The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) and ecoAmerica’s higher education program, Solution Generation, have selected Loyola University Chicago as the winner of the 2016 Climate Leadership Awards. Loyola stood out for their ambitious climate action plan, with a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2025.
As a Catholic, Jesuit university, Loyola is guided by the responsibility to care for our world and especially those who are suffering the most. They’ve made climate change a priority for several reasons:
- Loyola’s commitment to protecting the vulnerable predisposes them to address issues of global and generational inequality – and climate change will exacerbate social justice issues globally and locally
- As a research institution, many of their students and faculty are seeing the impacts of climate change in their fields of study
- They believe it is much more efficient to prevent problems than respond to catastrophes
The university’s sustainability efforts have been underway for nearly 20 years, but came to the forefront with the launch of their Office of Sustainability in 2012 and the opening of their Institute of Environmental Sustainability in 2013. Their action plan, released around the time of Pope Francis’ climate encyclical in 2015, addresses climate change through three main strategies: their campus, their curriculum, and their community engagement.
Loyola’s campus is a visible example of climate action, home to 11 LEED certified buildings and the most green roofs of any university in the Midwest. This transformation of their infrastructure has allowed them to reduce their carbon emissions by 38% from their 2008 baseline.
Loyola’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability has now hosted three annual Climate Change Conferences focusing on the economics of climate. Their academic programs offer nine different degrees that incorporate sustainability, and their undergraduate core curriculum has been updated to promote foundational environmental literacy.
Loyola students helped develop a Climate Action Plan for the nearby Edgewood neighborhood. The university has also organized a new Sustainability Committee, which oversees various initiatives that help the Rogers Park and Edgewater communities address pollution, reduce waste products, and adapt to a changing climate.
Loyola plans to use the $10,000 in award money to build out university environmental justice efforts, particularly the Community Climate Corps. Building on the Edgewater Climate Action Plan and other community efforts, this group of student interns will work with the University’s Office of Community Relations and campus partners to develop carbon reduction and climate resiliency projects, such as home-weatherization efforts and storm-water management.
Says Aaron Durnbaugh, Loyola’s Director of Sustainability, “I’m excited by the integration of social and environmental concerns and solutions that is emerging. We work every day to give our students the tools to solve problems, and they are demanding the hard and soft skills necessary to confront climate change, and making sure that Loyola, the institution, is following through in our operations, our infrastructure, and our endowment.”
Photos by Peter Cutts. ©2017, Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.