'Laudato Si" provides motivation, framework for schools' green projects

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy University of Dayton

By Steve Larkin

(CNS) — Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’,” which was promulgated June 18,
2015, has provided both a motivation and a framework for Catholic universities implementing
sustainability projects.

encyclical, which has acquired a reputation as the “environmental encyclical,”
has made Catholic universities more aware of their connections to and impact on
the natural world.

the effects of “Laudato Si’,” just like the encyclical itself, go beyond just a
renewed commitment to environmental causes.

Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” which “Laudato Si'” draws on, says that “the book of nature
is one and indivisible: It takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality,
marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development.
Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human

Francis uses these words, as well as previous pieces of Catholic social teaching,
to conclude that environmental problems cannot be separated from a much broader
network of problems facing human society.

integral approach toward human problems has encouraged Catholic universities to
begin to understand all their efforts as part of an interconnected whole, not
merely individual programs, and some Catholic universities have risen to the

John’s University in New York, the University of Dayton in Ohio and the
University of San Diego have all received a gold STARS rating from the
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in the
time between the promulgation of “Laudato Si'” and now.

STARS program, which stands for Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating
System, is a transparent and self-reporting framework that includes both
short-term and long-term sustainability goals for all kinds of colleges and

heads of sustainability efforts at all three universities said that “Laudato Si'”
played an important role in their renewed commitment to sustainability efforts.

to Michael Catanzaro, director of sustainability at the University of San
Diego, said “Laudato Si'” was “super present to our minds” when the university instituted
a Climate Action plan in 2016.

plan builds on previous progress by the university, which has cut its energy
consumption by 20 percent since 2010 and used less water in 2016 than it had in
any of the previous 25 years. From this starting point, the plan aims to reduce
the environmental footprint of the university from a baseline of 2010 by 15
percent by 2020, 40 percent by 2030, and 50 percent by 2035.

university is taking action beyond the larger pieces of the plan, such as
reducing water use and electricity use, using more renewable sources of energy,
and reducing gas use by both students and faculty commuting in and on-campus

Catanzaro, the smaller pieces of the plan, such as reducing food waste, are
just as important. He mentioned that reducing food waste had a special
resonance to him.

“The first level of defense is eliminating
waste,” he said, and eliminating food waste is immediately visible in a way
that eliminating other kinds of waste is not.

told Catholic News Service he believes that “Laudato Si'” serves as “a set of
lenses” with which to look at the various problems confronting the university
and the world.

pope speaks to these embedded systems creating the problems,” he said, and the
encyclical, by identifying the sources of the problems, makes it easier to
attack the disease and not merely the symptoms.

emphasis on sustainability in “Laudato Si'”
is a part of the pope’s diagnosis of the evils of the modern world, said

culture of consumption creates a lot of the challenges we’re facing,” he said.
He thinks it links together several other ideas discussed in “Laudato Si’,”
such as the quickening pace of human life, a throwaway culture, and the
subjection of politics, especially in the Third World, to technological and
financial interests.

“Laudato Si'” has provided a framework for sustainability efforts, Catanzaro is
still working on integrating and seeing all the university’s efforts as parts
of a larger whole. Aside from wanting to be environmentally sustainable, “we
aim to serve as a community anchor and shed light on inequity and environmental
and social injustice,” he said.

sees the various programs at the University of San Diego as “taking small
actions that amount to something larger,” and he hopes that all the small
actions people take will eventually come together to produce larger change.

the University of Dayton, “Laudato Si'” served to encourage further
sustainability efforts. The school already had been working on sustainability
efforts for many years and had divested from fossil fuels in 2014, but the
school “took ‘Laudato Si” to heart” when generating a report in every
department looking for ways to become more sustainable, according to Steve
Kendig, the executive director of energy utilization and environmental

encyclical also reinforced the importance of the school’s Catholic and
Marianist values, according to Kendig. “We try to maintain the integrity of all
creation because protecting the life and dignity of all is part of our mission
as a Catholic institution,” he said.

sees the school’s efforts against food deserts in the Dayton area as an
important part of the sustainability efforts. Since studies have shown that
Dayton is the second-worst city in the nation for food insecurity in households
with children, the university views its work in this area as an important part
of supporting the Dayton community.

a collective sense here on campus that we promote Marianist values,” Kendig told
CNS. Students in a variety of programs contribute to that promotion and the
school’s sustainability efforts.

example, some students in the department of engineering management, systems and
technology worked on the logistics of trucks driving to and from a food
shelter, and they ended up cutting several hundred miles of driving each week.
The food shelter ended up saving enough money to provide 400 additional meals
every week.

university’s work in Appalachia reflects the understanding of “Laudato Si'”
that care for the environment and care for the poor are intertwined.

move-out week we collect furniture, small appliances, and food, and take it
down to Appalachia,” Kendig said.

people in that region have a hard time getting small appliances, according to
Kendig. This program both helps the university be more sustainable by reducing
the amount that gets thrown away and helps it fulfill its obligations to the
poor by providing for their material needs and comfort.

Hanley Sustainability Institute, which was established in 2014 with a $12.5
million gift from the foundation of George and Amanda Hanley, helps promote the
cross-disciplinary work at the school and the connections with community
organizations that make much of this work possible, and Kendig said that one of
the goals of the institute is to both integrate sustainability into the life of
the college and make it visible, helping to create a cultural change along with
the material efforts.

St. John’s University, Thomas Goldsmith, the director of environmental and
energy conservation, sees the sustainability program as a part of fulfilling
the obligations to future generations discussed in “Laudato Si’.”

could substitute the word sustainability for the word future,” he said. “We
have to use the finite natural resources for ourselves wisely so that they be
protected for future generations.”

support that goal, St. John’s has taken advantage of a number of programs
offered by both New York City and New York state aimed at reducing its carbon

taken advantage of statewide technical assistance programs to find out what is achievable
in energy efficiencies,” said Goldsmith.

university also has tried to bring about a cultural change with its food waste
program, which started in 2009 and was expanded in 2012. In addition to
composting food waste and using the resulting soil in gardens, the program also
aimed at getting students to take less food and scrape their plates into the
compost bins, and it succeeded.

program also takes both leftover food from the cafeteria and food grown in the
gardens made with the composted soil and takes it to food kitchens. Goldsmith
referred to the idea embodied by this part of the food waste program as
“conserve to serve,” showing that the programs that protect the environment and
those that aid other people are interconnected.

all three universities, students have been receptive to sustainability efforts
and, in some cases, requested even more. While progress has been made,
Catanzaro wants to make sure that “Laudato Si'” continues to encourage them and
that universities not become indifferent to their sustainability efforts.

education often focuses on making students comfortable,” he said, “but they
learn the most in discomfort.”

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