening in places around the country and the world.
That’s Harry Boyte’s conclusion too: “We stand at the beginning of a world in which free citizens, across boundaries and borders, learn to act together in consciously political ways to create the future.”
Contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern
In about a month, on November 8, millions of Americans will head to the nearest poll to cast their ballots for president. This year’s race is widely contested, and many people are anxious to make their voice heard through their vote. However in the months and years between major elections, some people forget to exercise their political voice. This is definitely not the case for Stefanie Francisco.
Through her role as Development and Communications Director at Conservation Alabama, Stefanie works to ensure more sustainable policies pass, and those with negative consequences go down in defeat. Conservation Alabama focuses on the environmental aspect of sustainability and connects voters in the state with information about environmentally focused legislation, so citizens can lobby their legislators about which way to vote on a bill, and so citizens can make informed decisions about which candidate to vote for at election time. Specifically, Conservation Alabama tracks bills moving through the state house and senate, and raises public awareness regarding current state legislation being debated. Stefanie’s work is making a positive impact on the environment by bringing current issues and their potential legislative consequences into the public eye so people can use that information to exercise their rights as citizens to influence the debate.
Working at Conservation Alabama is not the only way Stefanie has shown her interest in sustainability through the years. She grew up in Fairhope, Alabama before attending the College of Charleston, where she earned a political science degree. Stefanie worked in the television and news industry for a few years in both Washington, DC and New York. However, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 made Stefanie reconsider her professional focus. This devastating event brought into question the longevity of her hometown, shifting her priorities to a more local scale. She then decided to move back South and ended up in graduate school at Auburn University pursuing a MS in Rural Sociology. During this time her research on the oil spill’s impacts on the seafood industry led to Stefanie’s passion for environmental policy and the promise it holds for positive change.
Upon completing her graduate degree, Stefanie moved to Mobile where she took a job with the Mobile Baykeepers. Through her work there on coastal restoration, Stefanie learned that if you aren’t changing and improving the policies in place, you’re never going to solve problems and you’ll only be cleaning up messes. This interest in making positive political change is what first led her to Conservation Alabama and is what continues to guide her work everyday.
Stefanie believes the greatest challenge to sustainability is the lack of reliable information available to people who need it, especially in regards to legislation directly related to the environment. For those who are unfamiliar with the idea, sustainability may appear mystifying with many different parts and pieces. However, Stefanie’s advice to overcome this challenge is to start small. Find any aspect of sustainability that interests you personally, and focus on that. Once you see its practical use and innumerable applications, sustainability starts to make sense. In terms of government, the main challenges come in understanding the policies being debated and knowing how to approach political leaders to show support or apprehension about certain issues. To master the apparent intimidation of engaging with legislators, Stefanie urges people to use resources such as Conservation Alabama in order to become a more informed and empowered citizen. She stresses that every individual has the power to change the community through their political voice. And in government, it doesn’t take a lot of people to make a big change, especially at the local and state levels. Stefanie knows firsthand the great impact individuals can have and works to extend this positive influence on environmental policies under debate in state legislation. Creating a voice for policy change regarding environmental issues is Stefanie’s main goal through her work at Conservation Alabama.
Stefanie encourages everyone to exercise their rights by registering to vote, and also suggests looking at sample ballots for anyone who is new to the voting process. Although it’s never to late to make your voice heard, she stresses the importance for college students to get involved at a young age and start a habit of speaking out regarding issues they’re passionate about. Once we all show our concern for the environment by communicating with candidates and elected officials, and voting accordingly, political leaders will be inclined to represent these views in their respective offices. So head to the polls in November to make your opinions heard, but don’t forget, your voice matters everyday, especially in local issues related to sustainability and the environment.
Sustainability efforts at Auburn can be found enhancing all areas of the university’s mission: research, instruction, and outreach, and are being implemented throughout the university’s operations. We’re pleased to provide this overview of just some of the many efforts underway. These varied programs, initiatives, and people represent the larger passion and commitment to sustainability that exist within the Auburn Family, both on campus and around the world. We hope the stories offered here will serve as a powerful reminder of the ability we each possess to help create a sustainable world.
We would be remiss not to acknowledge the support of the many colleges, departments, and units that provided the Office of Sustainability with descriptions, facts, and photos of their respective efforts, without which this update wouldn’t have been possible. We would also like to give special recognition to our summer and fall intern, Chelsea Roadman, who graduated in December 2014 with a degree in Public Relations. Chelsea applied her immense skills, talent, and creativity in a myriad of ways to bring our Sustainability Story to life.