UT-Austin sustainability master plan achievements, goals to be announced during symposium

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Photo Credit: Alex Donovan | Daily Texan Staff

Achievements and future goals of UT’s sustainability master plan, published in 2016 to ensure sustainability efforts evolve at UT, will be revealed during a virtual Dec. 4 symposium.

The six main topics in the plan are leadership, experience and culture, opportunity and affordability, teaching and research, conservation, and partnerships. Goals listed in the master plan include integrating sustainability into the first-year experience and promoting research in sustainability fields.

Set to end in 2030, the plan’s accomplishments recognized at the 2018 symposium include the achievement of Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System Silver, the establishment of the sustainability studies major, and the establishment of the sustainability living learning community in the Whitis Court Residence Hall. The plan benchmarks itself to peer universities using the STARS system framework, UT sustainability director Jim Walker said. 

Walker said the plan received STARS Gold in April, meaning it earned 65 out of 100 points in five different achievement categories.

“What we’re going to be doing over the next semester here is really looking at the structure of the sustainability plan, the goals and the strategies, evaluating which ones we need to reconsider and which ones we need to reinforce and maybe adding new strategies,” Walker said.

Walker said the plan’s committee will focus on diversity, equity and inclusion going forward.

After looking over the STARS report, Lillian Mauldin, international relations and global studies senior and founder of Womxn for Weapons Trade Transparency, a local nonprofit which focuses on transparency of the international weapons trade, said she is disappointed UT did not report investments to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the company that manages STARS.

Mauldin said UT holds around $39 million worth of debt and equity securities in 17 different weapons manufacturing companies, according to the 2019 Deloitte audit of the UT System’s Permanent University Fund provided to The Daily Texan by Mauldin. Considering the U.S. military is one of the largest polluters in the world, Mauldin said weapon company investments should have factored into the report.

“(I) can’t help but see some of these sustainability initiatives as a bit performative and a bit of greenwashing when (UT has) so much money coming from the oil industry,” Mauldin said. 

Zoltan Nagy, a civil, architectural, and environmental engineering assistant professor, said the lack of greenhouse gas emission limitation goals demonstrates the attitude of when the plan was written in 2014. He said he is hopeful greenhouse gas emissions will be part of University efforts since the city of Austin is discussing a climate equity plan to reach zero emissions by 2050.

“This year was messed up with the effects of COVID, and this topic was put into the background, but it’s still there, and there’s no vaccine against climate change,” Nagy said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to better reflect the details about the reveal of the sustainability master plan.