The University of Houston has worked for a decade to foster environmentally-friendly initiatives on campus, beginning with the promotion of a campus-wide recycling program and leading to the creation of the Office of Sustainability.
The Office of Sustainability serves as a hub for UH’s sustainability efforts and works to cultivate a culture of sustainability on campus. Its initiatives range from a solar array and a campus community garden that has donated over 900 pounds of produce to local shelters to single-stream recycling, water bottle refill stations, campus events and more.
Michael Mendoza, manager of the Office of Sustainability, said the office has two distinct operations. The first is to evaluate campus sustainability by tracking greenhouse gas emissions and then advise on initiatives that reduce the university’s environmental impact by promoting positive social change and encouraging responsible economic engagement. It promotes awareness for sustainability efforts through events such as RecycleMania and Sustainability Fest.
“It has been the role of this office to be at the front of campus efforts,” Mendoza said. “We did a really great job at raising awareness and getting sustainability into the campus community. More people know about sustainability because of those efforts.”
A new initiative to increase student involvement includes a bicycle-sharing program that will launch this fall. The Office of Sustainability partnered with Houston BCycle, the city’s bicycle-sharing program.
The bicycle stations will be placed at the Student Center North, TDECU Stadium, the Fine Arts Building, Cougar Village, Welcome Center Student Garage and Metro Station and Technology Bridge. Students will be able to check out a bike on campus and return it at any station on campus or elsewhere in the city.
Mendoza said that could reduce the environmental effects of commuting, one of the biggest factors in the University’s carbon footprint.
“As a trend in higher education sustainability, more efforts are being diverted towards carbon reduction,” Mendoza said. “In our case, we are providing alternative transportation, looking at our buildings to make them more efficient and exploring renewable energy to power the campus.”
The Office of Sustainability’s efforts rely on student involvement to modify habits and positively impact the environment.
During RecycleMania, colleges across the United States and Canada compete to reduce and recycle, raising awareness of recycling.
The Office of Sustainability also hosts the annual Sustainability Fest, in celebration of Earth Day. The goal is to showcase departments involved in sustainability initiatives, including the Student Center, UH Energy, Facilities and local entities such as Urban Harvest and Keep Houston Beautiful.
The efforts paid off in 2015, with UH becoming the first Texas institution of higher education to receive a gold rating under the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The sustainability office is on a path to achieve a platinum STARS rating next.
The department takes this accomplishment as a sign to continue creating innovative campus initiatives to increase awareness of sustainability.
Other Office of Sustainability campus collaborations include a plan by UH Dining to offer zero waste dining by 2020, renovations to the community garden and starting a compost program.The office also plans to work with UH Energy to develop a day-long conference on energy and sustainability.
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