V.S. “Raghu” Raghavan, director of sustainability and associate director of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment at Mount Holyoke College, discusses actions campuses can take toward greater sustainability and climate change mitigation solutions.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at the Council on Foreign Relations. Today’s meeting is on the record and the video and the transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We are delighted to have Raghu Raghavan with us to talk about campus sustainability and climate change mitigation. We have shared his bio with you but I will give you a few highlights. Mr. Raghavan is a director of sustainability and associate director of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment at Mount Holyoke College. He works closely across all divisions and amongst students, faculty, and staff to advance sustainability as a core value in all aspects of the Mount Holyoke campus and provides strategic direction to achieve the college’s multifaceted sustainability goals, including a focus on social and environmental justice.
So, Raghu, thank you very much for being with us. Given your position, we thought it would be terrific if you would talk about the primary ways that campuses can address environmental and climate change challenges and talk specifically about what steps you have taken to incorporate sustainability efforts on the Mount Holyoke campus, the effects, and what other campuses can be doing.
RAGHAVAN: Thank you, Irina, for inviting me. Thank you to CFR for inviting me. I’m very happy to be here and to have an exchange about sustainability with the audience. So just to get started, at Mount Holyoke we’re located in western Massachusetts in a town called South Hadley. We like to start by doing a land acknowledgment. So the land that this college is located in belongs to the Norwottuck tribe. Like the rest of the country, the original inhabitants, the natives, were dispossessed by the settlers.
Mount Holyoke is a nondenominational residential research liberal arts college for women that is gender-diverse and welcomes female, transgender, and nonbinary students. It’s renowned for educating world leaders, from medical pioneers to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights. It’s the oldest of the Seven Sister colleges. And it’s a noted leader of liberal arts education, with a mission grounded in the conviction that women can and should make a difference in the world. So we have about two thousand students. Twenty-eight percent of them are international citizens. And 27 percent identify as domestic students of color.
So having said that, now transitioning to sustainability, here on our campus we have set a carbon neutrality goal of 2037, which is the bicentennial year of the founding of Mount Holyoke. So along those lines, one major step we’ve taken is to come up with energy master plan which will help transition our fossil fuel consumption, primarily used for heating, from—transition from steam, which is derived by heating natural gas, to renewable energy. At this point, we think we’re going to use geothermal energy. So we are in the process of developing this plan. We have engaged the services of a consultant that is walking us through this plan. We are—right now we’re in the process of getting schematic designs for this plan.
So overall our scope one and scope two emissions, which are emissions from fossil fuels burned on campus and from closest electricity are of the order of approximately ten thousand metric tons of CO2. And so our goal is to reduce them as much as possible. So we expect to be, like I said, carbon neutral by 2037. At this point, we think we’re going to use geothermal energy, but should another technology become available then we’re likely to—were flexible in our planning that we shift to that. The one common aspect of this is that instead of using of using steam we’re going to be using hot water, either low temperature or really hot water. So that transition from steam to hot water in itself is going to need far less energy. And we feel like geothermal energy, at this point, is the way to go about it.
So aside from transitioning to renewable energy, we’re also working on streamlining our dining operations. Our dining staff here have done a spectacular job of reducing waste when it comes to post—pre-consumer food waste. And we’ve reduced our waste by almost 50 percent over the past couple of years. In addition to reducing waste and composting it—composting our food waste, we’ve also—our purchasing—our local purchasing is of the order—anywhere between 20 to 25 percent. So along with transitioning to renewable energy we’re becoming far more efficient in our dining operations.
One other aspect of sustainability that we’re trying to empathize over here is to increase the curricular content of sustainability education. So we feel that higher ed is the optimal place to tackle climate change and increase the content of sustainability within the curriculum. So, towards that end, I work very closely with the director of the Miller Worley Center, Dr. Olivia Aguilar, and students, and other faculty to increase this content for sustainability. So that is basically what we’re doing here at Mount Holyoke.
I would actually prefer to engage with questions with folks, if you have any questions, so that we can build upon.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you. So, yes, we’ll go to all of you now for questions. And I also want to encourage comments, and to use this as a forum to share what you’re doing on your college campus, or how you are incorporating this into your curriculum. So you can either raise your hand and then I’ll call on you, and unmute yourself, or you can write a question in the Q&A box. So right now everybody is being very shy, which—no, fantastic.
Michael Matthews, we’ll go first to you. And if you can please tell us your affiliation, that would be great.
Q: Hi, can you hear me?
FASKIANOS: We can.
