Letter to the Editor: CMU's strides toward sustainability

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In the Sept. 29 issue of The Tartan, senior Hadrian DeMaioribus had expressed frustration with what he sees as limitations in the recently announced expansion of the Carnegie Mellon commitment to sustainability. DeMaioribus observes that the Sept. 23 announcement did not include specific commitments for staff hires, monetary investments, actionable benchmarks, or the creation of an Office of Sustainability. We welcome the opportunity provided by his letter to make a few points about what this effort is and is not.

The Carnegie Mellon Sustainability Initiative aims to take our university to the next level in sustainability education, research, and practice, through the engagement of our entire community. Decentralized initiative and action, with support from the university leadership when needed and appropriate, is a long-standing characteristic of our campus culture. In the Sustainability Initiative announcement, Provost Garrett committed to providing support as recommended by a Steering Committee and Advisory Council comprised of faculty, staff, and students that has just begun to meet. The same Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee that encouraged an expansion of efforts in sustainability is supportive of the Sustainability Initiative as the right path forward for Carnegie Mellon and endorsed its alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We note also the long history of sustainability-related achievement and innovation at Carnegie Mellon as documented by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking and Rating System. The fully transparent report catalogs Carnegie Mellon’s achievements that earned the Gold level rating: equal to or better than our peer institutions.

Yet, we can do more to take advantage of a once in a generation opportunity provided by the SDGs that run through 2030. This paradigm shift in how communities around the world address sustainability includes, but goes beyond, environmental aspects and addresses, for example, efforts to reduce inequality and increase gender equity. The Provost’s announcement included a commitment to conduct a Voluntary University Review or VUR, replicating how entities around the world are measuring progress on the SDGs. In this way, we are part of a global effort, and we will, with the support of volunteers across the Carnegie Mellon community, compile our triumphs and shortfalls as they align with the SDG frame and publicly report the findings next year during the UN General Assembly. As a first step, we will conduct a university-wide survey of Knowledge, Attitude and Practice to create a baseline of how students, staff, and faculty relate to the breadth of the SDGs, whether passionate about green energy, reducing food waste, halving violence and corruption, or creating smart cities.

What this effort is not is the work of one person alone at Carnegie Mellon. Elevating sustainability to the next level will require interest, engagement, and initiative across our community. We encourage all students, staff, and faculty members to get to know the SDGs, get involved, and participate in the Sustainability Initiative. We welcome your ideas at