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‘Carbon neutrality’ goal of USF’s new sustainability coordinator

October 8, 2015
Christina Gray

A University of San Francisco graduate who earned a master’s degree in environmental management in 2013 is back on campus as the school’s first sustainability coordinator.

Richard Hsu was hired by his alma mater to lead the newly created office of sustainability. He is responsible for implementing a “climate action plan” completed late last year by the university’s Sustainability Council aimed at achieving carbon neutrality and cultivating a new generation of ecologically aware citizens in the process.

Carbon neutrality is achieved by an individual or organization when it subtracts as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it generates. Carbon dioxide emissions, largely the result of the burning of fossil fuels, are implicated in the disruption of weather patterns that the pope said in his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” will hit the planet’s poor the hardest.

“Our climate action plan ties in perfectly with our mission as a Jesuit university,” Hsu told Catholic San Francisco. “Our mission here is to educate leaders who will fashion a world that is more humane and just, a world that is shared by all and held in trust for future generations. That’s exactly what sustainability is.”

With just over 10,000 students and almost 1,000 staff and faculty, the university is “like a small city” that includes multiple heat- and waste- generating and water-using structures, a vehicle fleet and hundreds of campus commuters, Hsu said.

The university’s climate action plan includes incremental changes in four areas over 35 years, with 100 percent carbon neutrality targeted for 2050. It starts with changing human behaviors and choices and includes improving the efficiency of older systems – in many cases by replacing them with more energy-efficient revsions – using renewable energy where possible, and reducing emissions elsewhere to offset those that are unavoidable.

USF’s climate action plan is the direct result of a commitment to sustainability made by university president Jesuit Father Paul Fitzgerald. In 2014 Father Fitzgerald joined nearly 700 other university presidents nationwide in signing the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

All schools that sign the commitment pledge to conduct an institutional emissions inventory and to create a related climate action plan. USF’s 55-page plan, finalized last December, identifies operational and educational strategies to reduce carbon emissions. It also calls for a full-time sustainability coordinator.

Hsu plans to develop co-curricular and extracurricular projects, particularly in the upgrade of antiquated structures and energy systems, making the campus a living laboratory for students.

In the long run, the climate action plan will also help the university achieve “fiscal sustainability,” but the effort is not as much about money as morality.

“We are addressing a global problem with dire social, economic and political implications,” Hsu said. “It’s primarily about doing the right thing.”

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