Q: OK. So I’m with Earth Ethics Institute at Miami Dade College.
And I’m really curious to hear about what you’re doing with the curricular side. Do you kind of have a program already in place, or is that something being developed?
RAGHAVAN: So the predominant program for working on sustainability issues here is the environmental studies program. So—but we do have—many of our programs are interdisciplinary. But the primary program, to respond to your question—the primary program that works on sustainability, or has students focused on sustainability, is the environmental studies program. I am one year into my position over here. So my goal, with the help of other faculty, is to diffuse sustainability beyond just environmental studies.
In my opinion, every program on campus should have some component of sustainability embedded in it. And I say this primarily because of the dire crisis that we face. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the very grim news that we get every day when it comes to sustainability—whether it’s forest fires, or high temperatures in Canada and in Siberia, and so on and so forth. So my goal here is to extend sustainability in the curriculum beyond just environmental studies. Do you want me to elaborate on that, or—Michael? He’s muted.
FASKIANOS: Mike, if you want to unmute yourself? I think you should elaborate on it. I think it—oh, here we go.
Q: Oh, OK. Well, if you have more to offer, that’d be great.
RAGHAVAN: Yeah. So typically, within higher ed institutions in the U.S., sustainability largely has focused on environmental issues. And, they’re important issues—climate change and so on and so forth. Most higher ed institutions, the most common question I used to get—or, I still get, is do we recycle and do we compost? But if you look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the number-one goal for sustainability is poverty. Number two is hunger. Number five is gender. So what we’re trying to provoke over here is full-spectrum sustainability, where we look at not just the environmental issues—which are undoubtedly very, very important—but we’re also looking at the socioeconomic issues, which we feel are the core issues of sustainability.
So unless we tackle social justice issues, unless we tackle economic inequity, we will not arrive at a sustainable society. And we want to transmit that through curriculum. Not just through curriculum and textbook curriculum, but also having the campus as a living lab for sustainability, through community engagement, through promoting civic engagement. So we’re not just recycling, and composting, and working on climate—carbon neutrality and renewable energy. But we also want to work on social justice issues, building healthy communities. And of course, civic engagement—reinforcing or strengthening the democratic process. I can keep talking forever, Michael.
FASKIANOS: We’ve got a few questions written, so why don’t we? From Jude Jones, who is at Fordham University, associate professor of philosophy, vice president faculty senate, and chair—very long list.
So a couple of questions—actually, it’s three, but I’ll start with the first. She had some connection problems, but do you have advice to encourage an institution to invest in going big—all points program for sustainability—from a position that is timid so far? And then the second part of her question: Do you have strategies for highlighting the connection between sustainability and issues of race and inclusion? I work in an urban setting where this has concrete impacts but want to think more broadly and deeply about it.
RAGHAVAN: So let me take the first question first, advice for going big. What I found out in my time in working in sustainability at a few institutions, it really depends on where you’re at. Every institution is unique. What level of risk are you able to take individually or as a group of people? So my advice is less about going big—certainly, we need to go big. I mean, the crisis is so dire that merely tweaking the system is unlikely to bring about gains. Most people in this audience, I hope, would agree that we’re in an existential crisis as a species. So we do need to take really, really big steps.
At the national level, there are initiatives like the Green New Deal. It would be nice to support that. But on campus, my feeling is that when it comes to taking big steps it’s best to build critical mass, build alliances amongst faculty, amongst staff, and amongst students, and build and broaden this critical mass to the point where the institution has no choice but to take these big steps. If an individual goes for the home run, there is likely—there are ways to undercut those initiatives. But if there’s critical mass, if there are broad-based alliances, then the chances of being successful are that much more stronger.
And the second question is the connection—if I recall right—the connection between environmental justice and race—and racial issues?
FASKIANOS: Yes, race and inclusion, and especially in an urban setting.
RAGHAVAN: So the way we look at it is that there is really not—no difference between the environmental sustainability crisis and the racial issues, and various other discriminations that exist in society—gender, and around sexual orientation lines, and so on and so forth. The environmental issues that we see are a symptom. The fundamental problem are these socioeconomic dysfunctions that we face. So—and these have—all of these have to do with power. And unless these power differentials are made transparent, we’re going to struggle to connect the environmental issues with the socioeconomic issues.
And the best place to do that, in my opinion, is academia. This is the place where we need to make it happen. But there’s resistance, as we know. Most of us are probably familiar with what happened at UNC recently, with the tenure of Nikole, the originator for the 1619 Project. So there is resistance to dealing with some of the really uncomfortable issues within the society—notably racial issues, Native American issues, gender, these kind of issues. But unless academia chooses to tackle these head on and make them transparent, it is going to be tricky to connect it to environmental sustainability. It will appear as though the environmental issues are siloed.
