Sustainable Stories: University of Houston

EDITOR’S NOTE: We want to learn how other companies approach sustainability, so we’ve decided to publish a series of posts featuring innovative companies who are doing their part to support our planet. See below to read a guest blog from Sarah Minette Kelly, Sustainability Program Manager at the University of Houston’s Office of Sustainability. UH is also a Green Mountain EnergyTM Sun ClubTM recipient. Learn more.

What’s the name of your organization and what’s your organization’s mission?
With the goal of improving campus life and the natural environment, the University of Houston Office of Sustainability serves as the hub for UH sustainability efforts by fostering collaboration among sustainability-related groups on campus and in the Greater Houston region. The Office of Sustainability is dedicated to educating the campus and community about social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to the quality of life for today’s society and generations to come.

Please explain your organization’s sustainability efforts and goals.
On-campus initiatives include a campus community garden, single-stream recycling, tray-less dining, water bottle refill stations, a Sun Club solar array, educational events, car sharing and commuter clubs. The Cougar Woods dining hall is LEED silver certified and the Keeland Design Center features the only sloped green roof in Houston. We strive to influence individuals to incorporate sustainability into their regular actions and personal mindsets, improve the campus experience, and contribute to the global sustainability conversation.

Why is sustainability important to your organization, and how do your employees and/or students participate?
Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston, said it best: “The University of Houston continues our commitment of nurturing a living and learning environment by practicing sustainability in all areas of campus operations. As a major research institution, it is also part of our charge to train the future leaders of the world to recognize the importance of using resources efficiently, educate our community about sustainable practices, and develop research ideas which will meet today’s needs without compromising those of future generations.”

The UH community attends educational events promoting sustainability in the fall and spring semesters. We also have a sustainability task force comprised of faculty, staff and students, which is charged with developing and implementing policies and practices that create a campus culture of sustainability.

What advice would you give other companies/organizations who are trying to get their sustainability initiatives off the ground?
Start with one initiative, like recycling, that people are already familiar with. Think about the educational component when implementing your new program, like descriptive signage, correspondence, promotion and outreach. Be sure your employees are aware of the program, and create incentives to participate – perhaps a recycling competition among floors. Make it fun, but ensure that employees or stakeholders understand the positive impact of the program and how they can incorporate the behaviors outside of work.

Which ways can people support your organization and where can they learn more?
Members of the UH community are encouraged to attend all of our events throughout the academic year. We encourage alumni, visitors, faculty, staff and students to send suggestions to improve sustainability on campus and to volunteer with the office. Email us at sustainability@uh.edu, follow us on Facebook and Twitter and learn more at www.uh.edu/sustainability.

What impact has the solar array donated by the Sun Club had for UH since its installation?
Since April 2012, UH has saved 53.55 MW, which translates to about $4,200 in savings. The offset is about 5.44 tons of CO2 or 372 trees. The University launched the Green Mountain Energy Company Solar Internship program, which funded one student to track the solar array’s performance, update the Green Mountain Energy Solar Array webpage and execute one on-campus educational event. Currently, the solar array data and website is updated by students in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program who apply calculations learned in their curriculum to the real time data, which demonstrates how well theory describes reality.

How did the solar array help earn your inclusion in The Princeton Review?
The solar array demonstrates the University’s commitment to reducing our carbon footprint and is one example of how we’re changing energy use on campus to minimize our impact. The Princeton Review looks at all aspects of campus sustainability from academics to campus infrastructure, and the solar array donation from Green Mountain Energy significantly enhances sustainability efforts at UH.

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