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Fostering Sustainability in Higher Education: University of Texas at Arlington

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By Meghna Tare, Director of Sustainability at the University of Texas at Arlington

A growing number of institutions of higher education are channeling their efforts towards sustainability. Because our economy and society are dependent on a healthy environment, sustainability requires balancing economic success with environmental conservation and social equity, also known as the triple bottom line.

We have learned from experience that university campuses that tie together multiple areas of sustainability into a comprehensive, holistic plan or road map tend to be more successful — at getting buy-in from the community, funding various initiatives, and achieving results and recognition. UT Arlington joins a small group of leading universities worldwide that present their sustainability action plan based on the GRI Reporting Framework and its Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. Sustainability Reporting Framework enables us to measure and report our sustainability performance. By reporting transparently and with accountability, we can increase the trust that stakeholders and community have in us and achieve a competitive edge.

Within the United States, UT Arlington is one of the three universities to publish a GRI report. The full report is available for download at our website.

Sustainability Programs and Initiatives at UT Arlington

  • The organic community garden at UT Arlington, which was built in cooperation with the City of Arlington on campus, has become a public green space for families, community members, and garden enthusiasts. The University’s award-winning composting program contributes compost to the gardens.

  • The compost program annually composts 32.4 tons of food waste from on-campus dining services and off-campus coffee shops and hospitals as well as yard waste collected from campus ground crews.

  • We have a stakeholder partnership with Air North Texas committed to educating the public about air quality, carpooling and public transit, maintaining vehicles to reduce emissions, walking and bicycling, and other clean air choices. We also have stakeholder relationships with City of Arlington, Chamber of Commerce, EPA Region 6, North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG), etc. UTA is also a partner of the North Texas Municipal Sustainable Materials and Pollution Prevention Forum, a grant-funded effort dedicated to bringing together North Texas governmental and quasi-governmental organizations to share best practices, lessons learned and resources to ease the burden of developing and supporting sustainability and environmental initiatives.

  • Since 1974, UT Arlington has had an aggressive energy conservation program dedicated to staying ahead of increasing fuel and utility costs and, in doing so, reducing financial impacts and responsibly managing public funds. In 2009 and 2011, the University completed two energy performance contracts that invested $27.9 million in building retrofits, system and equipment upgrades, and upgraded energy controls. The energy savings from these measures total over $3 million annually.

  • The University has committed to pursuing LEED certification on future buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded LEED Gold certification to the College Park Center and the Engineering Research Building. This 234,000 square foot building features green and light-reflecting roofs, window designs for improved use of available light, a 28,000 gallon rain and condensate water capture and storage system for landscape irrigation, and 3.5 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy credits (RECs).

  • The Green at College Park, a 2.6-acre park on the south side of College Park Center, was one of the first three projects to be certified through the Sustainable Sites Initiative. The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) is an interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices. This four-acre park features natural habitat, restorative landscape design and storm water retention ponds.

  • The University’s car sharing program provides hourly car rentals to students, faculty, and staff. More than 750 individuals use car sharing on campus. We are exploring the possibility of offering a bike rental program on campus in 2014.

  • The North Texas Commission awarded University of Texas at Arlington the 2012 Working for Clean Air Award for Best Community Impact and 2013 award for the Best University.

Engaging students and faculty

Today, most campus sustainability initiatives are comprised of cost savings from the use of long-lasting CFL bulbs or double-paned windows. But economic benefit is not the only force driving sustainability at UT Arlington. We tap into the “moral imperative,” based on the concept that everything is part of the puzzle. Our educational programs, comprehensive research and community service help to cultivate the holistic systems thinking that sustainability requires. As a member of American Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), we support and contribute to AASHE’s goal to “ help students understand the interaction between social, environmental, and economic forces, and to apply that understanding to real-world problems.”

As a part of the University Sustainability Committee, the Curriculum, Research, and Community Engagement (CRCE) work group promotes sustainability as an intellectual focus in the University’s academic affairs and is dedicated to integrating sustainability themes across all academic disciplines such as architecture, business, liberal arts, science, and engineering. Key approaches include curriculum development and enhancement, faculty development, promotion of sustainability-related research, and community engagement. The group encourages faculty, students, and others in the University and beyond to develop a deeper understanding of sustainability issues and how they apply within various fields of study.

Leading by example

This summary of Transformations: Sustainability on Campus and Beyond, highlights the progress we are making through the individual and joint efforts of administration, faculty, staff, and students—and through partnerships with communities, businesses, government, and higher education. Students attending a university that places high value on sustainable operations are more likely to take this mindset to their future places of employment where they can help shape the future of environmentally-friendly companies. We hope that our leadership will serve as an example for other educational institutions.

Meghna is the Director of Sustainability for University of Texas at Arlington. She has initiated and spearheaded many successful cross-functional sustainability projects related to policy implementation, buildings and development, green procurement, transportation, employee engagement, waste management, and carbon management. She is also an MBA Candidate at the Presidio Graduate School. She has a sunny and positive attitude about life and all of its adventures. She enjoys traveling, hiking, reading, and building relationships with friends and co-workers.  http://www.linkedin.com/in/meghnatare  Contact: mtare@uta.edu

[image credit: eppujensen: Flickr cc]

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