And they’re not. They have to be connected to the justice issues, the dispossession of the Native Americans, to the stolen labor from the African Americans. This is what has led some people to have more. And the people that have more pollute more, consume more. One other thing I’d like to point out is that while we’re talking about all of this, we have to reconsider the notion of the American dream. And I know this might end up being a little bit controversial. But unless we get over the fact that more is better—more consumption is better, we’re not going to arrive at sustainability. This is a country—this is 4 percent to 5 percent of the world’s population consuming up to anywhere between 25 to 30 percent of the world’s resources. Not sustainable, inequitable.
And frankly, a product of imperialism. So we have to tackle these justice issues. And while there is resistance to tackling these, because there’s a lot of injustice associated with this, in academia we have to take these steps. We must take these steps. Again, like with all of these questions, I can keep talking forever, but if any point needs elaboration, please let me know.
FASKIANOS: OK. We have a raised hand from Pam Chasek. So if you could unmute yourself.
Q: Great. Can you hear me OK?
FASKIANOS: Yes, and your affiliation, please.
Q: Great, thank you so much. Oh, sorry. Professor at Manhattan College in New York, actually just down the road from where Jude is. Also I am cofounder and executive editor of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin that reports on UN environment and development negotiations.
You mentioned the UN Sustainable Development Goals. And I’ve been actually—that’s been built into my curriculum since their negotiation. I was part of those negotiations, and have brought it in. And I’m having a more difficult challenge bringing that into the college as a whole. We’ve been proposing projects from my class that can be done on campus. And, as you noted, many of the more socioeconomic ones tend to be—(audio break)—for the students than the environmental ones, which—(audio break)—so. But I’m wondering if you’re using them at all in terms of how you’re couching the program at Mount Holyoke, and how you’re able to get more administrative buy-in to that.
RAGHAVAN: OK. So this is a good segue for me to talk about AASHE. For those of you folks who may not have heard of AASHE, AASHE is the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. I happen to be on the board of AASHE. For those of you who may not have heard it, I’d encourage you to check out their website and hopefully become members. What AASHE does is come out—in addition to being a resource for sustainability professionals across the country, in fact, across the world, it has also come out with a benchmarking tool for sustainability called STARS. STARS is an acronym for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System.
Now, STARS is actually based—or, is modeled, in a sense—I’m struggling to use the right word—on the UNSDGs. Or, so it kind of relates to the UNSDGs. Let me put it that way, it relates to the UNSDGs. So my goal—so as I mentioned, I’m relatively new here at Mount Holyoke. It’s been a year, and it’s been a pandemic year. But the goal is to use STARS not just as a benchmarking tool, but also as a tool within curricular engagement. And since it relates closely to the UNSDGs, my feeling is that that would be a much better approach for me here at Mount Holyoke to kind of bring the conversation of the SDGs within faculty, within students, and within staff too.
So that’s the approach I’m planning on taking over here. It hasn’t happened yet, but that’s the plan. I don’t know if this response satisfied you, Pam, but I’m happy to elaborate. It is—sustainability is countercultural. So we’re in a sense swimming upstream. So the difficulties that you encounter are not unique. I mean, I’ve encountered the same in the places that I work. It is—one of the biggest misconceptions is that it is going to involve austerity. It is going to involve reduction of consumption, but the counter to that is building healthy communities. What we need is healthy communities and less consumption. So that’s my—that’s my spiel, essentially, when I try to promote the UNSDGs.
FASKIANOS: Pamela Waldron-Moore, who is with—is the chair of department of political science at Xavier University of Louisiana.
What has been Mount Holyoke’s greatest success with waste reduction? Has this—or is this being incorporated into learning across the campus, or only in specific subject areas?
RAGHAVAN: So waste reduction—our recycling rate is pretty good. It’s over 50 percent. The numbers from this past year don’t really count because it was a pandemic year, but overall—before I got here, waste reduction, compared to many other schools, was pretty good. It would be nice to target zero waste, but we’re not there yet.
When it comes to incorporating this within the curriculum, at this point, as I mentioned earlier, the environmental studies program—the students within that program and the faculty within that program are more focused on this aspect of sustainability. Just this past year, we had some students who were still here on campus begin a composting program—a small composting program. And what has happened now is that campus facilities—facilities management has built upon that program and has institutionalized composting in all residence halls now. So there are projects like these which start out as student projects but then end up being institutionalized. That’s one example.
