Geneseo must prioritize sustainability in near future

Since the beginning of the semester, students have received emails from Geneseo Strategic Planning Group encouraging them to provide input for the Strategic Plan 2021. Unfortunately, the crucial concept of sustainability has been almost entirely overlooked in this process thus far.

The source of the issue is twofold. Both students and the administration have demonstrated a good deal of apathy in the face of our present environmental crisis and both will need to step up in order to fight abstraction and to work for concrete solutions. The first step to solving any problem, of course, is devising a plan.

Three of the six digital polls distributed by the Strategic Planning Group do reference sustainability on campus. The Week One poll is focused on mission, values and vision statements. Sustainability is included as one of the 12 possible values, from which polltakers are instructed to choose and rank five. When sustainability is in competition with vague but admirable goals like “excellence” and “integrity,” however, sustainability does not really stand a chance. Similarly, the Week Six poll lists implementing sustainable practices as just one of 13 diverse and important ways Geneseo can promote the public good.

Week Two concentrates on resilience and includes the eGarden and Microgrid projects. These options present the opposite problem in that they are far too specific. If the still-in-the-proposal-stage, little-known Microgrid project were replaced with a more comprehensive option for “renewable energy,” perhaps the results would better reflect how many students actually care about climate change mitigation and clean energy efforts.

The nonexistent presence of sustainability in the posted drafts of the new mission, values and vision statements is at least as revealing as their limited presence in the polls. That the Strategic Planning Group completed these drafts before the polls even opened seems to assume a certain level of student apathy or silent consent and is out of step with a truly participatory, democratic process.

On the other hand, students have effectively confirmed these assumptions, with only a few hundred participating in the polls at all despite receiving at least a dozen emails about them since the beginning of the semester. Faculty and administration have also overwhelmingly dominated the open forums.

It is up to concerned students to express that simply having an Office of Sustainability and a Sustainability Statement is not enough. The central mission, values and vision of the school need to prioritize meeting green energy goals if there is to be hope of reaching the already stated objectives of resilience, innovation and civic responsibility. Relegating sustainability to a special interest is akin to ignoring it.

If more students were actively participating in the Strategic Plan conversation, I am confident that sustainability and relevant goals would rank much higher. This is why Green Environmental Organization president senior Julia Mizutani, fellow GEO executive board member junior Sarah Kowalski and I have collaborated on a letter asking for the support of students and others in prioritizing sustainability efforts over the next five years and beyond.

I encourage everyone who desires a sustainable future to sign the letter, take the polls before they close on Monday March 28, express support for green projects in the comment sections and spread the word. If we work together to make our voices heard, 2021 can be a checkpoint on the way to a climate-conscious, clean energy future.