Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor: In sustainability, “to stand still is to go backward”

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By our readers Kaitlyn Babcock (’15), Greta Baragar (’18), Alicia Crawford Coleman (‘12), Dustin Heiler (’12), Malory Maletic (’18), Kate Mercier (’18), Theresa Micallef (’18), David Paquet (’16) and Lindsay Propper (’11)

As Aquinas College alumni with Sustainable Business degrees and years of real-world experience developing and implementing sustainability initiatives, we were particularly interested to see Elizabeth Walztoni and Anna Schlutt’s recent article “Aquinas College questions the future of its sustainability initiatives.”  In many ways, President Quinn is correct that any sustainability initiative should be supportive of overarching organizational mission and goals, working to both promote existing values as well as add new value and opportunities for all stakeholders.

However, there were several areas which left us very concerned about the future of sustainability initiatives at Aquinas, even after the article was updated to include clarifications on some of President Quinn’s statements. It was worrisome for us to see that the President feels that practicing sustainability on campus is separable from the college’s mission. As students, we were taught that Aquinas’ focus on sustainability, both academically and operationally, is a foundational aspect of our identity and our mission. Sustainability fosters prayer by encouraging us to follow the Pope’s missive as laid out in Laudato si’; it fosters study by introducing students to complex problem-solving and contemporary global issues; it fosters service by creating a society in which our progeny can prosper; it fosters community by empowering us all to take action for the good of our common home.

President Quinn’s comment that “there aren’t too many organizations of substance that don’t have sustainability as a built-in feature of their entire organizational activity” is correct – but contrasts sharply with his assertion that Aquinas has “won the war in sustainability.” We have overwhelming evidence that humans have and continue to cause irreversible damage to the ecological systems which sustain us, and if “organizations of substance” all have sustainability initiatives, shouldn’t Aquinas continue strive to be such an organization? Defunding and removing sustainability as a keystone of Aquinas’ culture does not signal we’ve won the war – instead, it sends a message that we don’t understand a subject area which we supposedly care about, and that we are retreating from the battlefield – thus abdicating our status as a leader in the industry.

There also seemed to be little concern for the effects that these decisions can have on both potential and past students. As the first college in the United States to offer an undergraduate program in Sustainable Business, Aquinas has attracted students from all over the country to pursue a sustainability degree in a setting that practices what it preaches. This influence is only magnified when those students graduate: Aquinas has produced countless alumni who today work with companies, organizations and communities to embed and innovate around sustainability concepts. While it is surely a success that we’ve seen sustainability become a “built-in feature” for many of these organizations, the work is only just beginning to create a future where sustainability decision-makers are always welcome at the table  – not simply when it is most convenient. Our Aquinas students and graduates who are pursuing this work must have the support of our accrediting organization in order to be continually influential in our field.

Like any subject, the field of sustainability is constantly evolving. To stand still is to go backward, and to go backward sends a message of disinterest to our community as well as potential students. We applaud Aquinas for its forward-thinking strategy which gifted us an amazing educational environment and set us up for success – but whatever edge Aquinas had by starting early will be lost if there is a lack of interest and investment moving forward. The answer to staying competitive in an innovative field is to step up, not back. We cannot abandon a core part of Aquinas’ identity simply because the rest of the country is catching up to where we were twenty years ago. In the spirit of some of our most sacred teachings, we should instead go forth – and multiply.

Respectfully yours,

Kaitlyn Babcock (’15), Greta Baragar (’18), Alicia Crawford Coleman (‘12), Dustin Heiler (’12), Malory Maletic (’18), Kate Mercier (’18), Theresa Micallef (’18), David Paquet (’16), Lindsay Propper (’11)

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