The Sustainability Institute At a Glance

The Sustainability Institute At a Glance

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

When people hear ‘Sustainability Institute’ they may think of such initiatives as single-stream recycling that aims to make waste disposal so simple everyone will do it, or the energy watch challenge that has students vying to out-save their peers in energy consumption for their dorm or residence.  

But behind these moves there stands a philosophy and a plan of action that is bigger, broader, than the goals of recycling and energy use at UNH.  

Think of it this way: if energy conservation and food security are the threads, the Sustainability Institute is the tapestry.  

The Sustainability Institute was most recently known as the Sustainability Academy, which was borne from the Office of Sustainability Programs in 1997. The new name was adopted in the fall of 2012 to better reflect the evolution and broadening of its mission.  

And that mission isn’t only about being green. Or, rather, it isn’t only about what have become standard green practices such as turning down the thermostat or not tossing plastic bottles in the trash. While the Sustainability Institute collaborates with the Energy Office, Campus Planning, Dining, Purchasing, Transportation Services, Housing, and Athletics, their work in the areas of biodiversity, climate, food and culture takes place on and off campus, nationally and internationally.  

"We heard from faculty, staff, and students from across campus, and from alumni and key external partners, that our name and communications needed to better reflect not only the work we currently do, but also the new strategic directions in which UNH is going,” says Tom Kelly, chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute. “Through our collaboration with University Communications and Marketing and our cross-campus Collaborative Council and task forces, we are beginning to communicate more articulately about who we are and what we do."

The Sustainability Institute describes itself as a “cultivator, convener and champion of sustainability” on and off campus. For example, it is the backbone of campuswide task forces (the Ecosystem Task Force, the Energy Task Force, the Sustainable Food System Task Force and a forthcoming Culture and Sustainability Task Force) that make recommendations to the UNH administration and provide resources to the UNH community on sustainability.

“Our office not only facilitates the task forces or other teams that collect data to track our on-campus sustainability progress, like UNH's greenhouse gas emissions inventory or working with Dining to assess how much it spends on local food, but we also collect and then report all the data needed for UNH to showcase its sustainability leadership in ranking systems like STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System). UNH is one of only 44 campuses in North America to receive STARS Gold,” says Sara Cleaves, Sustainability Institute’s associate director.

Grants from the institute to COLA faculty have brought about courses in areas like the ecological costs of empire; revolutions and sustainability; race, gender and environmental justice; and eco-criticism, sustainability and nature. Partnering with the Museum of Art, the Sustainability Institute has co-sponsored a student image and video contest to get students thinking sustainability. For this year’s contest, students were asked to answer the question, "What Sustains Us?"

The Sustainability Research Collaborative (SRC) has the Sustainability Institute partnering with the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS), the Carsey Institute and the Environmental Research Group, providing both time and money to help the SRC raise the research capacity of UNH faculty to submit sustainability science proposals for funding.

In the energy arena, the Sustainability Institute teamed with research faculty member Cameron Wake, who is the Jospehine A. Lamprey Fellow in Climate and Sustainability, a UNH grad student, and the local non-profit Clean Air - Cool Planet in 2000-2001 to develop the Campus Carbon Calculator, which measures and analyzes greenhouse gas emission. Today thousands of campuses are using the tool.

Examples of state and regional involvement include Food Solutions New England, working to advance a sustainable New England food system; Carbon Solutions New England, striving to achieve a clean, secure energy future; and NH Farm to School, a statewide program that, among other goals, is working to enable schools to serve healthy, locally grown foods and integrate farms, food, and nutrition into their curriculum.

"This name change reflects the growing reach, capacity and impact of our endowed sustainability enterprise," says Provost John Aber. "The programs of the institute expand UNH's sustainability leadership across curriculum, operations, research and engagement. The substantial number of faculty, staff and students who participate in these programs help UNH lead the national and even international conversation about sustainability in higher education. To that end, the name change is more than just a name change. It signifies UNH's strategic investment in sustainability as we continue to provide innovative programs and lead higher education into a more sustainable future."