Sustainability Next Plan begins work at Tech

The Molecular Science and Engineering Building is one of many LEED certified buildings on Tech’s campus, showcasing the Institute’s commitment to sustainability. // Photo by Alex Dubé Student Publications

Stemming from the Institute’s Strategic Plan, the Sustainability Next Plan will guide Tech throughout the next decade in regards to campus sustainability.

Its executors, the Sustainability Next Task Force, recently announced the formal launch of the plan and will begin its implementation soon.

The Tech Strategic Plan includes the Amplify Impact, Connect Globally and Lead by Example focus areas that directly informed the creations of the  Sustainability Next Plan. 

In 2021, the Sustainability Next Task Force was formed to address these specific areas and to “propose a strategic plan implementation roadmap for sustainability at Georgia Tech over the next 10 years,” according to the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) website. 

The current Task Force includes four co-chairs: Maria Cimilluca, Laura Taylor, Anne Rogers and Beril Toktay. These co-chairs brought together diverse backgrounds in sustainability to inform their plan and identified six focus areas to prioritize throughout the next decade. 

“We’ve done things in campus sustainability already,” said Toktay, professor of operations management in the Scheller College of Business. “But when we look to the future, what should our aspirations for the next 10 years be? And what are some new things that we should do to achieve those aspirations as well as what are some things we should do to strengthen what we already have?”

The assembled team has experience in campus operations, research, education and external engagement and is supported by more members beneath the co-chairs. Toktay says these factors are brought in different proportions, but the Task Force is completed by their different perspectives.

“It takes everybody to be engaged and to see their role as being critical to the success of our charge,” said Rogers, associate director of OCS. “I had the pleasure of facilitating this process through to implementation, and now we’re moving forward through implementation.”

Over the past year, the Task Force has collected data on campus sustainability to inform the Sustainability Next Plan. Rogers said much of this data came from the Institute’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) report from 2021, which many universities use to measure their sustainability. 

“[STARS] served as a benchmark report in [the] advance of our strategic, sustainability planning work,” Rogers said. “We had this report that allowed us to assess our current standing in these international rankings, and [there were] some of the things that came out that were clear identifiers around how [we] can move the needle.” 

The Task Force is launching some of its initiatives this year, and its members are excited for the first steps in the implementation of the plan. One example is the unveiling of the Climate Action Plan, which Rogers says is a long-awaited program.

“Since 2008, Georgia Tech has had a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050, but we never had a plan,” Rogers said. “It’s an amazing opportunity for Georgia Tech to engage our campus community to define one. How do we reach carbon neutrality? … The second component is that Georgia Tech has an opportunity to elevate climate action within the mission of its role as a higher [education] institution.”

Rogers explained that the Climate Action Plan expands climate solutions across educational curriculums and research at the Institute, creating an appropriate roadmap to carbon neutrality. 

She emphasized how the plan will work to include students in these changes rather than just happening in the background of their time at the Institute. 

Toktay is looking forward to some of the student programs launching within the next year. 

“We’re starting another program called Sustainable-X, which is a riff on Create-X,” Toktay said. “It’s going to be co-led by Create-X and the Ray [C.] Anderson Center for Sustainable Business … It’s basically trying to create this funnel where students interested in both entrepreneurship and making a difference through climate solutions or sustainability solutions can bring those things together.”

A short bootcamp for Sustainable-X was hosted on Nov. 5 and 6 and introduced its attendees on to how to approach complex sustainability problems and propose startup solutions. 

The event also emphasized the importance of aligning student initiatives and ideas with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“What Sustainability Next found is that we could really tie our education programs to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, and so there’s a real intention with the Sustainability Next Plan to do that,” Rogers said. 

The SDGs focus on promoting global development while preserving and protecting the planet, and the co-chairs feel that including these in educational curricula will shape students into better environmental stewards. Other initiatives for the academic year include innovating undergraduate and graduate degrees around sustainability, providing funding for climate research at the Institute and promoting living learning spaces on campus in line with the SDGs. As Tech enters the next decade and enacts its Strategic Plan, students may see more focus on sustainability. 

With the Task Force in place and working to implement their goals, the Institute is entering a new era of committed work towards sustainability.