History of Sustainability at SJSU

Sustainability is nothing new at San Jose State University. We have a long history of balancing the "three E's"—Environmental protection and enhancement, social Equity, and Economic development—in all major aspects of the University's activities and planning.

Earth Day Pioneers

Gaylord Nelson, the principal founder of Earth Day in 1970, was an SJSU alumnus ('39). As a direct result of that first Earth Day, the Environmental Studies Department at SJSU was founded in 1971. The department was one of the first six interdisciplinary programs focused on environmental issues in the U.S.

Leaders in Climate Change Study

SJSU's Department of Meteorology and Climate Science is the only program of its kind in the California State University System. It was founded in 1960 as the Department of Meteorology and is now also a center of climate science in the region.

The Sustainability Board

In 2008-2009, the Academic Senate commissioned a campus Sustainability Task Force to review the state of sustainability at SJSU and make recommendations for moving the campus forward.  The Task Force Report recommended instituting a campus Sustainability Director and creating a standing committee to help the campus become more sustainable.  The Sustainability Board, a committee of the Academic Senate, was formed as a result.

The Talloires Declaration

In 2009, the University became a signatory to the Talloires Declaration, an international commitment to sustainability in higher education that was signed by over 360 universities in more than 40 countries. Key principles from the Declaration that have become part of our sustainability dialogue include practicing "institutional ecology," "increasing awareness of environmentally sustainable development," "creating an institutional culture of sustainability," and "educating for environmentally responsible citizenship."  

Ecological Footprint Challenge

From 2009-2011, the Sustainability Initiative, created by SJSU President Jon Whitmore, launched a number of campus-wide projects. The focal effort in 2009 was the Ecological Footprint Challenge, an online quiz for students, faculty, and staff that calculates how many acres of usable land are required to support one's lifestyle. Participants taking the quiz were challenged to join the SJSU President, Jon Whitmore, in reducing their footprint 10% over the course of the academic year. You can read some stories from challenge participants at Spartan Sustainability Stories.

Green Wave

Another hallmark program of the Sustainability Initiative was the Green Wave. Over 70 undergraduate and graduate students were trained to conduct office and residential energy efficiency audits for students, faculty, and staff living in the City of San Jose. At the end of the 2010/2011 academic year, the Green Wave completed 220 audits, with the direct result of $37,000 in electricity savings and associated greenhouse gas emission reductions annually. This program will continue on a much smaller scale in Spring 2012, run by the Department of Environmental Studies.

Strategic Plan

In Fall 2011, SJSU completed a 24-month process aimed at developing a strategic plan to strengthen, enhance and coordinate overall sustainability at the University. Contributing to this effort have been over twenty activities and documents, ranging from an Associated Students Resolution (08/09-02) supporting campus-wide sustainability efforts to the CSU Executive Order 987 Policy Statement on Energy Conservation, Sustainable Building Practices, and Physical Plant Management. A Director of Sustainability position, reporting to the University President, was created in 2009 to organize sustainability efforts at the University level. This position was a temporary position and ended in Summer 2011.

Sustainability Curriculum

For over 40 years, the Department of Environmental Studies has offered degrees and minors in sustainability. But, sustainable curriculum occurs across campus. At least 328 courses relating to or focused on sustainability are offered in 40 departments (64% of all departments). Over 20 Environmental Studies courses are cross-listed with other departments such as Communications Studies and Urban and Regional Planning. And, departments such as General Engineering and Meteorology and Climate Change offer interdisciplinary minors in sustainability fields.

Student Action

Students founded the Environmental Resource Center almost 40 years ago, which promotes sustainability on campus and in the community. Since then, students initiated Transportation Solutions, to get the campus community to take alternative transportation, the Botany Garden, and numerous sustainability-focused clubs. The Associated Students has a Director of Environmental Affairs for the campus and in 2009 passed a sustainability resolution, stating the students' resolve to move SJSU toward sustainability. 

The Future of Sustainability at SJSU

Since January 2011, the University Sustainability Board has been working on establishing University-wide sustainability goals and metrics. The mission of the Sustainability Board is to advise and make recommendations to the Academic Senate and the President in the following areas: setting and measuring progress towards meeting University-wide goals to promote sustainability across academic and non-academic divisions; and benchmarking SJSU sustainability efforts relative to state and national leaders in university sustainability.

The Board also works with appropriate units in the university as a resource for centralizing and effectively communicating information on SJSU's sustainability efforts, both internally and externally; integrating sustainability into key planning documents and procedures; and educating and engaging with campus stakeholders and external partners on sustainability through research, projects, workshops, and other events.