How Loyola is Addressing the Global Climate Crisis: An Interview with Aaron Durnbaugh 


By: Donna Kang (Loyola Junior)

Loyola University Chicago is 56% of the way towards reaching carbon neutrality by 2025, addressing the ongoing climate crisis.

In 2020 Loyola announced the launch of its new School of Environmental Sustainability (SES) becoming the first Jesuit University worldwide to launch a flagship School Of Environmental Sustainability. 

This school was built on the foundation of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES) in 2013. Over the past twelve years, Loyola has made investments in education, research, and action addressing the planetary environmental crisis. This began in 2002, with the start of the campus sustainability initiative lowering their environmental footprint by 50%. Since then, Loyola has committed to a climate action plan with hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as address sustainability and climate action plan in school curriculum. 

The climate action plan outlines strategies and goals that will guide the university to reduce their carbon footprint and achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. Part of that plan is that Loyola is going to track their greenhouse gas emissions every year along with upkeep the various curriculums educating students in environmental sustainability. This is in partnership with second nature, a non-profit that mobilizes a diverse array of higher education institutions to act on climate commitments and to create innovative climate solutions. 

Loyola’s Director of Sustainability, Aaron Durnbaugh claimed that “there is some tough work we need to do over the next couple of years to really make that goal of carbon neutrality by 2025.”

Within that climate, commitment are different actions that Loyola has implemented, some of those are related to curriculum, research, or events on campus. But, a lot of the action plan is related to emissions produced by the university. 

Carbon emissions are broken down into three scopes. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Scope 1 emissions are the direct greenhouse gas emissions that are controlled or owned by an organization (e.g. emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles). Scope 2 emissions are indirect greenhouse gas emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat or cooling. Although scope 2 emissions physically occur at the facility where they are generated, they are accounted for in an organization’s greenhouse gas inventory because they are a result of the organization’s energy use. Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain. 

According to Durnbaugh, Loyola is only committed to a 25% reduction in their scope 3 emissions due to the fact that is the one category that they do not have direct control over. 

“For university, it’s commuting, so how do students and employees get to campus? Do they drive? Do they take the train? Air travel is included too like when students studying abroad or faculty going to a conference to conduct their research. If our faculty chooses to do their research we can’t necessarily say no and we encourage students to study abroad because we think that’s a valuable experience.”

The highlight of the work being done by the School of Environmental Sustainability is displayed at the annual Climate Change Conference. Loyola has taken part in the Climate Change Conference since 2015, bringing together speakers and social justice leaders in order to inform and inspire the community. 

Although pressing environmental concerns drive the need for implementing sustainability at Loyola, Durnbaugh states that is not entirely the case. 

“The reason why Loyola cares about climate and sustainability is its impact on people. The people who are going to be most heavily affected by climate change are the global poor, the vulnerable communities in Chicago, but especially around the world. If we don’t address climate change as an institution we are directly being unjust towards their livelihood. We know too much about being part of the overdeveloped world to not find ways to be in solidarity with the underdeveloped world.”

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