Sustainability

Near the end of the last academic year, I received the recommendations of the Executive Vice President’s Committee to Create a Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy. I want to thank the members of the committee for an excellent report and a comprehensive, ambitious and yet realistic set of recommendations for Notre Dame. I also want to acknowledge the leadership of John Affleck-Graves, who formed and convened the committee. I urge you to read the report, which can be found on green.nd.edu. It addresses the many aspects of sustainability—energy and emissions, water use, building and construction, waste and recycling, procurement, licensing and food sourcing and education research and community outreach. The strategy does all this while recognizing economic constraints and the centrality of our work as educators and researchers, and it is grounded in the key principles of Catholic teaching.

The convening of this committee is part of Notre Dame’s effort to respond to Pope Francis’ prophetic and powerful encyclical, Laudato Si’. With gratitude to the committee and to all in our University community who have been so dedicated to addressing these critical issues, I today announce publicly that we will accept the recommendations of the committee and that Notre Dame will begin implementing the five-year plan of action that the committee recommends. 

A standing committee will be established and will meet at least once a year to review our progress on goals and consider additional steps.

Our strategy does not include a divestment by our endowment of companies that extract and sell fossil fuels, as some within and outside our campus community have urged. I understand the principled commitment and sense of urgency from which the call for divestment arises, but I do not agree with this course of action. The withdrawal of the small portion of our endowment funds that are invested in such companies—roughly 4%—would have negligible if any practical impact on these companies. More relevant, though, is that nearly all acknowledge that there is no practical plan by which we could cease using fossil fuels in the immediate future and continue the work of the University. It seems to me at least a practical inconsistency to attempt to stigmatize an industry—as proponents of divestment hope—from which, we admit, we must purchase their product to do our work. 

“… we will continue to move to more sustainable sources of energy. Notre Dame will cease burning coal altogether in four years.”

Our time, energy and resources are better directed elsewhere. First, we must as an institution strive to be better at conservation and work to inculcate in our students and every member of the community habits of conservation. There is more the University as a whole and each of us can do in this regard. Second, we will continue to move to more sustainable sources of energy. Notre Dame will cease burning coal altogether in four years. Geothermal fields are being installed in several places on campus. We are also making plans for expanded solar power, and we are working with the City of South Bend to use hydroelectric power from the South Bend dam of the St. Joseph River. Thirdly, we must continue to educate our students and ourselves about environmental matters and sustainability practices and develop individual and collective habits that sustain the environment. Finally, we will work to direct our most powerful resource, the excellent research work of you, our faculty, across the disciplines, to the many dimensions of this challenge to our common home. If Notre Dame has any lasting contribution to make in this area, I believe it will be through our central work of education and research.