This year and for the last five years, the University of Connecticut ranked as one of the top 10 “greenest universities” in the country, according an annual Sierra Club ranking. With the title, the Office of Environmental Policy is planning to target student engagement and awareness, Director Rich Miller said.
Among the initiatives this year, he said OEP plans to expand EcoMadness, organize a trip to the COP22 climate change summit in Morocco and increase faculty involvement in sustainability and environmental awareness.
“The ranking shows consistency and strength of programs across the board,” Miller said. “It’s even more to our credit that we’ve been able to accomplish this.”
The ranking, he said, is different from others because it compares all public schools, regardless of size and resources. He compared UConn with the greenest university in the country, The College of the Atlantic, which has just 350 students and specializes in ecological studies. The only other school besides UConn that has ended up in the top 10 for five consecutive years is the University of California, Irvine.
“I think we’re very strong with water,” Miller said, citing reasons why UConn has put such an importance on being green and emphasizing the extent to which the university recycles water to prevent unnecessary extraction from wells. “Green building is also a strength."
In 2007, Miller said UConn was one of the first universities in the world that decided to create a LEAD Silver standard for building. LEAD is a certification given based on sustainable building design. This past summer, UConn’s Board of Trustees approved LEAD Gold as the new standard for building, a step above the previous standard.
“New construction will be meeting those requirements,” Miller said, referring to LEAD Gold.
Student and faculty engagement is also been a big emphasis, Miller said, especially for upcoming semesters.
“We have EcoMadness going on,” Sarah Munro, a sustainability program coordinator in the Office of Environmental Policy said. “This a friendly competition between students in dorms to see who can reduce energy and water usage.”
Miller said that the competition is aimed at institutionalizing environmentally friendly behavior in the student body.
This semester, Munro said, there will be a greater number of EcoCaptains, who are students in dorms that take on environmental leadership roles to promote reductions in energy and water. Last year, there were 15 EcoCaptains across campus.
“We will be reaching out to students living in dorms within the next two weeks,” Munro said.
The Office of Environmental Policy and the Office of Engagement started and are planning to grow the Green Campus Academic Network (GCAN) at UConn, which aims to get faculty involved in environmental initiatives and outreach.
“The idea there is to reach out to some of the newer faculty on campus and engage them in sustainability efforts,” Miller said. “We want to encourage them to bring students into it through class projects, guest lectures, undergraduate research that is done as demonstrations on campus. It’s a living laboratory concept.”
Even as all of these plans are unfolding, Munro said she is most excited about COP22, the 22nd United Nations session of world powers meeting to talk about climate change and ways of addressing it. Last year, UConn brought 12 students and four faculty members to Paris for historic climate change talks between the most powerful countries in the world. This year, the plan is to take 10 students to COP22.
Diler Haji is a staff writer for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.