Sustainability and the UIUC Commitment to Sustainability

UIUC is a partner in the Sustainable Development Goals Platform. UIUC states its commitment as follows:

Sustainability has always been a priority for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2008, the campus formalized its dedication to sustainability by signing onto the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). Illinois also established the Sustainability Council and the Office of Sustainability to oversee sustainability related initiatives on the campus. The Council, chaired by the Chancellor, determines strategic priorities for the campus. The Office of Sustainability operationalizes these priorities. Through these two entities, Illinois has set its goal to become locally relevant and globally preeminent by transforming the campus into a living-learning laboratory for sustainability, while simultaneously helping societies around the world meet the challenges associated with a sustainable future. (emphasis added)

Today we know that problems concerning air and water quality, soil depletion, species loss, habitat loss, food production, poverty, hunger, or energy supply are interrelated. We understand that environmental problems are almost always linked to social conditions and economic activities. Economic, political, technological, and cultural factors drive changes in the Earth’s natural systems. And changes to those systems in turn force dramatic and sudden changes in society.

Climate change is a clear example of humanly induced change to natural systems that is in turn resulting in radical changes in human society; indeed, it represents an existential threat to human society and to much of nature. The Covid-19 pandemic is another example of a humanly induced crisis that in turn severely affects society: it does so in terms of public health, quality of life, disproportionate burdens on some vulnerable groups, governance, and global economy. In part the problem is that human activities are exceeding the Earth’s carrying capacity and compromising its ability to regenerate and this in turn has serious consequences for human society and for nature. Around the world, governments’ efforts to rebuild economic activities in the wake of the pandemic and to strengthen resilience to future challenges illustrate both the necessity, and the opportunity, to recognize the interconnected nature of the problems that need a solution.

In 2015, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs and associated 169 targets are intended to guide member states and individuals to improve the well-being of humans and nature, and to appreciate the relationships among these goals. The UN issues annual SDG reports tracking indicators of the progress toward the goals and targets, and nations are urged to apply this framework of measures to report on conditions of societies and nature within their borders.

Sustainability can serve as a guiding ideal, providing a vision of what we should be aiming for. The SDGs, while controversial in a number of respects, represent one widely agreed upon way to articulate the ideal of sustainability. The SDGs also provide a familiar shared vocabulary in which the challenging value judgments we now face regarding environmental and social sustainability can be considered and debated.

As stated in the Second Nature Climate Leadership Statement, which UIUC signed in 2016:

We … believe firmly in the power, potential, and imperative of higher education’s key role in shaping a sustainable society. Not only are we deeply concerned about the increasing pace and intensity of global climate change and the potential for unprecedented detrimental impacts, but we also understand that technology, infrastructure, global interconnectedness, and our greatest asset – engaged, committed, smart students – allow us to explore bold and innovative solutions and to lead in climate action and sustainable solutions. (emphasis added)

The aim of this SDG competition is to encourage UIUC undergraduate students to develop new ideas and to design new initiatives that will promote the Sustainability Development Goals and to support implementation of the brilliant and creative ideas our students will develop.