Celebrating 25 years of sustainability at UNH

This is the story of building a culture of sustainability at UNH. By no means is this history all-inclusive, but rather it encompasses highlights of how hundreds of people across UNH, and beyond, have worked to realize our vision of a sustainable learning community – where everyone learns, and everyone teaches. We are grateful for the faculty, staff, students, community partners and donors who have harnessed a collective commitment to collaborate across and beyond disciplines and departments to creatively realize the great potential of this shared commitment. and bring ideas to reality. Evidence of our sustainability history is all around us today. This work continues to evolve, deepen and flourish in our community.

As we reflect back and look ahead to the next 25 years of sustainability at UNH, including the development of a UNH 2030 Sustainability Vision over the coming months, and in the wider world, we would do well to give serious thought to the words of David Graeber and David Wengrow in their sweeping book, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, “If, as many are suggesting, the future of our species’ future now hinges on our capacity to create something different, then what ultimately matters is whether we can rediscover the freedoms that make us human in the first place.”

"While we don’t know those who will be leading our efforts in 2047, we can nevertheless support them and give them more possibilities by doing the right things now. So let’s come together in common cause and connect all of our efforts to achieve a far greater positive impact then we could ever accomplish separately."

- Tom Kelly, Founding Executive Director, Sustainability Institute

  • Hubbard brothers

    1997 | The beginning of a university-wide effort

    Thanks to a transformational gift from NH farmer and UNH alumnus, Oliver Hubbard, UNH hired Sustainability Director, Tom Kelly to lead a university-wide commitment to advance sustainability across the “CORE”—Curriculum, Operations, Research and Engagement. Launching what is now one of the oldest endowed sustainability programs in the country, UNH embraced a comprehensive definition and practice of sustainability, to include the interconnectedness of culture, food systems climate and biodiversity across the CORE. "With sustainability, we don't isolate problems. We put them in the context of a whole set of relations and focus on what connects them." - Tom Kelly

  • bus wrapped in sustainability icons

    1998 | Creating a culture of sustainable transportation

    The Sustainability Institute convenes campus, town, and regional officials to develop a transportation demand management strategy. This changed the entire transportation culture of UNH to one that's more sustainable – focusing on mass transit, reinforcing ‘the walking campus’, advocating for the Durham Amtrak stop, and developing other infrastructure initiatives like the EcoCat transit fleet. EcoCat has begun its next step forward to cleaner transit with new USDOT funding Award in 2022.

  • greenhouse gas emissions inventory report cover

    2000 | Tracking our emissions and impact, and bringing resources to other campuses

    UNH was the first higher education institution to undertake a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory through a partnership with Clean Air/Cool Planet with the aim to develop a tool to inventory GHG on a campus scale. This initiative has evolved into the development of UNH’s SIMAP tool, the only tool available that tracks both carbon and nitrogen footprints and is used by hundreds of campuses across the country and by UNH's Carbon Clinic, helping to train the next generation of changemakers.

  • woman wearing "what sustains you?" tee

    2001 | “What sustains us?” becomes a guidepost

    UNH hosted key events which helped flip the traditional question, “what is sustainability?” which results in a narrow ecological vision, to a re-framed vision of “what sustains us?”, which is inclusive of the cultural, international, spiritual and future generational dimensions of sustainability. The first of four “Soul of Agriculture” convenings brought people from all over the country together to explore food systems, including public health as interrelated, to gain a better understanding of common values, problems and solutions. The “Four Hands, One Heart” documentary premiered on campus, celebrating the Scheiers, renowned ceramic artists and former UNH faculty.

  • student helping in kitchen

    2003 | Furthering our mission to the public good

    Since the 2003 pilot to bring local apples and cider to the state’s K-12 schools, NH Farm to School (NHFTS) has been working to establish farm-to-school connections within communities across NH. Coordinated by UNH’s Sustainability Institute, NHFTS helps to fulfill UNH’s mission to contribute to the public good. NHFTS continues today with other procurement efforts, establishes school gardens, and works to establish new farm-to-school connections with growers and schools in other parts of the state.