However, I will acknowledge that we do have a ways to go when it comes to approaching zero waste. It’s not there yet. And we also have a ways to go to incorporate this kind of behavior into all aspects of our curriculum.
FASKIANOS: Next question comes from Page Fortna, assistant professor at Columbia University in the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.
How much of the impetus for Mount Holyoke’s sustainability plan has come from the top—the administration—and how much from pressure from faculty, students, staff—and I’m going to throw in—and alumni? Is there pressure also from alumni? (Laughs.)
RAGHAVAN: So we—so let me just distinguish between a sustainability plan and our energy master plan. We will be working hopefully on a sustainability plan. Right now, we’re working on an energy master plan. The pressure has been kind of diffuse, but it’s come from various quarters. So I wouldn’t quite say it’s been one group of constituents. Yes, there’s been student pressure to go carbon neutral. There are some very, very interested faculty that have been pushing administration to go carbon neutral. Many of our alumni are also very gung-ho about carbon neutrality. And so the pressure in this particular institution has come from many quarters, not just one. It hasn’t been just one radical group of students or one radical group of faculty. It’s been a mixture.
FASKIANOS: Great. Next question comes from John Murray, who is director of international engagement at Hesston College.
We have a significant international student population on campus. Are there specific strategies to engage the conversation on sustainability through the complexity of a global and international relationship lens?
RAGHAVAN: Yes. So as I mentioned earlier, Mount Holyoke does give a lot of importance to social justice, and particularly when it comes to international students. If we’re talking about international students from the global south, they are largely aware—I would submit—of the various disparities between the consumption patterns in the global south and the industrialized north—the global north.
So we do try to—not just the international students, to all students, our goal will be to make them aware of the nature of the relations between the global south and the—and many of these relations still mirror formerly imperial relations. Much of the wealth continues to be concentrated the industrialized north. And the consumption is also in the industrialized north largely. And frankly, most of the greenhouse gas emissions—at least historical emissions—are from the industrialized north. Right now, China is the leading emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, but historically it’s been North American and Western Europe.
So we do—we do try to make the—not just the international students but all students aware of these disparities and the need for engaging responsibly with these essentially what are discriminations. So, yes, that is—we do take that seriously. Having just arrived here, I’m still working on broadening this through the various departments and so on and so forth.
FASKIANOS: Next question from Lisa Glidden, who is a professor of political science and director of sustainability studies minor at SUNY Oswego.
Can you talk about your campus model to address climate issues? Do you have a general education or core required sustainability course? And what kinds of commitments from the administration, residential life, academic affairs have helped move your campus forward toward its goals?
RAGHAVAN: Yeah. So right now the really hardcore commitment is only on the operations side. So our carbon neutrality target and then transitioning to renewable energy, most likely geothermal. That is our major commitment at this point. On the curricular side, we don’t have any hard and fast commitments, but there are departments—due to their, what I would say, enlightened leadership—like campus dining over here, they have set internal targets to go either not necessarily zero waste but reduce their waste drastically. Some—the environmental studies program here, frankly, pretty radical. So they have their own internal targets in terms of what they expect with regards to student outcomes, and so on, and so forth. But institutionally, there is an emphasis on sustainability, but it’s not yet granular to the point where we say these are the explicit targets for such-and-such, aside from the climate neutrality target.
FASKIANOS: Raghu, in terms of working with other—or sharing best practices with other colleges, are there specific colleges that you’re consulting with? And is it regional? Are there—is there a forum that you’re going to where you’re exchanging this, what you’re doing, and that you could point people toward for additional information or ideas on how to do this on their campus or in their curriculum?
RAGHAVAN: Absolutely. AASHE, again, is what I would point folks to. It’s an excellent, excellent resource for essentially all things sustainability and higher ed. So that’s my go-to place for all thing sustainability in terms of looking for best practices, and so on and so forth. Mount Holyoke is located in what is called as the Pioneer Valley, the five-college area. So the colleges over here speak very frequently. I meet with them at least once a month. And our major talking point at this point is climate—carbon neutrality. So all of the colleges here are working on their transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. So we talk very frequently to look at—or, check in on where so-and-so is, and so on, and exchange best practices too.
