The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

74° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA unveils Sustainability & Climate Action Plan, hopes to achieve carbon neutrality and more by 2040


Students, faculty and community members attended the Sustainability & Climate Action Plan kick-off event on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. Attendees were invited to hear about the plan, offer their input and participate in activities related to the plan. (Courtesy Office of Sustainability)

The University of Arizona Office of Sustainability recently announced the creation of a Sustainability & Climate Action Plan, the primary goals of which are for the university to reach zero carbon emissions by 2040 or sooner and to address the many challenges posed by the climate crisis. 

Trevor Ledbetter, the director of the UA Office of Sustainability, explained that conversations about a need for carbon neutrality have been going on for a long time, but serious discussions about the university’s strategic plans began in 2018. During this year, the university set an interim goal of reducing scope 2 emissions (emissions that a company creates when the energy it uses is produced) on the UA Tucson campus to zero by 2025, which was accomplished through the UA’s renewable energy agreement with Tucson Electric Power.

While achieving carbon neutrality is the main goal of this plan, Ledbetter also hopes for the plan to take a more holistic approach to sustainability and mitigating harmful effects of the climate crisis. 

“We also currently don’t have any formal sustainability goals beyond carbon neutrality, so part of this process will be setting institutional goals around water, around waste, around potentially teaching learning outcomes and how we integrate sustainability as a cultural value at the University of Arizona,” Ledbetter said. 

In 2021, the university began working with consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey in order to start gathering data and determining who to reach out to and how to engage the campus community for this action plan.

“We’ve been building up the engagement of the university community into the action plan over the last month, month and a half,” Ledbetter said. “We launched as a small advisory team that does include students, faculty and staff, and that will be doubling in size over the next month as we fill in working groups.”

These working groups will be established in April or May, along with an executive steering committee that will help approve different elements of the climate action plan. 

At the April 11 Sustainability & Climate Action Plan Kick-Off, Jillian Buckholz, sustainability advisor at Brailsford & Dunlavey, explained the role of these working groups throughout this process. 

“These are going to be subject matter experts, people that are really passionate about a particular topic. Those recommendations from the working groups will come up through the core team and the advisory team moving up to executive leadership for recommendation,” Buckholz said. “And then again, the Executive Steering Committee will make final decisions on what will go into the product as well. Membership on these groups specified here is still pretty fluid. There’s room for students […]. So, if you are a student, please see yourself as part of this structure too.”

Poulami Soni and Halley Hughes, the co-directors of Students for Sustainability, are the only students currently serving on the advisory team. 

Hughes is hopeful about the direction of the action plan, especially because of the diverse backgrounds of the people on the team. 

“Other people on the advisory team are employees on campus, and it’s actually really diverse in terms of how they’re choosing to involve leadership, which is what makes me hopeful,” Hughes said. “There’s not only people who are dedicated to research, there are people who are in charge of investments, in charge of athletics, in charge of housing and recreation, there are people there who do retail. So, we’re really pulling from a lot of places in the university, which is really exciting to see.”

UArizona Divest is another student group involved in conversations about the climate action plan. The group met with the Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee, as well as Ledbetter and Sabrina Helm, an associate professor of retailing and consumer sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a co-chair of the action plan, to discuss their ideas and requests for the plan.

Samantha Wetherell, a student leader of Divest, noted that the UA was doing good work in their reduction of scope 1 and 2 emissions, but made recommendations for how to reduce scope 3 emissions, which are “the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly affects in its value chain,” according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

“There is the issue of how do you reduce those, because they are the most indirect emissions. They are things like conference travel for professors or commuting time, and including in scope 3 emissions specifically, is investments,” Wetherell said. “So, we’re trying to advocate for what we think is the best way to decrease those scope 3 emissions, through divestment, through investing in socially responsible investment.”

Wetherell and other student leaders of Divest are optimistic about the future of this plan, but they believe it has the capacity to be more expansive and involve divestment as a primary goal.

Another goal of this climate action plan is “fostering a culture of environmental awareness and appreciation” in the campus community, according to the UA Office of Sustainability. 

“There has to be significant behavior change at the university,” Ledbetter said. “Change is hard, and conscious change can be harder if you’re asking people to do things differently. So it’s really important, especially on the staff/faculty side to make it as easy as possible, because we have folks who have been here 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years and doing things differently is going to be a much bigger ask for them than for a student body that turns over every [four to six] years.”

