REU Sustainability Symposium

Many of this year’s REU participants have some background in environmental issues, particularly on their college campuses. On June 23, 2012, REU participants joined with Jim Walker, UT’s Director of Sustainability, to share ideas on how each campus can improve its environmental stewardship.

The session opened with a brief presentation by Director Walker, and participants were collectively impressed as Mr. Walker discussed UT’s sustainability efforts, including its reduction in its carbon dioxide emissions, its membership in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and its participation in the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) as a pilot member.  Mr. Walker challenged the participants to “come up [their] your own definition of sustainability, stick with it, and take action.”

After Mr. Walker completed his remarks, each REU participant briefly presented their college’s sustainability efforts.  While some were disappointed by their school’s lack of transparency or progress on environmental issues, many more were excited to learn and share all that their schools were doing to promote sustainable practices on campus.  Common themes included recycling programs, tray-less dining halls, composting, and water-saving initiatives and devices.  Other schools had more unique or dramatic ideas:  Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado has instituted a program to remove plastic water bottles from campus, UNT in Denton, Texas has equipped generators to some elliptical machines in its gymnasium to generate electricity, and Grand Valley University in Allendale, Michigan is experimenting with polylactic acid.

Overall, students left informed and inspired to return to their campuses next fall and help promote sustainability on their campuses across the country!