Vision 2030’s Focus on Climate Action: How Faculty Roles and College Governance are Critical to Building Momentum and Implementation

Mt. San Antonio College
San Diego Miramar College
San Diego Mesa College
ASCCC North Representative

The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges but should not be seen as the endorsement of any position or practice by the ASCCC.

Environmental justice, sustainability, and climate action are components of the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Vision 2030. All are important topics to embed in education, as future generations must understand how scientific, economic, political, and social decisions can have impacts on humans. In previous Rostrum articles, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) has highlighted statewide efforts surrounding career education in disciplines related to sustainability (Crump, 2011), how to embed sustainability into curriculum (Smith, 2011) and senate discussions (Beaulieu, 2009), and how the ASCCC has promoted sustainability (Adams, 2010). In more recent years, California community colleges have continued to develop efforts and programs regarding environmental justice, sustainability, and climate action.

Central to discussions around equity are the economic, social, and environmental effects on disproportionately impacted communities both in California and globally. Climate change and climate action have been matters of concern for decades, and most of the discussions have centered around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. The concept of sustainability followed, including economic, social, and political components into climate action. Though the idea of environmental justice is not new (Environmental Protection Agency, 2024), recently more attention is being paid to efforts focusing on the concept, which considers how the actions and decisions of the economically and educationally privileged can have impacts on underprivileged populations. Thus, climate action, sustainability, and environmental justice have an interdisciplinary focus.

Environmental Justice and Sustainability in Curriculum

In California’s higher education systems, sustainability programs have been on the rise. The California State University and University of California have developed baccalaureate and graduate programs in sustainability, environmental science, environmental policy, and other related disciplines. Among the community colleges, a number of programs exist or are being developed; for example, San Diego City, Mesa, and Miramar Colleges each have their own associate degrees in sustainability. These degrees offer different levels of focus in the physical sciences, philosophy, and the humanities. Each program offers students the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning. San Diego City College also offers an associate degree in sustainable urban agriculture as well as a certificate in organic gardening for the culinary arts taught on the campus’ fruit and vegetable farm. Certificates in sustainability are available at each college as well, with San Diego City offering stackable certificates in Fall 2025.

In addition to these programs, each college offers a variety of courses with a sustainability focus, including Environmental Ethics, Economics of the Environment, Plants and People, Issues in Environmental Science & Sustainability, Weather and Climate, Globalization and Social Change, Sustainable Urban Agricultural Practice, Sustainable Art and Design, and Introduction to Peace Studies. A number of geography courses provide a strong sustainability and environmental and social justice focus, and sustainability is infused throughout the art curriculum as well. Most of these courses and programs are transferable or qualify for general education credit. [1] The colleges have also been collaborating across the district to provide educational and interactive events throughout the week surrounding Earth Day, including an environmental justice summit and a social justice conference.

Demonstrating an Institutional Commitment to Sustainability

Mt. San Antonio College made a strong commitment to sustainability with its first Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2018, for which the campus received several awards, including the California Community Colleges Board of Governors 2018 Sustainability Award, the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference Award for Faculty-Led Collaborative Climate Action Planning in 2019, and the U.S. Green Building Council Award, San Diego Chapter in 2020. Mt. SAC’s CAP differed from traditional CAPs, which focus on a campus’ carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions, through its additional focus on curriculum implementation, professional development, community outreach, and student engagement.

Institutional commitment to sustainability is crucial and can be demonstrated in many ways. At Mt. SAC, sustainability is infused into the college mission, vision, and core values as well as the work of all academic senate committees and councils. Financial commitment to support implementing the goals of the CAP is another critical component. Mt. SAC now has a sustainability director within facilities and planning and a sustainability coordinator, which is a faculty member appointed by the academic senate who receives some release time. Strong collaboration between these two roles has been essential and beneficial in integrating sustainability across campus. One of the responsibilities of the sustainability coordinator is to offer professional development for faculty seeking to infuse sustainability into their courses. Using the seventeen United Nations supported sustainable development goals as a guide for this training has allowed more faculty to apply sustainability to their work with students beyond topics such as climate change. Mt. SAC faculty from most campus divisions, including noncredit, are now teaching about sustainability and increasingly focusing on topics surrounding environmental and social justice.

