New Office of Climate and Sustainability to advance Duke Climate Commitment

<p>The Nicholas School of the Environment's Grainger Hall.</p>

The Nicholas School of the Environment's Grainger Hall.

Duke announced Oct. 13 that a new Office of Climate and Sustainability would bring together the University’s climate, energy and environmental assets to advance Duke’s Climate Commitment.

Led by Toddi Steelman, vice president and vice provost for climate and sustainability, the office is looking to connect all facets of Duke to fight the climate crisis.

“The Duke Climate Commitment is really a visionary statement of ambition of what we want our entire community to be doing,” Steelman said. “We want to create a resilient, just, energetic transition towards a more carbon-neutral future.”

She explained that the OCS is “an actual physical office with real-life people in it” that works to implement the goals of the Climate Commitment.

“If we come together and we work collectively, then we can all pull in that same direction more strategically,” Steelman said.

Connecting existing departments

The office includes the Duke Forest, the Campus Farm, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Sustainable Duke and the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability. These organizations used to be separate entities, but their missions will now be intertwined under the new office.

“Having them all underneath the [OCS] allows us to leverage the work they are already doing, to achieve the goals that we have through the Climate Commitment,” Steelman said.

According to Steelman, the Climate Commitment operates under five core missions: education, research, operations and facilities management, community engagement mission and external partnership. 

As a partner organization of the OCS, the Office of the Duke Forest will continue to lead the Duke Forest Teaching and Research Laboratory. 

“Our new connection to OCS and the other incredible units reporting to it will boost the visibility and impact of our current work portfolios, and importantly, amplify the potential for collaboration between us to accelerate progress toward Duke’s Climate Commitment goals,” Duke Forest Director Sara Childs wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

The Sarah P. Duke Gardens also hopes to expand on its existing sustainability goals through the new partnership with the OCS.

Bill LeFevre, executive director of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, hopes the partnership will “amplify [the Garden’s] ongoing efforts to operate more sustainably, demonstrate best practices and build climate consciousness and resilience in our community through our collections, interpretation and public programs.”

At the office’s inception, each partner organization discussed progress in each of the five areas.

“What the [OCS] really needs to do is to play a coordinating role, encourage collaboration and play a really strong communication role about what is already happening,” Steelman said. “... We don’t want to be redundant in what we’re doing, we want to be strategically complimentary in how we engage with others across campus.”

Student engagement

The OCS is also working to advance student engagement and connect students with climate change solutions.

“I think what we need to do is find more ways to get students more directly involved in day-to-day work that we’re doing,” Steelman said. “... Students will communicate better with their peers than anybody that we can find through our own communications.”

To make the climate space more accessible for students, the OCS will be creating a new “governance structure” that will include student leadership. 

One example of existing student involvement that Steelman mentioned was when students had approached her with nature arts, a concept where students would find ways to connect art to the outdoors. Steelman said she hopes to set up an art exchange between the Duke campuses in Durham, Kunshan and Singapore to feature nature arts. 

“I find that really inspiring and really exciting because that's nothing that we really had anything to do with,” Steelman said. “It’s people that are being inspired to take action because they know what's important and it gives them a deeper sense of purpose.”

Yasmine Kaplan | Staff Reporter

Yasmine Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and a staff reporter for the news department.


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