The sustainability transition is rapidly evolving. I am joining the ride.
In October 2022, I joined the Dynamic Sustainability Lab to grow my footprint in the sustainability field alongside my student peers. Working as a Communications Fellow allows me to bridge the gap between research and the public. In addition to my student government position as Director of Sustainability, working at the lab entails connecting with a vibrant sustainability community while exploring research in an exploding industry.
As a senior studying Environment, Sustainability, and Policy and Communication and Rhetorical Studies, I am building the foundations necessary to advance sustainability discussions on a wide stage. My experience within the DSL, student affiliations, and academic studies serve as a foundation to succeed beyond SU. This expertise is becoming increasingly important as institutions seek guidance in their sustainable transitions.
New policies are transforming firms’ abilities to adopt advancing technologies. In 2022, The United States Congress passed its largest ever climate-funding bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, with billions of dollars of funding and tax benefits directed toward industries within the sustainability transition.
Sensational sustainability news is raising awareness of the urgency of environmental decision-making. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that keeping global warming to a limit of 1.5C above pre-industrial era levels is necessary to avert the catastrophic effects of climate change. The United Nations acknowledges that more investment is required for world governments to achieve their 17 sustainable development goals. In addition, leading scholars and scientists agree that institutions have a major role in facilitating the transition to a sustainable model of growth and development.
Institutions must act to mitigate the threat of environmental degradation and climate change. Yet, the same institutions are increasingly caught in a position without sufficient information to make well-informed decisions. Navigating this whirlwind of information requires comprehensive analyses of the trends, and the Syracuse University community recognizes this.
The Dynamic Sustainability Lab’s creation launched the endeavor to guide institutions through their sustainability transitions. DSL’s unique position at SU allows the lab to investigate and assess its home base’s place in the sustainability transition while prescribing industry-wide solutions in a student-led response. Sustainability analysis at Syracuse University is a showcase of the DSL’s mission to enhance the sustainability transition. In addition, my own connections within the sustainability community have allowed for a deep understanding of the current state of sustainability on campus.
The Syracuse University Student Association–the student government where my director of sustainability role is based–worked with the DSL and the sustainability community in the fall 2022 semester to evaluate campus sustainability. Based on information received through countless hours of research, the SA released its report on campus sustainability with a series of policy proposals for SU to adopt. University leadership echoes that SU aligns with much of the report. These actions represent the active sustainability community that I am growing through my involvement at the DSL.
Students are at the forefront of the effort to lead campus sustainability. Researchers at the Dynamic Sustainability Lab are at the crossroads of student engagement and the metrics needed to reduce campus environmental impacts. Topics of interest include industry-specific research, such as areas of bio-based, energy, and institutional transitions and those across its home campus, Syracuse University.
The Dynamic Sustainability Lab joins a flourishing environmentally-focused community that includes students at neighboring SUNY ESF, student-led advocacy in SU’s Student Association, and SU’s Sustainability Management Office.
In October 2022, fellow student researcher Olivia Happel conducted the DSL’s first waste audit. The audit explored the makeup of waste in SU’s Schine Student Center. The audit is among the research on SU’s environmental impact and is a step towards understanding where SU can mitigate its waste.
“It means a great deal to have planned and led a project that exposed issues regarding waste communication and management in the Schine Student Center,” Olivia Happel said.
“This waste audit means so much to me because I am extremely passionate about material- management and waste diversion. Working on this waste project has proved to me that through collaboration, student researchers like myself can challenge norms and encourage institutional change.”
As the lab gains a stronger understanding of SU’s footprint, prioritizing sustainability as an institution can be developed. This process is akin to industry-wide research; as researchers compile data and insights, a better sustainability transition can be prescribed. What sets this apart at SU is that students are conducting this work alongside their peers.
Student researchers gain valuable experience while prescribing solutions in their community.
“Student researchers at the DSL are empowered to assess trends, challenge norms, and explore sustainable alternatives in their projects.”-Olivia Happel
The DSL represents an innovative response to the sustainability transition at higher education institutions and creates mutually beneficial opportunities for both students and industry partners to explore the sustainable transition. Join the Dynamic Sustainability Lab as it builds a strong research community to make sustainability a key tenet of a wide range of institutions across the nation and including SU.
Harrison Vogt is an undergraduate Communications Fellow at the Dynamic Sustainability Lab and The Director of Sustainability at the Syracuse University Student Association. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.