Courses with embedded sustainability elements are designated with a leaf symbol in the schedule of classes, allowing students to seek out these courses. Future goals include offering sustainability certificate and degree programs to help students be prepared for the many evolving jobs in the green and blue economies and expanding the student sustainability internship program.

Advocating for Increased Commitment to Sustainable Practices

Over the last fifteen years, while board policy in the San Diego Community College District has broadly supported environmental sustainability, the appearance of this topic in administrative actions, faculty governance, and student clubs has been varied and intermittent. A district sustainability committee was resuscitated in 2019 and facilitated crucial collaboration across district colleges. At San Diego Mesa College in particular, 2020 was a turning point when students from the campus environment club, TerraMesa, insisted that the re-write of the college’s strategic plan, Mesa2030, include an acknowledgment of the climate crisis and the looming disproportionate impact it would have on students. This action was a wake-up call, and the college has been working since then to develop and implement a climate action plan as called for in Mesa2030.

Mesa College’s Environmental Sustainability Committee—a faculty governance body—was tasked with collaborating with campus coinstituencies to develop the plan. The committee attempts to learn from the environmental justice movement: power will let the worst effects fall on those least able to resist, unless colleges try to get ahead of the unfolding disaster. As Ibram X. Kendi (2019, p.20) wrote in How to Be an Anti-Racist, “Do-nothing climate policy is racist policy.”  
The framework for Mesa College’s CAP turned to the criteria included in the Sustainability Tracking and Reporting System (STARS) developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. As the name suggests, the criteria are tailored to measure items like the inclusion of sustainability in coursework across the campus and opportunities for students to engage in sustainability research as well as more standard items like the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the campus. The college also looked to the goals set out in the Sustainability Framework approved by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors in 2021 and to the goals specified in San Diego’s Climate Action Plan. The Mesa plan is intended to be data-driven, but with little data about or control over the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the physical plant, the college turned its attention to curriculum, education, outreach, and student life. Like Mt SAC, Mesa awarded leaf symbols to courses in the college schedule but used the definition of sustainability-focused or sustainability-inclusive courses in STARS to identify these courses.

Mesa college also surveyed the campus to measure important factors like knowledge about climate change and the average time it takes for students who ride the bus to get to campus. While the CAP continues to take shape in the background, faculty and students have been building a culture of sustainability across campus, such as working at the Mesa Garden and building the Sustainable Food Futures Program, embracing the Mesa Green Pledge, presenting research about sustainability at the annual Mesa College Research Conference, surveying and protecting diversity in the local canyons with the Mesa Woodland Trail, taking a delegation of students and faculty from Mesa and San Diego City Colleges to an event at West Los Angeles College's Center for Climate Change Education, hosting Earth Day events, and celebrating bus and bike riders during October Campus Sustainability Month. [2] Finally, in 2023, data needed for the facilities aspect of the CAP was gathered and presented by the district as part of an effort to build support for a voter-approved city bond measure.

As academic senates envision their roles in promoting environmental justice, they should consider how existing efforts to embed equity into curriculum can be complementary to including environmental justice into the discussions. They should look at college governance structures and seek ways to work with administration to promote sustainable practices while supporting student success, learning, and community health, and they can explore professional development opportunities such as attending climate summits sponsored by the Foundation for California Community Colleges. Future efforts towards promoting sustainability and environmental justice may be highlighted in future Rostrum articles.


Adams, J. (2010, December). How Green Is the Senate? Senate Rostrum.

Beaulieu, D. (2009, May). Sustainability and the Academic Senate. Senate Rostrum.

Crump, D. (2011, March). Green Jobs to Fit that Sustainability Curriculum. Senate Rostrum.

Environmental Protection Agency. (2024, January 11). Environmental Justice.

Kendi, I. (2019). How to Be an Anti-Racist. One World.

Smith, B. (2011, March). Sustaining Sustainability: A Role for Curriculum. Senate Rostrum.

1.  San Diego Community College District credit courses and programs.

2.  One may learn more about San Diego Mesa College’s Ecomesa effort.