GW Launches Bold, University-Wide Alliance for a Sustainable Future

The alliance will unite under one banner all of the university’s climate change and sustainability research, teaching and action.

November 15, 2023

Generic campus shot in Foggy Bottom

The George Washington University has announced the Alliance for a Sustainable Future, a university-wide initiative that will form a powerful strategic alliance of research institutes, academic programs, offices, organizations and individuals dedicated to the shared mission of combating climate change and promoting healthy and thriving resource systems for all.

Reporting to the Office of the Provost, the alliance will enhance GW’s many existing strong examples of climate and sustainability work by identifying and amplifying areas of collaboration, further leveraging GW’s location in the nation’s capital and increasing the community’s global impact.

“The unique combination of GW's incredible students, faculty and staff, coupled with our location in the heart of the nation's capital, enables our university to have an outsized impact on today's most pressing challenges, including climate change, environmental justice and the quest for a truly sustainable future," said President Ellen M. Granberg. "Designed to bring together experts, scholars and future leaders from across our campuses, the GW Alliance for a Sustainable Future represents a revolutionary next step in how we tackle these complex and interconnected challenges."

The alliance will be led by executive director Frank Sesno, director of strategic initiatives for the School of Media and Public Affairs and founding director of Planet Forward, which teaches, celebrates and rewards environmental storytelling by college students. An Emmy Award-winning journalist with a diverse career that includes CNN and the Associated Press, Sesno worked with Provost Christopher Alan Bracey to create the alliance.

“I am extremely excited about this opportunity,” Sesno said. “We will amplify and leverage the incredibly important work, research and learning that’s taking place at this university, we will mobilize people and resources, and we will collaborate and communicate to share our work and inspire the positive change that we need and that will define our future.”

Sesno will be supported by Donna Attanasio, managing director of the alliance. She joined GW Law in 2013 and serves as a professorial lecturer in law. Most recently, she served as assistant dean of energy law before accepting her new role in the alliance.

Within the alliance will be housed the rechartered Sustainability Research Institute, led by director of research Robert Orttung, and academic sustainability programs, including the sustainability minor. Alliance participation will be diverse and include offices, institutes and initiatives such as the Office of Sustainability, Planet Forward, the Global Food Institute and the Institute for Racial, Ethnic and Socioeconomic Equity (Equity Institute); programs such as the master of professional studies in sustainable urban planning and the Arctic Program at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies; and an array of faculty, students and staff with research, teaching and career interest in advancing the fight against climate change and promoting sustainability.

The Alliance

Frank Sesno, with his hand raised, will be executive director of the Alliance for a Sustainable Future. Donna Attanasio, managing director of the alliance, sits to the left of Sesno at a meeting of the Council of Deans. (William Atkins/GW Today) 

Alliance participation will continue to grow as alliance leadership connects with additional university partners doing work in climate change, sustainability and related areas.

 “The Alliance for a Sustainable Future is a prime example of how, through the impactful work of our scholarly community, the university advances our commitment to changing the world,” said Bracey. “Across disciplines, programs and offices, the alliance will join and leverage GW’s greatest strengths: our faculty, our teaching and our research. The university is proud to support the alliance’s work and I look forward to its many accomplishments.”

Prior to the public announcement, Sesno and Attanasio met with the Council of Deans to preview the initiative, discuss ways that the alliance will provide opportunity and support for their faculty and students as well as encourage and grow cross-disciplinary research and education, and gather feedback.

Lynn R. Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, shared her perspective about how the alliance and the public health school will enhance each other’s critical work.

“This is a huge step forward for GW in creating a platform for interdisciplinary collaboration that will address one of the most important challenges facing humanity: how to equitably meet the needs of eight billion people while sustaining a planet that is healthy and allows not only our children but our great-grandchildren to thrive,” Goldman said.

Looking ahead, the alliance plans to begin connecting with GW stakeholders to identify areas of growth and opportunity. An event for the alliance to formally celebrate its launch will be held in the spring semester.

Vidya Muthupillai, a sustainability minor, sustainability research fellow, intern in the Office of Sustainability and former correspondent for Planet Forward, believes the alliance will benefit GW students in tangible ways.

“From sustainability inside the classroom to the workplace to our lifestyles, students at GW deserve an education that encompasses all the diverse ways we see and experience sustainability,” said Muthupillai. “I'm excited to see the alliance bring those worlds together and provide the comprehensive experience and resources to empower students to not only learn about sustainability but act on it. I will be looking to the leadership of the alliance to leverage these synergies in a bold way that reflects the forward-thinking, change-driven and revolutionary mindset at GW.”

The alliance is the latest in a series of sustainability advancements by the university, including the commitment to eliminate single-use plastics and continued student efforts to make GW’s campus more sustainable.

The announcement of the alliance immediately precedes the 2024 Journalists’ Guide to Environment + Energy event, organized by the Society of Environmental Journalists and hosted by Planet Forward and GW. This event features leading environmental journalists predicting the top stories of the year ahead, with this year’s participants including David Byrne, founder of online news magazine Reasons to be Cheerful and founding member of the Talking Heads, and Shondiin Mayo, multimedia storyteller and Planet Forward Ilíiaitchik: Indigenous student correspondent. The event will be held Thursday, Nov. 16 in Lisner Auditorium.