By Sudha Kamath
Strengthening President Ángel Cabrera’s declaration that George Mason University’s pursuit of sustainability goals is a central feature of its commitment to being a university for the world, George Mason has become the first university in Virginia to achieve a Gold Rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
“The Gold Rating is a testament to the efforts put forth to improve our sustainability policies, academics, research, engagement and operations,” says Cabrera.
In 2011, Mason was one of only two universities in Virginia to earn the Silver Rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS). What pushed Mason over the top to achieve the Gold Rating? Margaret Lo, director of Mason’s Office of Sustainability, credits the Mason community with making the difference.
“Mason is a microcosm of the world,” says Lo. “It offers an opportunity for students and faculty to work on solutions to global issues and implement them at Mason to benefit the world.”
She offers several examples. Lo reports that Mason:
- Uses the campus as a “living laboratory” for sustainability research on issues such as energy, water, landscaping, recycling, waste minimization and transportation.
- Hosts the Sustainability Learning Living Community, the Green Patriots (student group and faculty and staff group) and the Sustain the Sustainer Retreat to build students’ well-being and resilience.
- Plants the Innovation Food Forest.
- Offers a new academic vision for sustainability: courses (including certification in permaculture design), degrees and continuing education programs.
- Partners with the local community.
- Promotes diversity and affordability in sustainability.
- Hosts an annual Green Job Networking Fair—led by the Office of Sustainability and the Division of University Life’s University Career Services—to help students not only secure a job, but also to “find a purpose” in a sustainability career.
Senior Roger LeBlanc is all about sustainability and has found many outlets for his interest at Mason. The environmental sustainability studies major in New Century College is serving his second year as a resident advisor in the Sustainability Living Learning Community. LeBlanc joined the Green Patriots when he arrived at Mason, and he has been interning at the Office of Sustainability on Green Office Certification for almost two years.
“Climate change is going to have a profound effect on all our adult lives, so I strongly believe that every student who graduates from college should gain some understanding about it,” he says. “Having green spaces and a strong sustainability community at Mason goes a long way for connecting students to environmental solutions.”
Carrie Grabo has been the Department of History and Art History’s green liaison to the Office of Sustainability for almost four years. “I’m not surprised that Mason would receive recognition for its sustainability efforts given the dedication and hard work of the Office of Sustainability’s staff and student workers,” she says. “It’s an enormous job shouldered by a small unit, but they do such a good job of inspiring the rest of us to get involved.”