Sustainability Master Plan Update 10.22.18

The University of Texas at Austin met important benchmarks since adopting the Sustainability Master Plan two years ago. Consistent effort by members of the campus community has led to UT Austin’s third STARS Silver rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (June 2018), and UT is on track for STARS Gold by 2020. The President’s Sustainability Steering Committee is updating the campus sustainability policy and connecting staff and faculty to sustainability decision making on campus.

A fundamental aspect of sustainability is culture change, from the institution to the individual. UT is committed to integrate sustainability into the student experience as attested by a new Living Learning Community (Housing and Dining, 2017), graduate student networking around sustainability research (Sustainability on Tap, 2017), the development of curriculum linked to sustainability (funded by the Mitchell Foundation), and a renewed interest in campus as a living lab. The launch of Plant Texas 2050 illustrates the university’s commitment to collaborative faculty research and grand challenges like large scale resiliency.

Conservation efforts continue across campus: UT met its 20% reduction in demand-side energy consumption two years early; zero waste efforts are growing with Athletics at the forefront (Green Sports Alliance Innovator of the Year, 2018); campus achieved SITESv2 Gold certification for the 16-acre Health District; and the Waller Creek Framework Plan should be finalized by the end of this year. UT surpassed 3.5 million square feet of LEED-certified green building space, and new building and purchasing standards are currently being developed for campus.

After spurring much of the sustainable change on campus with over three million distributed in awards, the Green Fund continues to be vital for launching environmental and broader sustainability projects and research. At the same time, UT is pursuing external corporate and foundation partners to diversify funding.

Any good plan—like this one—envisions goals for a desired future that seem unattainable at the moment. Several goals require ongoing conversation. Examples are defining and incorporating sustainability deeper into academic life and—building on recent successes in conservation— maintaining our focus on water conservation, energy efficiency, zero waste, and food recovery. Perhaps the biggest aspiration in this plan is cultivating civil discourse across campus around what some see as a challenge to UT’s traditional identity: the university’s role and responsibility in the classroom, lab, and machine room relative to climate change.

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