October 4, 2016
On Friday, a working group of students, faculty and staff from across campus unveiled UT’s first campus-wide Sustainability Master Plan.
The plan, intended to guide development in conservation, social equality and environmental education over the next 15 years, defines sustainability as development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the security of future generations.
Although individual departments at UT have been promoting sustainability for years, UT hasn’t had a campus-wide master plan focused on these issues, according to Director of Sustainability Jim Walker.
“We did a campus master plan back in 2012 which guides the future growth of the campus, and in all of those efforts, sustainability comes up,” Walker said. “What becomes apparent is we don’t have an institution-level sense of sustainability and how it integrates into the identity of the university.”
The environmental goals of the plan include making new UT buildings more energy-efficient, investing in renewable energy and restoring native species to the Waller Creek area.
“When most people think about sustainability, they think about environmental topics,” Walker said. “But we also focus on teaching and research and these kind of people-oriented aspects.”
Alyssa Halle-Schramm, the Sustainability Program coordinator, said that although environmentalism is often the main focus of sustainability, the plan also includes a social equity component. According to the plan, sustainable practices can improve individual quality of life by increasing access to affordable, healthy food and expanding commuting options.
“Some of the priority areas focus on more traditional conservation-type themes, but a lot of them focus on the experience of sustainability, what it means to the individual,” Halle-Schramm said. “We’re doing great things at this university, but haven’t gotten to capture that with a sustainability lens.”
To develop the master plan, the working group sought public input, including a campus-wide survey with over 3,000 respondents. Many of the people surveyed said they didn’t really see the connection between equity and the traditional definition of sustainability, according to Halle-Schramm.
“We really see [social equity] … as a core component of sustainability, so we wanted to make sure that it was incorporated into the plan to reflect all of the feedback that we got from people in the survey,” Halle-Schramm said. “We very much see equity as part of sustainability, but maybe we’re not great at communicating that externally.”
Genetics freshman Kelsey Moreland, who attended the symposium, said she enjoyed learning about the master plan because she’s interested in what leadership at the university is doing for sustainability.
“A lot of times [sustainability] goes against business strategies,” Moreland said. “I like to hear their perspectives on it and how they are actually being affected by what the people want. I think that the number one threat to humanity right now is that we’re destroying our habitat. It’s an issue that affects everyone, whether or not they care about it themselves.”
Walker said the plan is intended to be a living document, which the working group will review and amend periodically.
“It’s not something that becomes written in stone,” Walker said. “It becomes something that fosters a bigger discussion.”