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Hope in 2023: A Letter from the Chief Sustainability Officer

For me, every January begins full of hope. A new year. A fresh start. This will be the year we accomplish our goals–the year we change the world!

Then, of course, life happens. We break new year’s resolutions, we experience hardship, we endure tragedy. It gets harder to feel hopeful.  

But hope is a funny thing. When I come close to giving it up, I remember the words of Rebecca Solnit. “Hope just means another world might be possible,” she says. She reminds me that the just and sustainable world we are working to build won’t come all at once. The process will be disappointing and triumphant, sad and joyful. To have hope means acknowledging pain and defeat while imagining what else might be possible. 

This year, the realities of climate change became more salient with each passing day. Here in the Salt Lake Valley summer temperatures reached record highs while Great Salt Lake water levels hit record lows. And yet, as we continue to grapple with unprecedented environmental and social challenges, I am inspired and encouraged to see communities and individuals—at the U and beyond—rise to meet the urgency of the moment with compassion, determination, and energy. This gives me hope.

One of my favorite tricks for maintaining hope is reflecting on how things have changed over time. Thinking back on the past year in the Sustainability Office, we awarded over $100,000 to sustainability projects through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, diverted 25,000 pounds of move-out waste from landfills, launched a program to provide bicycles to students with transportation needs, and donated 649 pounds of Edible Campus Gardens produce to help address food insecurity on campus. On the academic side, 36 courses from 13 different departments earned a sustainability attribute and $294,770 supported student and faculty sustainability research through the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s grant programs. I am profoundly grateful to all of the people across the U who made these accomplishments happen. Their work gives me hope.

Solnit continues: “Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.” In a big step forward this year, the U accelerated its target date for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from 2050 to 2040 and launched an equity-centered process to create a new Climate Change Action Plan. In many ways, this plan is an institutional manifestation of hope; it envisions the future we want while acknowledging the hard realities we face in getting there. I am most hopeful because of its focus on equity. It shows how the field of sustainability is moving toward an ethic of equity and justice. I see this change reflected not only here at the U, but also nationally in conversations about how universities respond to climate change, conduct sustainability research, engage with communities, and measure our progress. This shift gives me immense hope.

So, as we move forward into this new year together, I encourage each of you to celebrate how far we have come without forgetting how far we still must go, and to find something that gives you hope.

Kerry Case