Campus garden closure raises sustainability concerns
University architect and Office of Sustainability head Jim Taylor explained that the campus garden was closed for a variety of reasons. The campus garden was originally located adjacent to Cougar Woods Dining Commons.
“In theory, (the garden) was to be a so-called farm to table,” Taylor said. “But it wasn’t large enough to even meet the demand of Cougar Woods, for example.”
Taylor said that the area around Cougar Woods was an original woodland and not suitable for agriculture. He also added that if and when the school relaunches the campus garden, it will be on a scale competitive with other universities in Texas.
“We are in the process of reimagining our sustainability mission on campus in very positive ways,” Taylor said. “We have established a new sustainability committee from every stakeholder across campus.”
In their July meeting, every stakeholder on the new committee was tasked with identifying and implementing a short-term and long-term goal in their department. The short-term goal is to be implemented within the next six months, and the long-term goal before the next Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System report.
Gabriel Durham is a former University sustainability coordinator and UH alumnus who has worked on the UH STARS reports since 2015. The STARS assessment is done every three years and measures things such as greenhouse gas emissions and the number of sustainability courses offered at the school.
“STARS is the environmental benchmark for higher education,” Durham said. “It is generally accepted as the most comprehensive, strenuous and doable standard on sustainability impact assessment.”
The highest score possible in STARS is platinum, and the lowest score is reporter. UH was the first school in Texas to score gold, the second highest rating attainable. However, this year the University scored silver.
“The first reason (for the silver score) is that STARS is now more stringent and asking for actions not just commitments,” Durham said. “The second reason is that the University did not continue funding or properly staffing the programs that would have ensured a continued gold score.”
The Office of Sustainability was formerly under the auxiliary services department. At its height, the office had one manager, two coordinators and ten student workers. When COVID-19 hit, they had staff reductions to the point where Durham was the only one working there.
The Office of Sustainability is now under the facilities department, and a new sustainability coordinator is coming this month, Taylor said.
Professor Krishna Kaushik, who is teaching a sustainability and environmental mitigation course at UH, believes that education is a vital aspect of sustainability at UH.
“The primary purpose of UH is teaching,” said Kaushik “Are we appropriately teaching sustainability to the cadres of people that we are graduating?”
Kaushik explained that educating students on sustainability positively impacts their families, communities and workplaces.
Though sustainability efforts at UH have stalled in recent years, faculty are doing everything possible to get the University back on track.
Taylor explained that one of his first initiatives as a university architect was to mandate new buildings on campus become Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified. LEED is the most widely used green building rating system.
“This fall, we will have two (LEED) gold projects that are new to the campus,” Taylor said. “If we had all the money in the world, we would do the building you’re sitting in too.”