By Jamie Freedman
“The office will serve as an operational umbrella to coordinate the many activities in sustainability going on at GW—from procurement to environmental management to new construction projects,” says President Steven Knapp, who formed the sustainability task force shortly after arriving at GW.
Task force member Joshua Lasky, B.A. ’07, was recently named the office’s first employee. A presidential administrative fellow pursuing a master’s in public administration with a concentration in urban sustainability, Lasky is hard at work meeting with stakeholders across the University to move the mission forward.
“We’re here to encourage, facilitate, and enhance sustainability practices at GW as a top institutional priority,” says Lasky, a passionate environmentalist who has an office phone extension that spells green.
A pressing item on the office’s agenda is overseeing the creation of a comprehensive climate neutrality plan at GW—a requirement of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment signed by Dr. Knapp this past April. The University is currently conducting an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, and, within the next two years, will develop a plan to reduce its carbon footprint.
“The climate commitment specifies that we must meet a series of benchmarks within a certain timeframe,” explains Lasky. “For example, we have one year to trace all of GW’s sources of emissions, both direct and indirect, to determine our environmental impact, and two years to develop a plan to achieve a net emission on this campus of zero. That’s a very tall order, but we’re committed to it.”
GW has already made great strides toward becoming a sustainable campus. The University recycles nearly 30 percent of its waste, sponsors an annual “Green Move In” and “Green Move Out” in its residence halls, and held its first green commencement in May. Two GW residence halls currently under construction are registered as LEED projects with the U.S. Green Building Council—a body that oversees green building ratings. This summer, the University established the Institute for the Analysis of Solar Energy housed in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and is now putting the final pieces in place to launch a renewable energy institute on the Virginia Campus.
“Clearly, President Knapp has made a very significant impact in a short period of time in providing leadership on the issue of environmental sustainability,” says Tracy Schario, director of media relations and a member of the sustainability task force. “He’s made a transformational change—taking sustainability at GW from a grassroots effort led by a handful of student groups and faculty members into an institutional value that is now a major force in every area that the University engages in—from student life to energy use.”
Efforts are currently underway to recruit a full-time director of the Office of Sustainability, who will work collaboratively with the GW community to elevate the University’s sustainability practices and help GW achieve leadership among its peers. “A culture change is quickly taking place at GW,” says Lasky. “We are part of a much larger shift in values that is occurring around the country and the world—a belief that things need to change and that sustainability must become a priority for everything we do as a civilization.”
GW Submits First Environmental Status Report
When President Steven Knapp signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment in April, he pledged that GW would take a number of concrete steps toward minimizing global warming emissions. On Nov. 6, the University submitted its first status report to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education—committing to three immediate actions aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.
“President Knapp was the first university president in the District of Columbia to sign the agreement, which requires signatories to commit to two of seven tangible actions while the more comprehensive plan is being developed,” says Tracy Schario, director of media relations and a member of the sustainability task force.
In the status report, GW agreed to adopt an energy-efficient appliance policy requiring purchase of Energy Star-certified products; encourage use of and provide access to public transportation for all faculty, staff, students and visitors; and participate in the waste minimization component of the national RecycleMania competition, while adopting three or more associated measures to reduce waste.
“We’re moving forward and making tangible progress as a result of the Presidents Climate Commitment,” says Schario. “Coupled with the creation of the Office of Sustainability, The George Washington University is providing leadership in advancing the vitally important areas of environmental stewardship and climate change.”