Just over a year ago, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a proud Husky, said this about climate change: “We are the first generation to feel [its] sting…and we are the last generation that can do something about it.” As the global window for action shrinks, our public university must address the threat of climate change. Our responsibility lies both in how we reduce our institutional impact on the planet, and in the knowledge and innovation we cultivate and the education and training we provide to empower the next generation.
Today we mark the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, which signaled the launch of the modern environmental movement. The University of Washington is proud to have participated in that very first Earth Day in 1970 and just as proud, half a century later, to announce our new Sustainability Strategy, a five-year plan outlining our guiding principles, measurable goals and reduction targets, as well as how we will reach them across all three campuses. Every year under this strategy, the UW will evaluate the immediate actions needed over the next fiscal year in order to respond to changing realities and needs at our campus.
The UW has long been a sustainability leader. In our operations, academics and research, our University has been at the forefront of the work to understand climate change and foster the innovation needed to blunt its impact. Faculty and staff in the College of the Environment are pursuing groundbreaking research from tracking the relationship between climate change and wildfires in the Pacific Northwest to determining how we can create migration corridors for species endangered by climate change. Our talent for interdisciplinary approaches has yielded collaborations between engineering and environmental researchers to conserve and sustain the freshwater that life depends on. At the UW Clean Energy Institute, research on next-generation solar energy and materials sciences is paving the way to a sustainably-powered future. In the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, students are gaining the skills and knowledge to develop and implement evidence-based, environmentally sound policy.
As we reflect on 50 years of environmental activism, we are keenly aware that sustainability must go hand in hand with social and economic equity and inclusion. Underrepresented and underserved communities have for too long borne the brunt of environmental degradation and climate impacts; their voices must be heard. Their right to clean air, water and lands must be recognized. These principles are, not coincidentally, reflected in the structure of our Population Health Initiative’s three pillars: human health, environmental resilience, and social and economic equity. The health and well-being of all people is inseparable from the health of our environment.
With the launch of our new strategy, I’m proud to continue our work to reduce our carbon footprint and institutionalize sustainability, even as we recognize that more work is needed if we are to fully realize our ambitions. I invite everyone in our UW community to help the UW advance our progress toward these targets. You can provide your input via a survey at ttps://green.uw.edu/sustainability-plan or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a community that leads with values, we have the responsibility and the tools to take on the challenge of environmental sustainability for the benefit of all Huskies, present and future. I look forward to the impact we will make and the cleaner, more livable and sustainable world that we can create together.