University Stories

Celebrating Earth Month: A Message from the Office of Sustainability and the Earth Commons

From Meghan Chapple, Vice President of Sustainability at Georgetown University and Pete Marra, Director of the Earth Commons at Georgetown University’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability and the Laudato Si’ Professor of Biology and the Environment.

Given the urgency of the planetary crises related to biodiversity loss, climate change, and public health, swift action is necessary to mitigate the worst potential outcomes. Over the past year, the University has made clear its commitment to contribute to solutions by re-launching the Office of Sustainability and launching the Earth Commons—Georgetown’s Institute for Environment & Sustainability (the ECo). 

We are bridging administrative and academic efforts at Georgetown knowing that together we can create a respectful and equitable relationship with our common home and all its inhabitants. We have a shared mission to cultivate a university culture and practice that becomes the model of positive impact for our common home through research, education, and action.

During this Earth Month, we would like highlight some of our recent accomplishments:

Together, the Office of Sustainability and ECo, with significant support from Planning and Facilities Management, has launched the Hoya Harvest Garden. This living laboratory is a campus community farm where students, faculty, and staff can generate food for the community and explore the environmental impacts of food production. You can join us in celebrating the planting season with music, food, and planting at the Breaking Ground Spring Festival.

A rendering of the Hoya Harvest Garden, which broke ground in Spring 2023.

The ECo is developing degrees and educational opportunities at every level that will prepare Hoyas to excel in environmental stewardship. In 2022, the University welcomed the inaugural class of the MS in Environment & Sustainability Management, a joint degree of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and McDonough School of Business. The ECo Impact Awards funded six interdisciplinary faculty research projects and are now accepting new proposals. Together with the Office of Sustainability, the ECo is also offering Green Commons Awards to spark campus dialogue and action.

We Hear You, a production of the ECo Artist-in-Residence, debuted at the Kennedy Center and featured ECo post-bacc, Ashanee Kottage. Photo by Wolf Hertzberg.

With a special focus on the intersection between the arts and sciences, the ECo installed a cross-campus eco-art exhibition, hosts artist talks and an artist-in-residency, and co-produces Voices on the Environment—a collaboration that includes the Georgetown Humanities Initiative and the Global Laboratory for Performance & Politics—which this year featured an international storyteller convening co-hosted by the Global Laboratory for Performance & Politics and public plenaries from renowned author Amitav Ghosh and the “father of environmental justice” Robert Bullard.

The Office of Sustainability is actively working on Georgetown’s sustainability plan to create a shared vision for sustainability at Georgetown. This vision builds on the foundation of previous planning and sustainability work and will be an important opportunity to shape the future of sustainability at Georgetown for the next decade. This included meetings with staff in operational units on all campuses, interviews with expert faculty and senior leadership officials, working sessions with the Sustainable Leadership Council and the Sustainability Advisory Group, and ongoing conversations with senior leadership. The team is currently analyzing data and reviewing the targets with implementation teams.

Participants in the 2022 Sustainability Planning kick-off meeting.

Georgetown is positioned to become a more climate-friendly university. Energy usage and sourcing are key to creating a more efficient and cleaner energy system on campus. The engineering team in Planning and Facilities Management along with our partners at Engie are designing and implementing solutions across campus such as lighting upgrades, smart energy meters, and improvements in energy systems in buildings across campus. This past year, we issued Sustainable Building Guidelines that have informed projects across the university.

The Office of Sustainability has partnered with internal departments on projects including green dining improvements with the return of front of house compost and reusable containers at Leo’s with Auxiliary Business Services and Aramark. We have also launched more sustainable coffee service and water service options for offices on campus with the Procurement team. And we launched the Hoya Transit Pilot providing thousands of students with credit towards sustainable public transportation. 

A 2022 Move Out Drive volunteer loads a truck full of donated items.

In 2022, the Office of Sustainability and the Office of Neighborhood Life revived the annual Move Out Drive. We diverted almost 70,0000 pounds of materials valued at nearly $250,000. Donations were provided to KEYS for the Homeless, Bread for the City, Community Forklift, La Cocina, The Family Place, Turning the Page, and more. The 2023 Move Out Drive will occur at four collection sites between May 8 through May 22.

Georgetown is creating the infrastructure and systems to significantly improve sustainability on campus, and it will take the whole Georgetown community to reach our targets. Reusing materials, composting food waste, and unplugging devices when not in use are great ways to reduce your footprint. More sustainability tips are available on the Office of Sustainability’s website. Offices and even individuals can also join the Green Office Program for more guidance on creating sustainable spaces on campus.

Dan Guilbeault, Director of Sustainability for Campus & Community, speaks at a sustainability in higher education panel in 2022.

The Office of Sustainability team is also engaging with peer institutions around best practice sharing. The Office had the privilege of acting as a co-convener and contributor to the planning of the 2023 White House Forum on Campus and Community-Scale Climate Change Solutions, a nationwide effort with the Office of Science, Technology, and Policy and the National Science Foundation. The event was a showcase of and call to collective climate action in higher education campuses around the country.

The Office and the ECo will continue to develop solutions to care for our common home. Looking to the coming year, the Office of Sustainability will collect and share sustainability benchmark data and performance data with the university community and continue to engage the community in the sustainability plan, beginning with climate action. The ECo will introduce new educational and research opportunities for students, staff and faculty that will make a meaningful difference on the planet and its inhabitants while uplifting the incredible scholarship Georgetown produces. 

We firmly believe the university is headed in the right direction and is launching impactful programs along the way.