The University of Texas took a close look at the state of sustainability on campus during their third annual Sustainability Symposium. The event took place on Friday September 21 in the Student Activity Center on campus and was sponsored by the university’s Office of Sustainability. Jim Walker, the director of the office served as moderator for the day.
The day was divided into five sessions of speakers each of whom made a short power point presentation about their particular focus on sustainability. Each session concluded with a question and answer period providing the audience with the opportunity to obtain follow up information from the presenters.
Before the sessions officially began, the Provost, Steve Leslie, provided an overview of the various ways the University of Texas is involved in sustainability. He described the campus, which is essentially a small city, as a “living lab” with a wide variety of opportunities to promote and practice sustainable living. Academically speaking, the university offers at least 400 courses that deal with sustainability in one way or another and a Bachelor of Arts degree is currently in the works.
The first session of presenters consisted of professors who have in some way incorporated sustainability into their courses. Dr. Ming-Chung Lee teachers a Geo-Design class in the School of Architecture that uses the convergence of GIS and design to create structures that follow the contours and characteristics of the land. Professor John Doggett from the MBA program spoke of the need to partner with business. Despite what you may think of Walmart, the company is a leader in reducing waste and saving energy and has been since 2005.
Session Two provided insight into various international sustainability projects that university students are involved in. A team of students from the Meadows Fellowship, through Mountain of Hope, have spent time in Haiti helping residents with obtaining clean, fresh water and also with the process of managing micro-finance loans. Another team has helped build schools in Uganda through the use of local materials and labor. Part of the project was to help the residents learn how to sustain and maintain the structures and utilize them for income.
The next session featured speakers who are staff members involved in the day to day operation of the university. They addressed the problem of assessing energy usage on campus because, at present, individual buildings are not held accountable for what they use. Irrigation systems (including new rain harvesting systems), encouraging laboratories to become ‘greener’ and sustaining the urban forest on campus were some of the topics touched upon.
Session Four discussed the history of the campus plan and the “8 Big Ideas” that comprise the current master plan. These ideas include how to revitalize the central core of the campus, how to increase the efficiency and safety of mobility on campus, transform the Waller Creek/San Jacinto corridor and facilitate partnerships (coordinate with the city in particular).
The final group of presenters were students who are involved in various sustainability projects on campus outside of their coursework. In 2010, students voted to establish a “Green Fee” that would add $5 a semester to tuition for the purpose of funding green and sustainable projects on campus. These projects have included the retrofitting of a fountain and introducing composting at the football stadium. Another student initiative discussed was the Safe Cycling Program which was designed, as the name suggests, to promote and increase cycling safety for students and employees.
As a demonstration of the university’s commitment to sustainability, The Department of Housing and Food Services (who provided the snacks, lunch and beverages) ‘walked the walk’ through the use of compostable plates, cups (plastic and paper) and utensils. There were also bins available for separating waste. It was great to see them practice what they were preaching!
In conclusion, it was a well-organized and informative presentation that was well worth attending. Keep an eye out for next year’s symposium!