So the colleges that I speak to most frequently are Smith College here, UMass Amherst, Amherst College, Hampshire College in the neighborhood, also Williams College, and Bowdoin too. So we speak frequently here in the northeast. But if you want a broad-based—a broader investigation as to what other schools are doing for climate neutrality, I’d suggest please check out AASHE—the AASHE website. There’s also a forum there where you can pose questions. And it’s a very, very helpful community. The other organization that I would suggest would be Second Nature. Because they’re—and for climate neutrality in particular, they are amongst the most strong advocates, along with AASHE. I hope many of the institutions here have heard of them.
FASKIANOS: OK. I’m going to take the next question from Mojubaolu Okome Olufunke from—she’s associate professor at Brooklyn College. This is—at CUNY.
Given the existing structural power relations within the academy, what are the chances that the agenda for social justice would succeed anytime soon? As is evidence in statistics, there’s considerable resistance to inclusion and resistance to POC in the professoriate. The curriculum needs to be decolonized, but some colleagues say that they’re not equipped to do so because of their disciplinary constraints.
RAGHAVAN: Yes. So a challenge that’s not unique to CUNY. It’s all across academia. We have to recognize that this is—if we look back at history, this is a settler-colonial state. And so it’s been founded basically on white supremacy. And so untangling that, undoing that is a pretty significant challenge for academia as a whole. We do—the only suggestion I would offer is to continue to build alliances. And some of the signs, when we look at broader society, are actually pretty encouraging. I mean, the BLM protests last year and before that were the largest in history. So there is an increasing awareness of this among vast sections of society. But there’s still a very long way to go—a very long way to go along racial lines, gender lines, and the various other discriminations that we face. There’s still a very long way to go.
We have no choice but to confront them and make these power relations transparent. And they’re not—any discussion of sustainability in the U.S. cannot ignore the global footprint of the U.S. So we have to take all of these into consideration when we—when we talk about sustainability. There’s internal power differentials along the various marginalized groups, and there’s external differentials also, along national lines. So the only suggestion I would offer is to continue to build alliances, broaden your alliances, emphasize civic engagement, strengthen the democratic process. This is what I would—I would submit.
And this is—civic engagement is—tends to be somewhat neglected within at least higher ed sustainability circles. It’s largely—when people talk about sustainability, it’s largely individual actions, like recycling, and composting and even stuff like what I consider silly stuff like using metal straws and those kind of things. But we need to broaden our alliances. We definitely need to build critical mass if we’re going to bring about this change in a peaceful manner.
FASKIANOS: There’s a written question from Mark—and people should please also raise their hands. We’d love to hear your voices, but I will continue to read. We’ve got several written questions. Not sure of what institution. We have a couple of Marks on the call.
When a college’s administration resists increasing sustainability programming for financial and/or ideological reasons, what strategies do you suggest to expand administrative buy-in?
RAGHAVAN: Again, not unique to whatever institution this question is coming from. It’s a struggle. It is definitely a struggle to get funding for sustainability. And I don’t want to sound repetitive, but I’m going to repetitive. If sustainability efforts continue to stay solo efforts—either coming in through the sustainability office or through one or two faculty on campus, it’s going to continue to be more of a struggle. So what we really need to do is to continue to build our alliances. And I know it’s not easy. It’s tricky. It’s difficult. Academia has traditionally been siloed. And so, in a sense, it mirrors society, where it’s almost alienating and atomizing. So we need to build those bridges across these silos, across departments, become more interdisciplinary in our offerings, in our thinking. And the more alliance—the more stronger our alliances are, the more difficult we make it for an administration to say no. So we have to build broad-based alliances across these various departments, even with staff, and of course with students.
FASKIANOS: So there’s a written question from Michael Lenaghan at Miami Dade College.
Do you at Mount Holyoke collaborate with the Earth Charter Center at U.N. University in Costa Rica globally? We find working through a college-wide Earth ethics institute that empowers faculty to infuse Earth ethics based on the Earth Charter into any course through civic engagement initiatives based on student leadership and competition, sometimes adding to grade or independently recognized.
RAGHAVAN: So at this point we don’t partner with the institution that you mentioned. But the STARS benchmarking tool is actually also based on the Earth Charter. So I would encourage folks to go and take a look at STARS and look at—look at their manual and so on and so forth. So why we don’t engage with the Earth Charter in the manner that was just described, we do engage with it through the STARS benchmarking tool for sustainability.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go back to Pamela Waldron-Moore. Is there a plan for teaching sustainability in multiple departments of study, and beyond waste reduction?
RAGHAVAN: It is my plan, but it’s not the institution’s plan yet. (Laughs.) So over time I hope to, like I said, build alliances, get people to become more aware of the importance of having sustainability in all aspects of curriculum—not just environmental studies, all aspects of curriculum. It is my plan but, no, we don’t currently have an institutional plan for that yet.
