The Mason Sustainability Council

Purpose, Structure, and Operation

The Mason Sustainability Council (MSC) is an institution-wide initiative that will advance university sustainability outcomes through prioritization, direction, coordination, and support for synergistic sustainability efforts. These efforts will benefit from and be informed by faculty, staff, research, and student expertise, as well as best practices to further establish Mason as an institutional leader in higher-education sustainability and social and environmental justices. The MSC is a means of actualizing Mason’s commitments to sustainability and inclusive excellence, which include making Mason carbon-neutral, enabling our campuses to become living laboratories, and developing a culture of sustainability within our community. 

The MSC is co-chaired by Provost Mark Ginsberg and Senior Vice President for Administration & Finance Carol Kissal, co-coordinated by Greg Farley, the Director of the Office of Sustainability (OoS), and Leah Nichols, the Executive Director of the Institute for a Sustainable Earth (ISE), and charged with:

  • recommending, and advising on, opportunities for sustainability efforts across the University;
  • aligning the work of the MSC with Mason’s strategic priorities, goals, and mission, and coordinating MSC work with Mason’s annual operating and capital planning processes;
  • developing goals, targets, and metrics, in consultation with OoS and ISE, to guide the work of the MSC;
  • translating concepts into action in the respective departments and colleges of its members;
  • ensuring appropriate delegation of information, tasks, and resources;
  • and communicating with Mason leadership, when appropriate, to share high-impact and high-value concepts, projects, and/or findings.

The recently constituted MSC has identified the following five high-level guiding principles for sustainability (GPS) and associated action items to guide their work toward achieving these objectives. The council is seeking feedback from key stakeholders in the Mason community.

Guiding Principles for Sustainability

  1. Center social and environmental justice at the heart of Mason sustainability.
  2. Foster an engaging culture of sustainability inclusive of all members of the Mason community and fundamental to the values of our graduates.
  3. Ground all Mason decisions – operational, academic, and co-/extra-curricular – in sustainability, and ensure transparency and accountability.
  4. Mitigate our impact on the global climate and local environments, while prioritizing resilience and resource responsibility, to promote the well-being of people and the planet.
  5. Strive to be a recognized local, national, and world leader for our excellence in sustainability.

GPS-1. Center social and environmental justice at the heart of Mason sustainability.

  • Engage and educate the Mason community to ensure everyone understands that social and environmental justice are integral to sustainability.
  • Make strong connections between the MSC and the Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence (ARIE) Task Force, and other groups on campus that are working on social and environmental justice, to align and integrate efforts.
  • Enable, support, and leverage work at Mason’s institutes, research centers, and offices throughout the university on the implementation and critical study of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
  • Promote the development of minors in course curricula that are associated with the UN SDGs, inclusive of at least one course that looks at the goal from a social and environmental justice perspective.

GPS-2. Foster an engaging culture of sustainability inclusive of all members of the Mason community and fundamental to the values of our graduates.

  • Translate a social and environmental culture of justice and sustainability into Mason’s value proposition. Ensure all in the Mason community see that this is who we are as an institution. Ensure that all faculty, staff, and students have a positive impact on justice and sustainability. 
  • Keep social justice co-equal with environmental justice; work to address them simultaneously by collaborating with other Mason partners.
  • Make sustainability a visible and significant part of Mason’s infrastructure and culture.
  • Encourage and support all members of the Mason community to embrace behaviors that lead to sustainable outcomes as they live, work, or visit Mason.
  • Build sustainability through policy direction and by incentivizing and enabling the work of faculty, staff, and students.
  • Recruit and engage students in sustainability initiatives.

GPS-3. Ground all Mason decisions – operational, academic, and co-/extra-curricular – in sustainability, and ensure transparency and accountability.

  • Engage voices at Mason – including faculty, staff, and students – early and often to participate in decision-making for sustainable campuses and communities. Work with other Mason units and groups (e.g., Office of Sustainability, Institute for a Sustainable Earth, Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence Task Force, and research institutes and centers) to coordinate, leverage, and amplify collective efforts.
  • Seek out and utilize relevant Mason faculty, staff and students when research, design, or assessments are needed to achieve sustainability goals.
    • Remove barriers, provide support for, and encourage faculty to utilize Mason campuses as living laboratories for sustainability research and/or to pilot innovations.  
    • Create curriculum opportunities for students to conduct analyses and propose design solutions to address specific Mason sustainability needs and goals, including community collaboration, support and/or benefits.
  • Include in the legislative session a priority for a sustainability agenda through budgeting and planning at Mason and with the state. Develop processes to ensure that sustainability is always a part of these conversations, from the beginning and considered throughout.
  • Incorporate sustainability into all of Mason’s strategic planning – including in Mason’s Master Plan, Mason’s Strategic Plan, return-to-work plans, surveys, curriculum redesigns, co-curricular and extra-curricular programming, college and department strategic plans, etc. Work with local governments to incorporate Mason sustainability initiatives into local and regional planning (e.g., assess and address affordable housing needs in Mason’s planning processes).
  • Incorporate sustainability into the personnel process– including recruitment, hiring, pay equity, and workload expectations. 
  • Include specific sustainability requirements in contracts and budgets, such as:
    • Outline sustainability features and items in projects as budget line items, and provide funds for those items as a priority;
    • Review bidding procedures to incentivize firms through bonus points toward higher building and design standards;
    • Ensure that language in proposals and requests includes sustainability requirements and performance metrics.
  • Address purchasing policies and material purchase agreements. Assess progress and collaborate to create guidelines for sustainable procurement practices, at the institution, peer-group, and statewide levels. 
  • Integrate sustainability into Mason’s co-curricular and extracurricular planning, programming, purchasing, and activities – including Residence Life programs, athletics and Mason Rec events, campus tours, orientations, career services outreach, and university trainings. Establish sustainability principles to ensure green purchasing and zero-waste efforts at events.
  • Explore and emulate sustainability models at other leading universities and institutions.