  • harvest dinner with fall decorations

    2005 | Investing in local, organic agriculture and sustainable food systems

    To bring awareness of the benefits of supporting local economies and maintaining the vibrant agricultural tradition in the state, the Local Harvest Dinner was launched in partnership with UNH Dining, local producers and the Office of Sustainability (now the Sustainability Institute) and this tradition continues today! UNH Dining has expanded its local offerings and initiatives and is committed to supporting the culture of sustainability at UNH.

  • UNH organic dairy farm aerial view

    2005 | Innovating to support local agriculture for a sustainable state

    Through the collaborative effort of the Sustainability Institute and faculty, staff, and regional practitioners, UNH was the first land-grant university to establish an Organic Dairy Research Farm. At the time, UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture’s dean William Trumble noted, “UNH has a remarkable opportunity to provide much-needed research and education to organic dairy farmers, present and future, while helping to secure the future of the northeast region’s farming heritage and rural communities”. In 2008, UNH researchers received a significant grant to study the farm as a sustainable closed agro-ecosystem, exploring viable strategies for becoming energy independent.

  • person inside the cogen plant at computers

    2006 | Committing to energy efficiency and fiscal responsibility

    UNH's combined heat and power facility - or cogeneration plant (COGEN) came online. The primary source of heat and electricity for the five-million square foot Durham campus, COGEN retains waste heat normally lost during the production of electricity. Instead, it uses this energy to heat buildings, in turn reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. The installation of the COGEN plant resulted in an estimated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 21% in Academic Year (AY) 2006 compared to AY 2005. In 2007, UNH signed the Presidents’ Climate Commitment for long-term carbon reductions.

  • student presenting research

    2008 | Infusing sustainable food systems into curriculum and experiential learning

    Expanding our commitment to academic principles, including applying intellectual resources to today's issues and helping students to develop the critical thinking and transdisciplinary knowledge they will need in their professional and civil lives, the EcoGastronomy dual major launched to bring students into the field, the kitchen, and the lab to study the complexities of sustainable food systems. In 2010, the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture launched the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems major. Today, experiential learning and engaged scholarship is part of UNH’s strategic priority to enhance student success and well-being.

  • book cover; photo credit CSenter

    2009 | Collectively reflecting on our model of a sustainable learning community

    More than 10 years into the deliberate efforts of the sustainable learning community, 60 UNH authors co-publish “The Sustainable Learning Community: One University’s Journey to the Future”. Authors describe the ten-year transformation, and reflect on outcomes and the impacts across time, sectors and issue areas - bringing the “CORE” to life.

  • Ecoline tank on campus

    2009 | Partnering for a unique solution to lower emissions

    UNH invested in a unique partnership with Waste Management (WM) of New Hampshire, Inc. to build ECOLine, a 12.7 mile pipeline which brings enriched and purified gas from WM’s Rochester landfill to campus. This helps prevent emissions of methane from the landfill. We were the first university in the country to use landfill gas as its primary fuel source and undertake a project of this magnitude. ECOLine has been an integral part of UNH’s aggressive climate action plan (WildCAP), which outlines how UNH will lower its emissions to basically zero and secure its leadership position in climate protection as part of its broader sustainability commitment. 

  • woman speaking at a gathering

    2011 | Convening facilitative leadership for a different future

    Food Solutions New England (FSNE) was launched by the Sustainability Institute with the inaugural New England Food Summit in response to a greater need for connectivity, transdisciplinary convening and facilitative leadership across the breadth of regional food system efforts and innovations. In 2013, FSNE formally placed racial equity at the center of the work. Today, FSNE works to develop alignment around and strategies to achieve a long-term vision for the food system in New England built upon shared values of racial equity and dignity for all, democratic empowerment, sustainability and trust.

  • timeline of UNH STARS ratings

    2011 | Bright STARS: our successes measured, reported and rated Gold

    In 2008, UNH became a Charter Institute in the new AASHE STARS program – a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. Following through on our sustainability commitment, we reported our efforts in 2011 and earned our first rating of Gold. Since then, we have reported 3 additional times, evolving to a Platinum rating in 2017 – one of only three schools in the country to do so at that time. Today, we maintain Platinum rating and our national leadership through our reported practices under STARS 2.2, which reflects evolving sustainability best practices and stringent criteria.