FASKIANOS: So, Raghu, when you say it’s your plan and one that you’re working on—and you’ve only been there for one yet, so obviously you’re—but in your mind, what is your timeframe? Is it something that you hope to achieve? Is your goal within five years? Or just—can you give us a sense of, like, how you think about tackling it because obviously this is so huge, so many factors, so many different ways and areas, right, on campus and with the curriculum. So how do you sort of put it into bite sizes, so you feel like you’re accomplishing it and where you’re going?
RAGHAVAN: Yeah. So I wish I could—I had a crystal ball to say, well, by 2025 all departments, at Mount Holyoke are—have, like, 25 percent of their curriculum, promoting sustainability. But my plan is to kind of broaden from environmental studies to what I consider likeminded departments initially—initially. So that would include sociology, any of the professors teaching social justice, gender studies. That’s who I would reach out to initially. There are also professors of political science over here who deal with some of the north-south issues—global north and global south issues. I would reach out to them. Professors who deal with culture, so I would reach out to them.
So that’s how I would—my plan is to kind of reach out in these directions initially, and then use them as a—what I would call force multipliers. So engage with them so they reach out to their friends, their peers, and so on and so forth, to kind of understand the importance of sustainability within the curriculum. In my opinion, for higher ed, while getting operations to become carbon neutral, and zero waste, and all of that is very, very important, the end game of sustainability in higher ed is transformation of curriculum. If we don’t transform curriculum, it’s going to be a struggle. So we must transform curriculum for sustainability. So I appreciate all of these questions regarding curriculum.
But as I described, my plan is to reach out initially to likeminded folks beyond environmental studies, bring them on board, hopefully engage—have them engage with their peers and friends, and then diffuse sustainability all across—all across the curriculum. The timeline for that, I wish I had a crystal ball. But I’m unable to provide a precise timeline for that. All I can describe is my approach right now.
FASKIANOS: Right. And can you touch upon how Mount Holyoke handles campus land management and biodiversity?
RAGHAVAN: So we—the campus is over five hundred acres, but they’re—about 350 acres is forested land. And it’s—in a sense, it manages itself. We don’t have to do anything about it. But the rest of the campus, we do have a botanical garden over here. So we’re trying to increase our pollinators here on campus. We also have two, what we call, ponds or lakes here. They have to be managed because of effluent from beyond campus that comes into them. So there’s attempts to maintain the health of those lakes. But overall, we use the—I believe it’s called the integrated pest management program, which is in use by most schools in the Northeast. So we don’t use—we use only organic fertilizer, and so on and so forth.
Let me see. I can’t think of anything else. It’s a small campus, essentially, aside from the forested area that we own. It’s a pretty small campus. So it’s not like we have much to do when it comes to managing landscaping and so on and so forth. We do have lawns, but it’s not—the campus is less than three blocks in size.
FASKIANOS: What work are you doing with the community—the surrounding community on its sustainability goals?
RAGHAVAN: So with the community, I’m a member of the South Hadley Environmental Commission. So we talked—again, about one of our major topics of conversation is electric vehicles. So working with the community to explore possibility of having EV chargers here on campus and with—in the community too. So that’s one of our—increasing sustainability transportation. That’s—hopefully, public transportation too. But with COVID, that’s become difficult. So that’s one of our major initiatives when it comes to engaging with the community over here. Hopefully, over time we can talk about having our students intern with many of the social justice organizations that—actually there’s quite a few of them in this area—so we can have an exchange of students who work with these organizations gaining experience on all kind of community-building initiatives. That’s our next goal.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go to Mojubaolu, who has raised her hand.
Q: Thank you very much. This is Mojubaolu Olufunke Okome. And I’m a professor of political science at Brooklyn College. It’s part of the City University of New York.
So also I’m lucky because I’ve actually been on your campus for a fellowship at the women’s center. So Mount Holyoke is—I mean, you talk about it as built small. It’s like three blocks and so forth. But compared with Brooklyn College, it’s massive. And it’s well-resourced. It’s wealthier, OK? So to what extent are the things that are possible—and then it’s also in a rural area. We’re in a city. To what extent are the things that you are able to accomplish place-specific? And also, more possible because of access to resources that poorer institutions might not have?