GPS-4. Mitigate our impact on the global climate and local environments, while prioritizing resilience and resource responsibility, to promote the wellbeing of people and the planet.

  • Assess and evaluate where Mason stands in relation to peers and best practices for campus and institutional sustainability. Advance and commit to specific benchmarks. Disseminate assessment results (e.g., AASHE STARS) and implement best practice policy shifts throughout operational and academic administrative offices.
  • Develop a Climate Action Plan that commits Mason to and outlines a strategy to achieve carbon-neutrality, aiming for a nearer target date to align with peer institutions and the best available science.
  • Create green revolving funds to support various sustainability initiatives.
  • Develop policy and best practices to ensure new buildings attain higher certification levels (e.g. USGBC’s LEED Gold or Platinum, WELL Building Certified). Ensure that sustainability is part of the early planning phase for building design and construction and recognized as a priority throughout. Review bidding procedures, incentivize firms through points, and retain sustainable features. Revise Mason’s Design Manual to be more sustainable.
  • Maximize energy efficiency, increase use of renewable energy sources, and improve Mason’s physical plant to get closer to carbon neutrality goals. Incorporate energy use and savings into building design processes before construction begins. Expand energy efficiency retrofits, retro-commissioning, explore power purchase agreements (PPAs) to increase renewables as a percentage of our purchased electricity; and assess potential to eliminate natural gas as an energy source.
  • Minimize water use on all campuses. Incorporate water use and savings into planning processes. Improve storm-water management; implement water-saving technologies and circular strategies, increase wastewater and rainwater reuse, and facilitate behavioral change toward conservation.
  • Develop programs to reduce the need for commuting to, from, and between campuses and to reduce the carbon emissions of commutes. Capitalize on innovative solutions like telework, and work with local and regional governments on complex capital planning to address single-occupancy vehicle commuting and implement alternative modes of transport, including bike riding.
  • Optimize Mason’s vehicle and shuttle fleet by developing a replacement and purchasing policy with deadlines for transition to alternative vehicles, particularly electric vehicles (EVs). Pair with shuttle route optimization, and support for necessary charging infrastructure, staff training for EV maintenance, as well as fleet management and governance changes to support policy oversight and adherence.
  • Assess waste streams. Identify and support strategies to reduce and divert waste to closed loop systems to achieve zero waste. Reduce waste through purchasing and policy changes. Build up composting as a percentage of waste diversion. Ban the sale of single-use plastics and ensure more sustainable access to drinking water.
  • Develop programs to minimize the use of harmful chemicals in operations and in laboratories. Evaluate best practices and reduce herbicide, pesticide, refrigerant, and solvent use where feasible. Assess and report usage for all annually. Create green cleaning and green lab policies and guides with the help of Housekeeping staff members and researchers.
  • Assess the landscapes on Mason’s campuses and develop strategies to improve biodiversity, support the health of ecosystems, and highlight and preserve historical and cultural sites

GPS-5. Strive to be a recognized local, national, and world leader for our excellence in sustainability.

  • Ensure that sustainability is fully integrated into Mason’s identity in the upcoming brand-refresh exercise that the university will initiate spring 2021. Establish a reputation that integrates across academic, co-curricular, and operational sustainability.
  • Highlight concrete accomplishments that demonstrate our commitment to excellence in sustainability by developing a central narrative for research, teaching, and campus operations.
  • Leverage and amplify OoS and ISE’s efforts and inventories of sustainability initiatives, research, and curriculum to establish widespread internal knowledge of and unified communication about Mason sustainability.
  • Leverage OoS’s GIS map of sustainability initiatives on campus to create a virtual tour of Mason sustainability.
  • Map Mason’s sustainability mission and brand onto the federal effort to seek recognition and funding.

The Guiding Principles are current as of 4/28/21 and subject to change based upon feedback from the Mason Community.