A Seed Sprouting in the Classroom: How Loyola is Taking Sustainability from the Books to the Real World


By: Natalie Bartel (Loyola Freshman) and Julia Soeder (Loyola Freshman) 

In a world plagued by the effects of climate change, Loyola University Chicago has become a light in the dark with sustainability initiatives sprouting in the classroom and spreading into the real world. 

Loyola is ahead of the game in terms of sustainability on campus, and the university is set to reach its carbon neutrality promise by 2025. With LEED-certified buildings, biodiesel-powered campus shuttles, and zero-waste sporting events, Loyola is a trailblazer when it comes to sustainability in the community. 

Although these are huge steps in the right direction for Loyola, students continue to push for improvements in other areas around campus. For example, student voices are calling out the athletic department’s partnership with Nike (a prominent fast fashion company) and are expressing difficulties they experience in reaching people outside of the School of Environmental Sustainability with their eco-friendly message. 

Education is one of the keys to getting students to think critically about sustainability and continue pushing for change, according to Brother Mark J. Mackey, an environmental sustainability lecturer and member of Loyola’s sustainability committee. 

“One of the reasons there are students who know that we could do better is because they’re getting educated on what sustainability looks like. That’s where the question is: How is it [sustainability education] changing our students’ lives? We could reach carbon neutrality by 2025, and that’s just some administrators and people pulling levers and making it happen. That might not change a single student’s life or decision making, and that would be a problem,” said Brother Mackey. 

Members of the Student Environmental Alliance (SEA) at Loyola are taking what they learn in the classroom and spreading it to the greater community. Through partnerships with the Edgewater Environmental Coalition and 350 Chicago, this student group is working to take an active role in leading Loyola towards a more sustainable future. 

SEA Co-President Brian Chiu is proud of everything the group has done while trying to bolster sustainability in and around Loyola’s campus, through projects such as Think Green and Give, which allows students to donate used items at the end of the school year. 

However, Chiu worries that these efforts may only be reaching those that are within the School of Environmental Sustainability. 

“I think SEA and the Office of Sustainability do a really good job. But it’s kind of contained within that. It’s kind of within a bubble. So if you’re not an environmental science major, or you’re on a different campus, some of these events or some of these resources might not be as accessible to you. I guess [we’re] just trying to take some of the good stuff we have, especially on this campus, and broaden it,” said Chiu. 

Brother Mackey expressed similar concerns about a bubble being formed around the School of Environmental Sustainability, but he is confident that the core education requirement of environmental science will help to push those who wouldn’t normally be exposed to sustainability realize its importance. 

“We’re about … a transformative education. That’s what Jesuit education is about. I think that we’re doing that… learning and educating, engaging and moving people’s hearts,” said Brother Mackey. 

For example, hearts in Brother Montoya’s sustainability class were moved in the fall of 2022 when watching a documentary on fast fashion. After viewing the movie, a group of students began to think critically about the hypocrisy of a Jesuit institution, which prioritizes protecting the planet, but allows their sports teams to be sponsored by Nike. 

While recognizing the problem of Loyola’s partnership, Chiu notes how Loyola has begun a positive movement forward in the fashion industry through programs such as LOOP, which is an app that was created as a clothing resale space for Loyola students. 

“It seems like it [Loyola’s partnership with Nike] is a money thing. But yeah, in terms of sustainable fashion, I think there are good things on this campus that we’re doing,” said Chiu. 

The university has plenty in store, with further plans in motion for an even more sustainable future, according to Aaron Durnbaugh, the director of sustainability at Loyola.

“We’ve got a couple of things underway. One of the things we’re doing is what’s called the decarbonization plan – really going building by building and making sure that we’re not using any fossil fuels in them, which is a long-term project. Over the summer and into next year, we’re also working on a Zero-Waste Plan… really rethinking the materials that we use and buy,” said Durnbaugh. 

Sustainability is a multifaceted issue that relies upon a constant drive for improvement. By lighting a spark within their students, Loyola hopes to continue on the road to a more sustainable future.

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