  • Wake facilitating student climate simulation

    2012 | Establishing a legacy of sustainability research and teaching

    Josephine A. Lamprey, benefactor of sustainability programs at UNH, made a gift to the Sustainability Institute to establish The Josephine A. Lamprey Professorship in Climate and Sustainability, held by research associate professor Cameron Wake. The professorship advances work on climate and energy issues that interconnect with biodiversity and ecosystems, food systems and culture. Wake collaborates with a wide range of partners at UNH and across New England to help build climate resilient communities, educate the next generation of sustainability leaders, and strengthen networks that connect sustainability professionals. 

  • Spiller at podium at speaking event

    2013 | Advancing racial equity through research and collaboration

    Durham philanthropist, Thomas W. Haas, provided a gift to the Sustainability Institute to establish the Professorship of Sustainable Food Systems to advance sustainable agriculture, food choices, nutrition and economic and social well-being on and off campus. Today, Haas Professor Karen A. Spiller deepens UNH’s participation in the transdisciplinary work of Food Solutions New England, and in particular, its racial equity work, develops new and strengthens existing relationships and collaborations and shares her expertise and unique practitioner perspectives – making a direct impact on UNH faculty, staff, students and the broader community.

  • woman working in a garden

    2013 | Building a statewide food system network and shared goals

    Coordinated by UNH’s Sustainability Institute, NH Food Alliance (NHFA) launched to address the fragmentation of our state’s food system, convening people from across NH to design a food system network structure and process for identifying shared goals and strategies. Today, NHFA serves as a statewide network that connects the people, businesses, organizations and communities dedicated to growing a thriving, fair and sustainable local food system. The network builds relationships, learns from each other, and catalyzes collaboration to advance common goals, respond creatively to challenges and amplify our collective impact. 

  • plants being watered in the background of the 50 by 60 New England Food Vision logo

    2014 | Developing a sustainable food vision for our region

    The Food Solutions New England network published A New England Food Vision based on a three-year collaborative process with the network and led by a team of researchers, writers and reviewers. A bold vision that calls for our region to build the capacity to produce at least 50% of our food by 2060 while supporting healthy food for all, sustainable farming and fishing and thriving communities. Businesses, government agencies, organizations, community groups and people around the region have been inspired by the Vision to orient their work with our shared regional goals and values.

  • students presenting research

    2015 | Establishing sustainability context for all undergraduates

    One of the only dual majors of its’ kind in the country, the sustainability dual major (SDM) is designed to be transdisciplinary. The SDM launched to take the sprawling concept of sustainability and create a curricular program that any student in any major could see their field in a sustainability context, make connections and learn in a cohort of students from across campus.

  • Racial Equity Challenge poster

    2015 | Building effective racial equity habits

    Inspired by the work of Dr. Eddie Moore, Debby Irving and Dr. Marguerite Pennick-Parks, Food Solutions New England adapted the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge with a food system lens. FSNE has been organizing and hosting the Challenge every year since. Starting with a couple of hundred regional participants, it has grown to more than 9,000 participants, nationally and internationally in 2020. Today, many organizations and UNH adapts the Challenge, dedicating time and space to build more effective social justice habits.

  • student presenting project

    2019 | Training the next generation of sustainability leaders

    UNH’s Changemaker Collaborative joined the Sustainability Institute to create an integrated platform to help students contribute to society’s most pressing sustainability challenges. Founded in 2015 as a joint venture of Paul College of Business and Economics and the Carsey School of Public Policy, the Collaborative supports the next generation of skilled, courageous and confident leaders through real-world experiences and the tools of public policy and business, while helping community partners advance their sustainability initiatives.

  • sustainability graphic with photos of students

    2021 | Critical input and guidance from a diverse group

    The Sustainability Advisory Board joined the other established Advisory Boards of UNH organized around the Colleges and key strategic areas of focus. The board provides critical input and guidance on UNH’s sustainability efforts, particularly as it relates to our bold plans for continued leadership in sustainability in higher education. The unique cross-cutting aspect of sustainability defies traditional boundaries or silos and requires bringing together a diversity of expertise across sectors and fields. The SAB is comprised of a dedicated group of volunteers – alumni, parents, students and friends – who share a passion for UNH and sustainability.

  • Thompson Hall at night with students

    2022 | Celebrating 25 years of sustainability at UNH

    Join us to help shape the next 25. 

    There are opportunities for faculty, staff, students and alumni to engage with us. Let’s create a sustainable future together.