Hey Curious Campus: What is UT doing to promote sustainability on campus? How can students get involved?

Megan Shen

Students at UT are more than familiar with tabling on Speedway. However with Earth Day just around the corner, this week’s tabling seems to have a focus on eco-friendliness and sustainability. 

So, when one of our readers asked us, “What is UT doing to promote sustainability on campus, and how can students get involved?” we looked into it as part of Curious Campus, our series where we answer reader-submitted questions every week. 

In 2015, the Office of Sustainability conducted a survey that showed a majority of UT students, faculty and staff wanted sustainability to be a high priority, but interest in sustainability on campus may have started long before then. Director of sustainability Jim Walker said that the Office of Sustainability was formed in 2009 as a result of student interest. 

“The University of Texas realized that students were starting to pay a whole lot more attention to sustainability — not just in the classroom but on campus,” Walker said. “We try to do things that will appeal campuswide or to students from multiple colleges, as well as staff and faculty, so we see ourselves as serving the institution, not one particular college.”

Kristin Phillips, communications and events coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, said that one area that the University has made a lot of progress in is energy management.

“They’re optimizing individual buildings, so they’re finding out ways to reduce energy use.” Phillips said. “I believe the energy optimization team lowered UT’s energy use by 20% just fiddling with intakes of the air conditioning systems.”

So how can students get involved?

Walker said that one way students can contribute is through participating in the Green Fund, the University’s annual competitive grant program which funds sustainability-related projects and initiatives.

“There’s been a lot of student-initiated changes on campus using Green Fund money (by) working with landscaping or working with Housing and Dining … so it’s really kind of cool,” Phillips added. 

The Campus Environmental Center, one of the oldest environmental organizations on campus, is another way students can help make UT more sustainable. The center’s director Avery McKitrick said that the it is a nursery, or incubator, for green ideas and projects. 

“There’s always a student or two students or three or however many, and they come to us and say ‘Hey, look at all this waste that, for example, the dorms are producing, someone should probably do something about that,’” environmental science sophomore McKitrick said. “If our organization is able to take them on … we provide them with resources and connections and a network to build off of. The idea is that it’s a nursery, and eventually this project will be taken up by a UT institution.” 

Overall, McKitrick said that it’s all people about educating themselves. She encouraged people to attend a general meeting at the center.

“When you’re trying to get involved with sustainability, there’s a lot you don’t know, and you don’t know that you don’t know,” McKitrick said. “There are a lot of resources on campus, but if you just really don’t even know how to find those events, come to (the center’s) Campfire … we’ll show you the ropes.”