UH less green than advertised
The University is not a green campus. It’s light burgundy, at best.
In Feb. 2011 UH received a silver rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, a program established by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Overall, UH was given a score of 54.31 percent — out of 100. That’s a failing grade in most classes.
Although the University was deemed environmentally accommodating, it’s a title largely contingent on things we don’t have: flowing paths, active composting opportunities and continued sustainability efforts.
The director for the city’s sustainment agenda, Laura Spanjien, made it clear that Houston’s environmental improvements have been significant. She’s not just talking about the annual Earth Day breakfasts, either. The new bike-share programs introduced at Discovery Green, City Hall, and Montrose; numerous charging stations for electric cars and the re-utilization of buildings are among the improvements being made across the city.
Mayor Annise Parker calls it a mindset.
“Having a sustainable attitude is more than about purchasing vehicles or initiating energy savings in city buildings. It’s more about rethinking everything that we do,” Parker said at Hermann Square Park at the second annual Earth Day Breakfast.
It’s advice our campus should adhere to. On a national scale, the physical results of UH’s “green” efforts seem too pale. The University’s contemporaries are scattered: North Carolina on Chapel Hill is one of America’s most conscious colleges. Just above is the University of California in Los Angeles — a territory known more for its monster mashes than its environmental programs. Northeastern University in Massachusetts sits high and tight, while the University of Connecticut is virtually the most green-conscious educational institution on the planet according to Sierra Magazine, one of the nation’s oldest environmental organizations.
It might have something to do with previous performances.
However, UH’s organic garden, student groups and themed months maximized the STARS score in regards to the “co-curricular education” category, which makes sense given that almost every residence hall has some sort of sustainability component. Another section the University does well in is “coordination and planning,” which primarily evaluates an institution’s plans. In “sustainability coordination,” UH scored three out of three. In “strategic plan,” six out of six. Our “physical campus plan” got us four out of four, and our “sustainability plan” was scored three out of three — big hits all around.
Putting the plans in action is something else entirely. The University’s score in “energy distribution” looked meager, 6.79 out of 16.5. The biggest hits stemmed from “clean and renewable energy” at .27 out of seven and “waste reduction,” which earned our campus a zero out of five. We didn’t fare well in “investment,” either, with a .25 out of 16.75.
What was truly bleak was our score in “Innovation.” UH — a Tier One-accredited university in the fourth largest city of one of the most affluent nations in the world — received a zero. An absence of achievement.
Emily Messa, the associate vice president for administration, said she believes it will only get better.
“We are always working on sustainability. It is an incredibly time-consuming effort that requires the collaboration of many areas of campus. When we do update the report next year, there will be a number of enhancements,” Messa said.
“For example, we now have a sustainability minor, we have taken major strides to provide recycling bin coverage, we now have single-stream recycling and we have the first LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) silver-certified building on campus with the completion of the Cougar Woods Dining Hall.”
Things could be worse. But until the day comes when we live up to being part of the energy capital of the planet, pedal the sidewalks lightly.
Senior staff columnist Bryan Washington is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]