Office of Inclusive Excellence

Inclusive Sustainability at CSUMB

May 11, 2023

When I first started working at CSUMB, I was given a framed copy of the founding vision statement. Multiple people from across campus also told me that sustainability was part of the original vision of the campus. As Sustainability Director, this was encouraging to hear. However, when I read the founding vision statement kindly placed in my office, I noticed that despite the inspirational and ambitious statement, neither sustainability nor anything similar was actually included. Other than a specialty cluster area in the sciences, there was nothing about operational sustainability or stewardship of place. Though it would have been helpful if it was specifically laid out (as it was at the campus I was coming from, UCSC), the missing statement didn’t disappoint me. Everything that was included provided a generous opportunity to connect sustainability. Most notably to me was the clear articulation of CSUMB’s service to the regional population, first generation and low-income students, as well as significant parts of the final paragraph:

  • Our graduates will have an understanding of interdependence and global competence,
  • Graduates will also have critical thinking abilities to be productive citizens, and the social responsibility and skills to be community builders,
  • CSUMB will dynamically link the past, present, and future by responding to historical and changing conditions, 
  • We will meet critical state and regional needs, and to provide California with responsible and creative leadership for the global 21st century. 

All of these are necessary if we are to address what I see as the two most pressing issues facing our collective future: climate change and social injustice.

One of the reasons I was drawn to working at CSUMB was because it seemed more “real.” In the students it served and the work it did, it wasn’t an ivory tower. It was responsive to the community, served a general underserved student population and was a place I could have a deeper impact. It was also a place that I could potentially broaden the historic definition of sustainability to be more inclusive.  

Not unlike many areas of our historical and current society, the environmental field is steeped in racism. It is something that I will forever grapple with as a professional in this field, especially as a white female professional in this field. Ninety-four percent of sustainability directors in higher education are white and 64% are women, though males continue to have higher salaries over their female counterparts at .85 cents to the dollar (AASHE, 2020).  So why is the intersection of racism, injustice, environmentalism and sustainability uniquely important?

  1. Black, Indigenous, Latinx, low-income communities are more likely to be impacted, and more severely impacted, by climate change. We know these same populations also have higher levels of concern and interest in responding to climate change and sustainability issues.
  2. High polluting industries are more likely to be located in communities with populations of BIPOC, low-income people while tree coverage and access to nature is much lower for these same communities.

Looking closer, within higher education institutions we see the integration of social justice, inclusion and equity pose similar challenges and opportunities as the field of sustainability. For example, they both

  1. Require and inspire individual (students, faculty, staff and administration) actions and responsibilities,
  2. Need operational integration,
  3. Are strengthened by academic partnerships,
  4. Require adaptive and technical change,
  5. Are often perceived as additional work,
  6. Are critically important to students and students often actively look to find ways to engage with the campus in each area.

In response, in my role a sustainability director, I have begun shifting the paradigm from sustainability and climate action to “inclusive sustainability.”  For example, when the Campus Sustainability Plan was developed to be an Inclusive Sustainability Plan, changing the term and language used helped shift the overall thinking of sustainability as a “technical, expert-oriented activity focused on aspects such as built environment, climate, energy, food and water, to more of a concern with inclusive sustainability, which centers on issues of power dynamics, difference, and ethical considerations” (Lu et. al, 2017).

Work in these areas and accepting them as interconnected are of great strategic interest to our campus. Education prepares future generations to respond to the needs of society. Society often moves faster than bureaucracy; all the more reason that, as a campus, we must remain relevant, responsive and nimble.  One section of the Inclusive Sustainability Plan connects directly with the founding vision statement and the current vision statement: 

Upon graduating all students should be able to answer the following questions: “How does my major or future profession contribute to environmental and social justice problems” and “How does my major or future profession contribute to environmental and social justice solutions?”

Our students should be able to answer these, but so should we as staff and faculty be able to answer these questions. How are we contributing in these challenges and solutions in our day-to-day work to support the University?


Lacey Raak 
Sustainability Director


Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) (2020). Salaries & status of sustainability professionals in higher education.

Lu, F., Hernandez, R., Renteria, A., Kim, N., Erickson, E., Sher, A. & O’Connor, L. (2017). Inclusive sustainability: Environmental justice in higher education. In W. Leal Filho et al. (Eds.), Handbook of sustainability and social science research (pp. 63-81). Springer International Publishing.