OPINION: Scripps puts the ‘sus’ in sustainability

The walkway outside Scripps' Toll residence hall
Scripps College is the only 5C not to have committed to a carbon neutrality goal yet. (Courtesy: Sondra Abruzzo)

While Scripps College’s school color is green, its identity is less so.

On the grassy surface, environmental sustainability is present at Scripps. Sustainability is a tenet of our beloved Motley Coffeehouse, our students are aware of of environmental justice issues and our newest residence hall is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified.

However, there are several less obvious aspects of sustainability on campus that the school neglects. More often than not, students are burdened with taking the initiative to bring attention to such sustainability shortcomings.

In some cases, students do succeed in establishing solutions.

For example, Resident Life and the dining commons supported us in establishing composting programs in our dorms and at Malott Dining Hall.

However, other sustainability programs fail to take root, despite student concern and efforts.

We can attribute this neglect in part to gaps in the college’s institutional structure. Scripps has never had a sustainability office nor a permanent sustainability coordinator. Over the past four years, we cycled through three sustainability coordinators. We haven’t had a coordinator all year, raising the question as to whether the administration values this type of position.

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The absence of staff and structures supporting sustainability creates a gap in institutional knowledge and memory.

For example, after establishing the dorm resale program Scripps Scrapps last year, the administration misplaced the sale’s revenue, Scripps’ former sustainability coordinator Tiffany Ortamond told us. The money was intended to fund next year’s program and effectively discontinued it.

Scripps Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson disputed that the funds were misplaced and said via email that they’re “located in the designated account for the program.”

But since no one could track down the funds, students had to reboot Scripps Scrapps by writing a new proposal for the sustainability committee and re-applying for funding, as we had the year before.

In another example, ResLife effectively discontinued next year’s Green Living Learning Community, one of the few spaces for organizing environmental projects on campus, all while introducing several new LLC options in an email to Scripps students. ResLife did not consult the LLC or the Scripps community before making this decision. Current Green LLC members strongly expressed their disapproval.

But nothing happened.

Johnson told TSL the school didn’t have a faculty or staff sponsor for that specific learning community. But with continued student interest, she said the option “can be” available in fall 2020.

Scripps’ inaction on sustainability efforts contradicts its mission as a liberal arts college, discrediting its self-prescribed identity as a leader in building a just society for its students.

This shortage in institutional support and planning inspired us to ask Scripps to sign a Carbon Commitment this school year.

Beginning in spring 2018, through research and conversations with various sustainability professionals, we decided to advocate for Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment, a program that offers frameworks for planning for carbon neutrality and tracking annual emissions. Three hundred and thirty-three other schools, including all the other 5Cs, are already signatories of the commitment, monitoring their emissions within the context of a carbon neutrality plan.

Pomona College already plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2030, and Claremont McKenna College is in the process of petitioning for their neutrality goal date to be moved from 2050 to 2030.

The fact that Scripps is the only 5C not signed on to the commitment embarrasses us and makes us question the priorities of our college.

As students who are constantly advocating for environmental action and accountability from the administration, we believe a Carbon Commitment would encourage Scripps to set and attain carbon reduction goals and help institutionalize a greater sustainability culture on campus.

Through various meetings, presentations and emails this semester with the sustainability committee, facilities, dean of students, dean of faculty and the college president, we proposed that Scripps sign the Carbon Commitment.

We sought out tangible next steps to accomplish this goal and really tried to make it happen.

However, after much roundabout communication, the administration ultimately directed us to work with the sustainability committee and write a budget proposal for the initiative before they consider signing the commitment, the final review of which would not occur until March 2020.

Reducing the Carbon Commitment to an issue of the school’s budget points to one core problem — there is no efficient mechanism through which to expand the priorities of the college. Ultimately, it distracts from the principles of climate action.

The colorful mural at Scripps
Scripps College students say the administration hasn’t been cooperative in their sustainability efforts. (Courtesy: Sondra Abruzzo)

Overall, resting these initiatives on unpaid student labor is unfair and undermines their success. With student turnover every four years, the administration can avoid consistent pressure to keep sustainability at the forefront of conversations.

The absence of institutional memory regarding sustainability enables any failings or neglect to go unnoticed, and impedes efforts toward progress, as we can’t learn from past efforts. Additionally, leaving the integration of sustainability at Scripps largely up to students leaves student activists burnt out and disheartened.  

Scripps’ inaction on sustainability efforts contradicts its mission as a liberal arts college, discrediting its self-prescribed identity as a leader in building a just society for its students. We want Scripps to prioritize sustainability in its institutional model, ensuring that sustainability will always be a part of the conversation.

We hope the community shares our values and likewise advocates to elevate the role of sustainability at Scripps.

Scripps did not respond to a request for comment on either situation before press time.

Sondra Abruzzo SC ’19 is an environmental analysis/public policy major from Orinda, California. She is a former Scripps Associated Students sustainability chair, serves as a leader of the Scripps Environmental Club, writes an environmental column for The Scripps Voice and sits on the Scripps sustainability committee.

Amanda Riley SC ’19 is an environmental science major from Amherst, Massachusetts. She is a leader of SEED and the 5C Native Habitat & Community Club and sits on the facilities planning committee and Scripps sustainability committee.

Julia McCartan SC ’21 is an environmental analysis/human behavior major from Bellevue, Washington. She is the Scripps Sustainability intern, a leader of SEED, a member of the Green Living Learning Committee and sits on the Scripps sustainability committee.

This article was last updated May 2 at 6:18 p.m. to add comment from Scripps’ Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson.

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