Mason hosts 17 Rooms-U Summit to discuss, finalize community sustainability goals

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Kirin Emlet Furst, assistant professor of environmental engineering, is part of a group that’s focused on how George Mason University and its partners can contribute to domestic and international efforts to increase access to clean water and sanitation.

Conflict analysis and resolution major Alejandra M Rivera has been working with another group on reducing inequalities. She’s helping create a mentorship program for Mason students to help high school students better understand college and university resources, including scholarships.

Each “room” at the summit represented one of the 17 goals identified by the United Nations as global topics that need to be addressed, including food insecurity, gender equality and responsible consumption.

They’re two of the more than 180 people who participated in the 17 Rooms-U Summit in early October to discuss their projects and learn about the work being done in other groups to address issues of sustainability on a local level.

Mason’s 17 Rooms-U Initiative brought together Mason faculty, staff and students, along with community members, stakeholders and other external partners, in a virtual format to discuss sustainability goals. Earlier in the year, participants picked one of 17 topics related to sustainability upon which to concentrate. Each “room” represents one of the 17 goals identified by the United Nations as global topics that need to be addressed, including food insecurity, gender equality and responsible consumption.

“The entire 17 Rooms process has been an important way to bring together a diverse community to focus on taking action for sustainability,” said Leah Nichols, executive director for the Institute for a Sustainable Earth (ISE). “During the summit, we had all the groups think about ways to merge their ideas and then decide what they wanted to prioritize in moving forward with action plans.”

ISE and Mason’s Busines for a Better World Center worked with the Brookings Institution to help pilot their 17 Rooms protocol here at Mason. The 17 Rooms U project produced several dozen ideas, highlighting the importance of creating new partnerships, said Nichols. One idea, for example, is to create a student-led platform to repurpose clothing and apparel, furthering the goal of responsible consumption and production.

“The motivation for the 17 Rooms initiative was to create communities of action at Mason,” said Judit Ungvári, Mason 17 Rooms-U Initiative coordinator and ISE’s research and innovation officer.It gave us an opportunity to take a look at the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and then reflect about what we are doing at Mason on every level to incorporate each concept.”

Teams created in the 17 Rooms process are working on further implementing their ideas, which will be posted on ISE’s website, along with information about how individuals can help.

“What’s so inspiring about the 17 Rooms event at Mason is that the people who attended made a collective commitment to do more than attend the summit,” said Lisa Gring-Pemble, associate professor in Mason’s School of Business and co-executive director of the Business for a Better World Center. “Participants wanted to continue the work and put our goals into action.  As a result, many teams have continued to meet beyond the summit and have developed concrete action plans.”

Rivera said the summit was especially interesting because she got a chance to drop into other rooms to see the work that other groups were doing. Rivera’s room “never had a dull moment.”

“I always am either learning something or saying something productive,” said the Mason senior.

Gring-Pemble, who helped put together the 17 Rooms initiative, said they plan to continue with the various projects on sustainability and, hopefully have the summit as a regular event.

“At its core, the 17 Rooms event is emblematic of the Mason mission,” Gring-Pemble said. “If we hold the summit regularly, it will allow us to continue the momentum and include as many people as possible in helping discuss and achieve our goals.