City of Austin, University discuss sustainability, conservation at panel

Neha Madhira

Austin businesses want to build relationships with the University and understand how important sustainability issues are to the current generation, a UT official said Tuesday at a panel.

“BASF, one of the largest chemical companies in the world has invested in our Green Labs program,” said Jim Walker, UT director of sustainability. “They are starting to invest in graduate students and undergraduate students because they know they are going to get hired and solve the problems that the old white guys who are in businesses don’t quite get yet.”

The city of Austin and University executives discussed the future of sustainability in Austin at Robert B. Rowling Hall. Sly Majid, city of Austin chief services officer, said everyone has really gravitated toward environmental issues over the last couple of decades.

“You think about the polar bear on the melting ice cap, but the roots of sustainability had more to do with thinking about the environment in terms of vulnerable populations around the world,” Majid said.

Walker said although there is an internationally recognized natural gas power plant on campus, the University will face challenges if it keeps growing.

“If there is growing on campus, a decision will happen of whether or not we expand our natural gas power plant or have a conversation with Austin Energy,” Walker said. “We’re also looking into building our own sewage plant, so we can make our own reclaimed water.”


Walker said University Housing and Dining is also a “big buying power” in terms of conservation.

“Housing and dining on campus do 30,000 meals a day out of Jester and Kinsolving,” Walker said. “We should be thinking about where we buy our red meat and what other proteins we sell. These things start to have a ripple effect on animal and human welfare.”

Claudia Calderon is a member of Creators for Cause, which promotes sustainability on campus. Nutrition senior Calderon attended the panel Tuesday and said more students should be focused on sustainability. 

“It’s so great that we have these speakers coming to talk to us,” Calderon said.

Majid said students should start with their personal definition of sustainability and bring that forward to preserve and change the environment. 

“We need to lift the thinking that sustainability somehow means you are lacking something,” Walker said. “It is shifting your thinking about whatever thing you do to why you care about it, and then
feedback is created from that.”