OPINION: WSU must revamp climate action plan

Students must push for climate action; critical to future



It is all words until we have an actual plan and all we need now is to document an actual plan, take initiatives, record progress and keep pushing the limits until we get to net zero.


Did you know that the student population of WSU accounts for a little over 50% of Whitman county’s population?

It is important to recognize that we all individually and as a university contribute to the bigger climate change impacts and hence reduce our carbon footprint individually.

Carbon footprint is the amount of carbon – usually in tonnes – being emitted by an individual, an activity or an organization. 

In 2011, under President Elson S. Floyd, a Climate Action Plan was drafted at WSU. Here is the complete breakdown of all the goals and objectives set forth in that plan. 

Not a lot of us even know that WSU had a vision for a sustainable future about 10 years ago. It involved specific plans laid out to reduce our emissions by 15% of 2005 levels by 2020, 36% of 2005 levels by 2035 and 57.5% of 2005 levels by 2050. 

“Some of the goals outlined in this document are unattainable given how much the university has grown since 2005,” Jason Sampson, director of Environmental Health and Safety at WSU, said.

Stevie Fawcett, director of the Environmental Sustainability Alliance group at WSU, said they are working on revamping this CAP for the 2021-22 academic year with goals for 2030 and 2045, considering all the current improvements and modifications to WSU campuses.

“However, some of the goals from CAP 2011 are still realistic and have been implemented at WSU,” Sampson said. “[Some of the activities include] modifying operations at the steam plant, evaluation and potential connections of newer building loads to purchased electricity from Avista and smart grid, voluntary Cougar Green Fund projects and HVAC retro-commissioning.”

You can check out and participate in some of the efforts led by the sustainability program at WSU here.

For instance, the Cougar Green Fund is $5 that an individual can charge themselves when they pay their registration of classes at WSU.

Sampson said that all the money that comes in through this program goes through a commission process with the ESA and the green fund committee. This looks at certain aspects like how the project can be implemented for that amount of money and the logistics behind the long-term survival of the project because of maintenance in certain cases.

Around 20 projects have been completed over the last 10 years since this funding actually started. You can see some of the projects that have come to fruition through your contribution to CGF on the sustainability website

The sustainability program has also initiated a tenant engagement campaign at WSU to help building occupants learn strategies to reduce their energy consumption and improve their occupant experience while at work in WSU buildings. 

Coca-Cola, WSU-Athletics and the sustainability program are also hosting a zero waste challenge open to WSU students on March 3 during a men’s basketball game against Oregon State University. This contest will promote ideas for waste minimization, waste diversion and sustainability through education and outreach. 

Despite these efforts, we are still not even close to attaining some of these goals. 

“Without severe technology changes, it is very complicated to reduce to those kinds of numbers from CAP 2011,” Sampson said. “You can do some behavioral stuff and see reduction through that, but major infrastructure investment is currently the biggest problem to get to those numbers.”

The ESA at WSU, the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources and WSU Sustainability are all working together towards many objectives that help us reduce our carbon emissions.

The mission of these environmental groups at WSU has been supportive towards the reduction goals, and we, at the Daily Evergreen, greatly appreciate their efforts. 

“We really got to look at what these plans actually mean, and sometimes what looks good on paper might be pretty tricky to implement,” Sampson said. “We are working with the state to actually look at ways they can support us financially.”

I personally look forward to WSU’s revamped climate action plan for 2022 with realistic goals to reduce our environmental impacts. 

In the meantime, do not forget to read up on some of the carbon alternatives that are available to us and participate in this survey to get a better understanding of some of the climate change impacts on the Palouse.