RAGHAVAN: OK. So let me address the resource issue first. Yes, we—our endowment is probably bigger than most schools. But the odd thing about that kind of resources, we don’t have access to it. So we’re short staffed as the sustainability—as an environmental center and as a sustainability department. We are short-staffed, even though the endowment might look large. And particularly now in this COVID time, it put a pretty big dent in resources available. It’s true all across academia. So the resource front is pretty stringent. We haven’t been able to fill some positions that we have vacant, and in other departments it was worse. I mean, there were, I think, some layoffs and furloughs.
So I’m not complaining because, yes, Mount Holyoke compared to other institutions is doing pretty well. But at the same time, there are constraints when it comes to resources. And as most people here on the call might know, sustainability offices and sustainability initiatives are not exactly—people don’t think of funding them first when they think of academia. We got to go fight—we got to go fight for funds. So there’s that.
Place-based initiatives—we, being a liberal arts school—I’m going to speak from my experience, by and large. I’m going to repeat, I’m one year into my job over here. So I’m at this point, aside from the community engagement that I described, we haven’t really done any hardcore—to my knowledge, at least—place-based initiatives here at Mount Holyoke. Do we want to do more of that? Absolutely. We also have our student body—about 25 percent of our students are international students. So not that that should make it more difficult, but it does make it a little bit tricky. So I wish I could elaborate more on that, about place-based initiatives here at Mount Holyoke. But to my knowledge, we haven’t really pursed that—aside from the community engagement that I just described.
FASKIANOS: Great. So there’s a written question from Nenpomingyi Sarah Adelabu from the University of Jos in Nigeria.
And you mention your international student population. Are there any existing international sustainability collaborations and partnerships with other academic institutions outside the United States?
RAGHAVAN: Sustainability partnerships? No. Not that I know of.
FASKIANOS: OK. In the—in the Q&A there have been suggestions from Pearl Robinson, I would reach out to engineering – environmental engineering and computer sciences as well. And Pamela Waldron-Moore talks about service learning activities can help connecting students, courses, and communities. So I just throw those—want to share that with the group if people aren’t looking at the Q&A. I’m going to go to Michael Matthews, who’s director of Earth Ethics Institute at Miami Dade College.
What is your co-curricular student engagement model?
RAGHAVAN: So our co-curricular student engagement model—so we do strive to—as I mentioned earlier—to have the entire campus as a learning lab for sustainability. So along those lines, we hire a bunch of students—when resources are available; and at this time they are in short supply—to—we call them community sustainability coordinators. And we basically have them work on projects which, for example, right now I have a student who’s working on STARS, collecting STARS data for me. So we try to plug in these students on sustainability projects all across campus.
I mentioned earlier that we had a group of students that worked on a composting program in their particular residence hall. And that composting program has now been institutionalized. And so now we collect composting from all residence halls on campus. So this is—this is how—again, we do face a resource crunch when it comes to these initiatives. And hopefully over time the resource crunch becomes less constraining. But we do hire students, and we call them community sustainability ambassadors, to work on sustainability initiatives here on campus.
FASKIANOS: So environmental sustainability governance is a rapidly growing field. Can you give us a little bit of background on the sustainable investment and finance sector? And is this an issue that students are expressing an interest in?
RAGHAVAN: Sustainable investment—we haven’t really had, unlike some of the other campuses, that much of a strong push for sustainable investing, particularly from the student body, yet. Now there’s a new crop of students coming here to campus. It remains to be seen what happens after that. But we really haven’t had a strong push for sustainable investing from the student body yet. I do know that the CIO, our chief investment officer, has taken the issue of divestment very, very seriously and is working towards divesting from fossil fuels.
FASKIANOS: Are you hopeful that now, with the Biden administration, that there’ll be further advancements in the sustainability and climate change goals on a national and global level?
RAGHAVAN: Yes. I am hopeful. Certainly compared to the previous administration, I’m hopeful. Having said that the opposition at the national level to any of the Biden administration initiatives, as we know, is pretty strong. So it is imperative for all of us to be—to continue to push. It has to be relentless push, particularly when it comes to things like the Green New Deal and so on and so forth. We have to push continuously, provide support for all of the—our elected members of Congress, for pushing for initiatives like the Green New Deal. They need our support.
Not only do they need our support, we also have to be vigilant all the time. That’s the essence of democracy. So we have to be vigilant. We have to hold their feet to the fire. We have to expect them to deliver now. It’s not simply a matter of casting a vote and letting them do what they have to do. We have to push our elected officials to essentially allocate resources, first of all, and change the direction of this heavily fossil fuel-based society toward renewable energy, towards more social justice, and essentially focusing on building community. That’s what we need to focus on, as opposed to emphasizing consumption.
