With Drew Cutright
Program Manager, Sustainability and Building Operations
Georgia Institute of Technology

In February 2020, our strategic planning process was marching ahead, and we were planning an event for April 2020 to take a deeper dive into how Georgia Tech could best contribute to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event was structured to mirror 17 Rooms, a concept piloted by the Brookings Institution and Rockefeller Foundation to help communities surface concrete, short-term actions to advance each Sustainable Development Goal, while also stimulating connections across the goals.

Georgia Tech’s new mission statement — “developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition” — raised the immediate question of what aspects of the human condition need improving. The SDGs are a global “blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all.” They were endorsed by the United Nations and, therefore, seemed like a good starting point to guide our strategic plan. They are, on the surface, overwhelming. Zero Hunger, No Poverty, Gender Equality, and 14 other equally important, expansive goals including sub-goals — all to be achieved collectively, by the world, by 2030. But they are also actionable at the local level and invite individuals and organizations from around the world to contribute.  

In March 2020, we put the event on hold. Like so many things in the past year, its rescheduled date was “to be determined.” With Covid-19 and its challenges came discussions of how we rebuild. 17 Rooms was a path toward hope. The planning group reconvened and reimagined 17 Rooms in a virtual setting (17 Zooms): 17 small groups — comprised of Georgia Tech faculty, staff, students, and community partners — each focused on one of the goals and the actions Georgia Tech and partners could take to move their goal forward.

The virtual event was held in October 2020, and discussion built upon existing work done throughout Georgia Tech and with partners: the UN RCE Greater AtlantaUniversity Global Coalition; and numerous other research, operations, and student groups — as well as with academic projects. Discussions also focused on new innovations that could come from working together. 17 Rooms produced 56 key takeaways

From here, we worked through an extensive synthesis process, aligning with the strategic plan and grouping into themes. Now, I’m proud to share the Georgia Tech 17 Rooms Recommended Actions report that came from this process.

I hope you’ll find something in this report to inspire you. As an institution with extraordinary strengths, we have the ability and the responsibility to make a difference. These actions in this report are not all-inclusive. They are one point along a journey of bettering ourselves, our local community, and our global community.