Sustainability initiatives at the University of Houston began taking shape around September 2007 when the Burdette Keeland Jr. Design Center received the first and only sloped green roof in Houston. However, the university received a grade of “D” on the 2008 Campus Sustainability Report Card administered by the Sustainable Endowments Institute. It was evident that in order to become a sustainable campus, we had a long way to go.
The following year brought more attention to environmentally responsible practices with the implementation of tray-less dining in the dining halls, the installation of 300 outdoor recycling bins and the birth of green events on campus to get the students and UH community involved in the environmental movement. The university became a member of the Association of the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and utilized its Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) in order to develop our roadmap to a greener campus community. Then in September 2008, the Sustainability Task Force was created to lead the charge.
The Campus Community Garden was established in February 2009 as an oasis for organic growing and was moved twice due to construction. The first two gardens were in the vicinity of what’s now Lynn Eusan Park. In July 2011, the garden was moved permanently to the intersection of Cullen and Wheeler near the Cougar Woods Dining Hall.
Since 2011, the University of Houston has been designated as a top green university by The Princeton Review in its annual Guide to Green Colleges. Also in 2011, AASHE STARS rewarded UH with a silver rating.
UH Dining Services joined the sustainability movement by offering fair trade coffee at all retail locations, recycling cooking oil, buying locally grown produce, providing vegetarian meals to its residents, donating unused food, and eliminating Styrofoam in the dining halls and offering reusable to-go containers.
UH Parking and Transportation strives to educate students and faculty/staff on green commuting options, offering a car sharing program, carpools and promoting mass transit. With the city of Houston designated as the energy capital of the world, UH is doing its best to minimize carbon emissions through education.
In 2011, UH received a grant from Green Mountain Energy to install a solar array on the central power plant roof, which powers 25 percent of the office space for the central plant. Single-stream recycling was introduced in 2013, which allows for all recyclables to be dropped into the same bin and sorted after the collection process rather than by the user.
In October 2012, Cougar Woods Dining Hall opened its doors as the first LEED certified building (silver rating) at the University. The building’s unique wall of windows allows it to save energy by maximizing the use of natural light. In addition, it also is able to save up to 20 percent of water usage with its plumbing fixtures that help conserve water. The building is expected to save up to 30 percent on energy usage through its high-efficiency HVAC equipment and other strategies for reducing energy demand.
As of November 2014, UH Facilities Services has installed 70 water bottle filling stations and has saved over 1.1 million bottles from entering the waste stream. The university has installed 90 big belly solar compacting recycling and waste bins, which reduces our carbon footprint by requiring fewer trips to empty the bins and offers real time data about the current capacity in the bins.
In November 2015, the University of Houston became the first Texas insitution of higher education to receive an AASHE STARS gold rating.