Commemorating 20 Years of Sustainability at UCSB

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Illustrated by Bridget Rios

Hailey Hill

Contributing Writer

The climate crisis is inarguably one of the most pressing issues facing younger generations, and reworking our communities in a way that is more sustainable is critical to mitigating the effects of climate change and creating the possibility of a better future for both people and the planet.

Over the past few decades, both students and faculty at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) have fearlessly met the seemingly insurmountable challenge of addressing the climate crisis head-on, implementing innovative sustainability tactics both on campus and within the neighboring communities.

The efforts of UCSB Sustainability, a committee founded 20 years ago by members of the university community, have been instrumental in making UCSB’s campus operations run in an earth-friendly, sustainable way. The impact UCSB Sustainability has had can be seen through larger-scale projects, the most notable being the 1.8 million square feet of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified campus facilities. This project has led to the reduction in intensity of natural gas use by 35 percent and the emissions of operational greenhouse gasses by 50 percent, according to an article in “The Current.”

UCSB Sustainability is just one of the many groups and individuals leading in sustainable innovation on campus. 

Professor David Pellow, a faculty member in the university’s environmental studies department, attributes the success of UCSB’s sustainability initiatives to the Environmental Justice Alliance, the annual California Higher Education Sustainability Conference, the Bren School and Environmental Justice Club, the Environmental Studies Program, the Environmental Leadership Incubator, and UCSB’s Sustainability Internship Program, “run by the amazing Katie Maynard.”

Pellow adds that the work of these individuals and groups is “[incredibly important] work to advance sustainability, justice, and equity at our university and beyond.”

Creating sustainable communities goes beyond repairing our relationship with the planet. Another focus of UCSB sustainability efforts is “justice-centered diversity, equity, and inclusion,” in order to repair communal relationships and historic systemic inequities that have impacted the quality of life for local communities. Professor Pellow, like many others in the field of environmental justice, believes environmental justice is critically entwined with matters of social justice, and thus, sustainability initiatives must address both areas in order to be effective in the long run. Pellow specifically cites the Mellichamp Faculty Cluster on Racial Environmental Justice as the key to moving UCSB’s sustainable, socially just future forward. 

“This initiative will involve the recruitment of 4 leading scholars whose research, teaching, and leadership focus on the intersections of racial equity and environmental justice,” explained Pellow, “and they will join the growing list of UCSB faculty who are already doing important work in this space.”  

When asked about the areas in which UCSB could improve, Pellow stated that the Chancellor’s Campus Sustainability was a “a great idea and a good start with respect to ensuring that the campus meets key sustainability goals.”  

“The one area that I would argue needs more attention from that committee,” Pellow remarked, “is how to blend those goals with the pursuit of social equity and justice, because those aims must be integrated.” 

Pellow’s perspective reiterates the need to address environmental and social justice simultaneously in order to achieve total climate justice.

Additionally, although UCSB has done remarkable work in its sustainability efforts, the neighboring community of Isla Vista (I.V.) is often not included in these initiatives. In the face of issues from overpopulation to waste management issues and homelessness, grassroots movements such as Eco-Vista have emerged in order to mitigate these environmental and social challenges in order to ensure a better quality of life for current and future residents. 

Pellow views these movements as an encouraging step forward: “I would say that I.V. definitely is facing a number of challenges, and I am truly thrilled to see groups like Eco-Vista lead the way in building a deeply democratic, participatory process for how to create a community that is moving toward climate and environmental justice.”

With environmental advocates such as Pellow leading the way in UCSB’s movement toward a climate-just future, the seemingly impossible environmental goals have become probable — even actualized — for the university community. This cumulation of 20 years worth of collective action promises a brighter, greener future for UCSB.