Ledbetter mentioned that, in order to make this transition as smooth as possible for these faculty members, there will be incentive structures implemented to help support this behavior change. 

In terms of educating students in the campus community, Ledbetter referenced a variety of initiatives, from teaching students how to recycle properly to taking broader action by integrating concepts like sustainability and climate action into course curriculums.

“In an ideal world, everyone who graduates from the University of Arizona, regardless of their major, understands how those concepts connect to them,” Ledbetter said. “Whether you’re in retail and consumer sciences, you understand how fast fashion and sustainability intersect. If you’re a marketing major, you understand how greenwashing impacts consumers and how companies leverage sustainability to sell a service or a product.”

Student involvement, not just in receiving education about this issue, but also having a strong voice throughout this process, remains a priority for members of the advisory team, especially Soni and Hughes.

“There are going to be a ton of opportunities for students to have say and input. There’s going to be workshops and working groups where students can bring their expertise and perspectives,” Hughes said. “It is interesting and empowering to have a student perspective sitting on an executive team to make sure those people are being held accountable to what the students bring to the table.”

The UA’s Sustainability & Climate Action Plan also places an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Divest leaders believe that a part of this inclusion must involve listening to and supporting marginalized communities throughout this process.

“You have to be conscious that maybe some students are emitting more from their transportation, why is that? Not everyone can afford an electric vehicle,” Wetherell said. “So you can put all this electric vehicle infrastructure in place, but there has to be an understanding and supporting of why certain people emit more, and have a conscious effort in that plan to support those students to make a more sustainable transition.”

Ledbetter also highlighted the importance of community involvement and engagement throughout this entire process. 

“Even if someone is coming from no background in sustainability, it is really important that we hear from those voices and to understand their perspective and where they’re coming from with regards to these topics,” Ledbetter said. “We’re really good at engaging with the people who are already a part of this world, so to speak. But we’re really trying to engage folks in as many ways as possible to meet them where they’re at.”

Hughes also believes it’s unreasonable for people to think sustainability is out of their reach.

“It is not over your head, it is not something you can’t contribute to. You 100 percent can contribute to this, and you should because it’s going to shape student experiences for a very long time,” Hughes said.

The kick-off was an example of attempts at this engagement. Students, faculty and any members of the community were invited to the kick-off meeting to ask questions, participate in activities and voice their opinions on potential solutions and strategies for this action plan.

Helm spoke about the necessity of hearing student voices at this April 11 event and in the conversations to follow. 

“The actual plan itself will be designed for an inclusive and equitable process. It’s meant to engage University of Arizona students, faculty, staff and community members, and that is one of the reasons why we invited all of you here today, because you will be asked to help us as valued members of our community,” Helm said. “Your input is really needed. And you can help us identify solutions that will help make the university a more sustainable, equitable and resilient place to learn, work and thrive together.”

Sabrina Helm, an associate professor of retailing and consumer science at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a co-chair of the Sustainability & Climate Action Plan spoke at the at the April 11 Sustainability & Climate Action Plan Kick-Off (Courtesy Office of Sustainability).
Sabrina Helm, an associate professor of retailing and consumer science at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a co-chair of the Sustainability & Climate Action Plan spoke at the at the April 11 Sustainability & Climate Action Plan Kick-Off (Courtesy Office of Sustainability).

Students are invited to fill out a campus community input survey sent out in an email by President Dr. Robert C. Robbins last week. Wetherell noted that this is a great way for students to have their voices heard and give input on what initiatives should be included in the plan. 

Those involved in the plan are aware that it is an ambitious goal, but the leadership team is confident that it can happen. 

“This plan is really aggressive, which is nice. It is ahead of most countries’ pledges and even the Paris Agreement in terms of when we want carbon neutrality to happen, which is 2040, which is insane because that’s really fast,” Hughes said. “But everyone’s really committed to that, and I think it’s an ambitious goal, but it’s something that we can complete.”

“I cannot stress enough how important that widespread support for this action is. We need to keep this momentum because our carbon emissions are increasing […]. After the pandemic, our university is on track to business as usual. Returning to business as usual is simply not an option,” Helm said at the kick-off. “We need to be bold and determined to make change, and look around the room. I am encouraged. I feel strongly that we can do it.”

Follow Sam Parker on Twitter

More to Discover
Activate Search