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USC Annenberg Makes Strong Push for Sustainability

USC Annenberg Makes Strong Push for Sustainability
James Vasquez, USC Annenberg assistant dean of operations, helps the school accelerate its sustainability initiatives.

As USC makes a sweeping commitment to sustainability this year, the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism is accelerating its own greening program – a move that has the enthusiastic backing of its founders and students.

“Annenberg has been very proactive in getting organized and identifying what the opportunities are,” said Matthew Oden, who leads the university’s sustainability program. “I think they are ahead of the curve in understanding what their students want – and that they’re going to see more and more students who are focused on green issues.”

Especially among international students, sustainability is a key issue, he said.

“Those students want to see that the institution and the college they attend have embraced those same values,” Oden said.

USC students who are passionate about greening are in a unique position to campaign for it, said Lauren Whaley, a USC Annenberg specialized journalism graduate student whose study focus is science. Whaley has been active as a leader in the school’s greening initiative.

“As highly educated people in one of the most global cities in the world, we have a responsibility to participate in addressing one of the biggest challenges in the earth’s history,” Whaley said.

In January, USC trustees approved six resolutions to strengthen the university’s commitment to sustainability. The resolutions addressed issues of environmental degradation, energy conservation, water conservation, waste reduction and building construction.

USC Annenberg’s green campaign was already in motion as part of its broader strategy to re-imagine the school as a global hub for innovation and experimentation, according to dean Ernest J. Wilson III.

“We have focused our efforts on our technology and reducing our environmental footprint, even as we increase our impact in the digital media world,” Wilson said.

USC Annenberg already has seen results. Its facilities office is the only office on campus to have earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification – the highest green building ranking possible – by the USC Sustainability Office.

Like many greening initiatives, it’s the small things that add up to a big energy savings. One example is the school shaving its computer usage by programming machines to go into standby mode after half an hour and to shut off after one hour. That switch alone cut computer energy consumption by 9.8 percent after just a month.

Next on the school’s green agenda: reducing overall electricity consumption by 5 percent in 2010-2011 and winning green certification for all of its offices.

“We’re looking at sustainability in every project we roll out,” said James Vasquez, USC Annenberg assistant dean of operations.

In March, the school hosted a “Greening the Annenberg” conference, a gathering of leaders from the sister school at the University of Pennsylvania as well as the Annenberg Foundation and other Annenberg groups and centers.

Representatives shared the work that is under way, including state-of-the-art construction of a new project next to Sunnylands, the 200-acre winter home of founders Walter and Leonore Annenberg near Palm Springs.

The new project is an education center that will serve as an introduction to the history, art and architecture of Sunnylands. The center and its nine-acre desert garden will produce 100 percent of its own electricity and use no more than 20 percent of the water allotment allowed by regulators.

The conference took for granted that Annenberg groups and centers already are doing the basics when it comes to greening, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. So leaders went beyond the groundwork to delve into more sophisticated environmental initiatives – including distance technology, to take advantage of the sister schools’ common resources and to cut travel at the same time.

“There often are faculty from USC visiting us, and we’re often out here. Well, that’s a lot of flying,” Jamieson said. “That’s not good for the environment. So we’re talking about how we can teach courses in common through distance learning.”

Initiatives like that not only save money but speak to students, Oden said.

“It’s a cost-saving effort, but it’s also a translation of a value statement that students and faculty are making,” he said. “Students want to see the institution go green, and Annenberg is responding to that.”

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