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Sustainability Summit looks at past and future

By Hadley Barndollar, Staff Writer

In September 1999, Chief Sustainability Officer Tom Kelly sent an email to the University of New Hampshire and its surrounding communities, which recommended that Durham “design a comprehensive Transportation Demand Management program.” Sixteen years later, Wildcat Transit provides 1.2 million trips per year.

This was just one of many things addressed during the Sustainability Summit on April 10, put on by UNH’s own Sustainability Institute in the Memorial Union Building’s Entertainment Center. Representatives of different task forces were in attendance, including energy, ecosystems and culture. Kelly spoke as well.

The purpose of the event was to see “where we have been, where we are currently and where we hope to be headed for the future” regarding the university’s efforts toward creating an incredibly sustainable campus.

“The motives behind the summit were really to involve people from the university and show them what the Sustainability Institute [SI] is working on,” said Brianna Brand, UNH senior and Energy Task Force student ambassador. “So many aren’t aware of the scope of things the SI is involved with around campus, everywhere from energy and water to culture and planning. I think it’s important to share our progress so people can make educated, informed decisions and feel inspired to make a positive impact for sustainability.”

Kelly referenced that sustainability lies at the cross section between climate, culture, food and biodiversity. He posed questions such as, “What does it mean to weave sustainability into the fabric of this institution?”

For some numbers regarding transportation on campus, 50 percent of UNH’s transit fleet runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). Because of this, 55,000 gallons of petroleum were saved in 2014.  UNH also manages 6,800 parking spaces and 2,500 bike racks. The SI is a key player in how UNH manages its transportation network.

The UNH Climate Action Plan, also known as WildCAP, has big targets for the future. Working with a 2001 baseline, the project hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050. The project’s goal is to ensure the campus community will be “en route” to climate neutrality by 2100.

“It’s all about theories of change and philosophies of change,” Kelly said.

Kelly came to UNH in 1997, as the Durham campus became the first in the nation to have an endowed sustainability program.

In addition to transportation efforts, the Ecosystem Task Force has recently revamped the labeling of waste and recycling on campus. The ecogastronomy program, which goes hand-in-hand with the SI, promotes local food communities and looks to maximize healthy, diverse relationships with our food. Campus groups such as Net Impact and the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) are motivated leaders who spread awareness regarding many of these concepts.

While ecogastronomy has been offered as a dual major since 2006, the institute will debut a dual major in sustainability for the upcoming year. Any student in any college will be able to pair this with his or her primary major.

Kelly chalks his work up to “legacy,” and leaving behind tangible change for incoming generations. To him, sustainability is a crucial piece of the college experience. 

“We spend the best years of our lives at places like this,” he said. “We want to look back and say we really gave it a go.”

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