FASKIANOS: Than you. So I’m going to go back to a written question from Jude Jones.
What do you think is the promise of universities encouraging a circular economy approach to sustainability?
RAGHAVAN: I think it’s a very, very important initiative. I don’t necessarily think it’s new. Indigenous people used to follow it all the time. It was embedded in their lifestyle. A circular economy, given the scale of our consumption patterns now where we don’t even know where most of our stuff comes from, I would submit that it is very important as we look to embed circular economy in—our transitioning to a circular economy, localizing our economy, strengthening local purchasing, strengthening local economies. That makes it easier to employ initiatives like circular economy. But I happen to think, yes, it’s a very, very—a cradle-to-cradle kind of approach is very, very important.
And, again, I would emphasize that for this particular society, which is so heavily based on consumption, there is no alternative but to reduce consumption. Our consumption levels are pretty reckless. It’s wonton consumption. So we have to look at reduction in consumption, in addition to bringing on or promoting initiatives like a circular economy.
FASKIANOS: What would be your way to educate our society about wonton consumption? Because I mean, how would you go about doing that? I mean, it seems like we need a national campaign—education campaign to get people to better understand what they’re doing and how they’re contributing to this.
RAGHAVAN: Well, in this society suggesting reduction in consumption is a recipe for trouble, but I’ll take a stab at it. So what I’m trying to suggest—if you look at some of the indicators—some of the more recent indicators, this particular issue still continues to bedevil our society. There was this—what has been described as the increases in what are called as the diseases of despair, which is a pattern—particularly amongst middle-aged white males—where there’s an increase in opioid consumption, alcoholism, and even suicide. And this was so widespread for a point that I think between 2015 and 2019 their life expectancy dropped. So it begets the question, what is it that in the wealthiest country on the planet that you would even have diseases of despair?
I mean, there is pretty much everything you need over here. So one can conclude—of course, there’s economic inequality and so on and so forth. But they’re not really dying of starvation. They’re dying of drug overdoses. There are many other factors. But they are dying of drug overdoses, alcoholism, and even suicide. So one can conclude somewhat from this that purely having a consumption-based society, consumer society, which leads to alienation and atomization, and a breaking of community bonds or very weak community bonds, results in these kinds of diseases of despair. So the best way to tackle consumption, or reduce consumption, is to promote healthy communities, bonding with other people. Strengthening these bonds is what I would submit is the best palliative to engaging in reckless consumption, destructive consumption. Is it easy to do? No.
FASKIANOS: No. (Laughs.) So we only have a couple minute left, so I wanted to give you the opportunity to give us your—any final words. This has been a great call, wide-ranging discussion. So we appreciate it. But I want to give you a minute or so to wrap up and leave us with something—your final thoughts.
RAGHAVAN: So what usually ends up happening in these kind of talks is that I’m only getting warmed up now so, I can talk all day. So unfortunately, time is limited. But I want to thank you, Irina and CFR, for inviting me to speak here. If anyone in the audience wants to reach out and discuss, or needs more clarification, please reach out to me. I enjoy talking about this. What I would say is that academia is the best place right now to tackle issues of sustainability. We have a huge responsibility towards taking these steps of transforming the society from a consumerist culture to a healthy community.
And so—and this can only happen through interdisciplinary initiatives, moving away from silos, moving away from these exclusive departmental affiliations, and building alliances. Not just within the community but stepping outside of the ivory tower. I think the assessment of faculty now should move beyond just publications to community engagement, or participation in social movements. So faculty should be encouraged to participate in social movements and build community affiliation, as opposed to merely publishing papers. So there are many metrics that need to be changed. And like I said, I’m just getting warmed up. So if folks want to reach out, I’m happy to talk. But I appreciate being given the opportunity to speak with you folks.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. We really appreciate your taking the time to be with us, Raghu Raghavan, and sharing all your expertise and insights with us. And thanks to all of you for your questions and comments. We had many more come up in the chat, but we are out of time. So I’m sorry we couldn’t get to them.
We will be taking a programming break for the month of August, so that we can strategize for the fall. So I hope we will see you again in September for our continuing webinar series. In the meantime, I encourage you to follow us on our Twitter at @CFR_Academic and visit CFR.org and ForeignAffairs.com for more resources. I hope you all can take the next few weeks to recharge and get ready for the coming semester, which will be most likely the soonest we’ll be back on campus. And thank you for your participation over the past few months. And we look forward to continuing the conversation, and your involvement in our higher education webinar series.