The Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability (CEJS) at Seattle University welcomed 160 participants at its recently held 2nd biennial Just Sustainability Conference that offered an opportunity for academics and practitioners to share ideas and discuss solutions to shared sustainability challenges. Participants included faculty, staff, and students, grassroots activists and non-profit organizations, and representatives from agencies and businesses.
Seattle University’s commitment to sustainability is grounded in Jesuit values that date back more than 450 years, taking their cue from Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits who encouraged his early companions to “Find God in All Things.” Jesuits today are explicitly making sustainability a vital part of their apostolic mission.
In 2006, the Oregon Province of the Jesuits responded with a Regional Sustainable Development Plan of Action that includes “a vision of sustainable communities which hold all creation as sacred” and “a commitment to respect and care for the community of life…especially the poor and most vulnerable.”
At Seattle University, Jesuit ethos calls for reverence of the life-giving force of the natural world, to care for creation as responsible stewards of the planet, and to work for justice so that no peoples are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation. Thus, they established the President’s Committee for Sustainability, that drives the university’s Climate Action Plan and is the reason for implementing sustainable practices across campus.
Environmental justice is integrated in Seattle University’s sustainability efforts guided by the definition that no group of people – regardless of race, color, national origin, or income – should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or government programs and policies. Through the CEJS, interdisciplinary scholarship, teaching, and learning in environmental sustainability and its intersection with issues of justice are enabled. The Law School offers an environmental justice seminar, holds panel discussions, and undertakes research on the issue and the university’s urban farm donates all produce to food banks and educates low income community members on organic farming practices.
The release of Laudato si’ last year resonates in a special way with Seattle University and in the spirit of Pope Francis’ encyclical, the university is deepening its commitment to educating students as thoughtful caretakers of creation while working to reduce its carbon footprint, affirming and strengthening the university’s efforts in advancing environmental justice and sustainability.