Sustainability – It’s About Collaboration

Sophie headshotWe’re thrilled to have a guest post today from Sophie Waskow, Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator from GW’s Office of Sustainability. Sophie contributes to sustainability analysis, communications, reporting, and outreach of GW’s sustainability efforts.

It had been a while since I first read Hot, Flat and Crowded, but as I went back to review it, I was still drawn to the opening chapter – “Where Birds Don’t Fly”. My eyes immediately fell on the passage where Friedman explains the chapter name. Friedman writes that the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul was so secure that they “don’t let birds fly there.” The fortress of the consulate made it an impenetrable place, where ideas, incubation and innovation were stifled. He writes:  “…because a place where birds don’t fly is a place where people don’t mix, ideas don’t get sparked, friendships don’t get forged, stereotypes don’t get broken, collaboration doesn’t happen….”

Hot, Flat and Crowded presents a call to collective action, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the challenges facing America — you can’t separate the hot from the flat or the crowded — and how all sectors must play a role in addressing the challenges. Without collaboration and conversation, progress on sustainability is also stifled. President Knapp’s commitment to sustainability was itself a call to collective GW action and by starting the process with a cross-functional Task Force on Sustainability he encouraged innovation and conversation.

As a new member focused on stakeholder outreach of the relatively new Office of Sustainability, I am continually reminded of how collaborative the field of sustainability is. As GW moves towards becoming a leader in the field of sustainability it will only continue to be successful by working in partnership with internal and external partners. My office works closely with many on-campus groups, Facilities, Planning and Environmental Management, Student Activities, Housing, faculty, and academic departments, just to name a few, as well as external groups such as our peer universities, and the DC government.

The recent installation of the GroW Community Garden is a great example of a project that highlights collaborative approaches to sustainability. A student group, Food Justice Alliance, presented the idea of an on-campus community garden and from there the project has only grown in scope and size. When it opens on September 12th, it will be in collaboration with my office, The Office of Sustainability, as well as Facilities, Planning and Environmental Management, General Counsel, Office of Real Estate, Office of Government and Community Relations, the Foggy Bottom Community, School of Public Health, Medical School, and the Office of Community Service. Funding for the garden was secured through community members, and University events. The garden will promote the benefits of real, local, organic food and show that an urban environment can be conducive to growing food. The garden not only provides nutritious food, but also helps promote biodiversity, prevents storm water runoff, and helps to capture carbon. People have marveled at how the project has blossomed and how many people have come to be involved with it – this is what sustainability is and should be about.

The garden is not just about producing food, and sustainability is not just about recycling, or light bulbs, or being ‘green’. It provides a holistic lens through which to approach the world and decision making. It relies on innovation, and mandates collaboration. It’s about making sure that environmental, social and financial considerations are addressed in every decision, and about leaving the world a better place than we found it. I hope that birds will fly over the GroW Garden, and the GW Green Roof on the E Street building, the white roof of South Hall, and the other rooftops of GW, and see the bright future of sustainability bubbling up at GW.


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