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Presidential Award of Excellence


Tom Kelly

University Office
of Sustainability


“In a sustainable community, everything is curriculum and everyone's an educator.”

Tom Kelly is the University of New Hampshire 's first and only director of sustainability. To hear him tell the story of his arrival in Durham , he just happened into the role in 1997 when he was asked by UNH folks to assist with the job description. He jokingly said he might be interested if they moved forward with the position.

Well, move forward they did and Tom's been orchestrating the effort now for ten years. You might call him the maestro of all things sustainable.

Those who work with Tom nod knowingly when they hear the comparison. Before taking on the sustainability challenge, Tom had been preparing for a life in music with degrees in composition and operatic conducting from Berklee School of Music and the Boston Conservatory of Music. When he questioned his life's path, he changed direction with master's and doctoral degrees in international relations from the Fletcher School at Tufts and extensive field work in Latin America.

Those on the front lines also laugh at any notion of happenstance regarding Tom's work with sustainability. That UNH is one of the nation's most sustainable universities is no accident. You might call the decade-long effort Dr. Kelly's Opus.

On any given day, you can find Tom standing at his desk in Nesmith Hall. In truth, he's nurturing a bad back. But, it's easy to imagine him in white tie and tails and he does wave his pen around as if it were a baton.

Today, he's the CSO or chief sustainability officer. This summer's change in title and move to the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President are testament to the success of his and many colleagues' effort and the increasing importance of sustainability both here at UNH and worldwide.

Tom and his colleagues in sustainability integrate the principles and practices of sustainability throughout the University's CORE - curriculum, operations, research, and engagement - working with local, state, regional, national, and international partners to build and model a sustainable learning community.

Tom has helped to develop courses and programs of study as well as policies encompassing transportation and public art; he serves on many graduate thesis committees and teaches in the Master of Public Health program. He's been instrumental in developing UNH's greenhouse gas emissions inventory and Energy Task Force and worked to make our organic dairy a reality. Tom is a member of the NH Energy Policy Commission and the Advisory Committee of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

This is but a small sampling of what Tom has been engaged in these past ten years. In the future, Tom will play a key role in strategic, university-wide projects like Carbon Solutions New England 2020 - a long-term initiative to build a clean energy future for the state and the region.

When Tom arrived in Durham , he was firm in his belief that it would be a good ten years before UNH reached the first plateau in its sustainability effort.

Consider those years the first movement.

- Mike Jones