Sustainability office faces possible relocation

Four years after the Office of Sustainability was created, it may be facing plans that could change its structure. Rather than remaining a campus-wide entity, the office might be relocated to the College of ACES.

By moving to ACES, the office could merge with the Environmental Change Institute to form a new research center called the Center for Environmental Sustainability.

But this idea has led to concerns from students and faculty, including Brian Deal, professor of urban planning, who said the change of location could affect the goal of the office.

“When the office is campus-wide, it is my service to the campus,” Deal said. “But when it is at ACES, it is no longer serviced to my campus community … We were arguing strongly to move the office up to the chancellor’s level, to make it neutral.”

Deal added that the location of the office is not the only issue that concerns him.

“My main problem is that there is no transparency in the decision making process; there is no campus-wide discussion of how we move forward and the things we need to do,” he said. “You have to share governance, meaning that everybody should be involved in the discussion. It might be the same decision … but we will know why the decision has been made, and we would be able to argue our points.”

The decision’s deadline has not been set, and the decision will be carefully chosen, said Pradeep Khanna, acting director at the Office of Sustainability.

Khanna, who is also the associate chancellor for public engagement, said the change of location is just one of many ideas being considered.

“There has been some discussion about how to increase the school’s effectiveness of environment-related programs on this campus,” Khanna said. “Still, no decision has been made about the future of the Office of Sustainability and whether the two should be merged.”

To provide a student voice, members of environmental groups on campus met with Chancellor Phyllis Wise on Monday and discussed the possibility of forming the new research center.

Eric Green, facilitator of the Sustainability Coalition and a graduate student, said the discussion went well and that he will be looking forward to share more thoughts on making a difference on campus.

“Members have come together to talk to the chancellor about the Office of Sustainability and (we) wanted to keep it separate from the new center they are creating,” Green said. “Whether it is alternative energy, water issues or food, there are so many things that this campus can do. To have it merged with the ECI center, it can’t be really focused on.”

Wise said she is considering organizational structures to help the University’s operational and academic work.

“I am committed to increasing all of the ways that our campus works to decrease our carbon footprint, decreases use of our natural resources, reaches the goal of the ICAP (Illinois Climate Action Plan) by 2050, and increases the awareness of our community of the importance of sustainability in everything that we do,” she said.