Sustainability initiative unifies UH System
There are numerous sustainability efforts underway at all 10 campuses of the University of Hawaiʻi System—renewable energy installations like photovoltaic panels, energy saving programs, electric vehicle programs, water filling stations, the popular E-waste recycling event, basic recycling and the construction of buildings that are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED certified.
That’s just to name just a few. UH is committed to being a leader in sustainability in Hawaiʻi.
“A leader in it’s own operations, being sustainable, in making sure it is curriculum, making sure the research focused that way,” said John Morton, vice president of University of Hawaiʻi Community Colleges.
Despite the numerous programs, there was no unified effort until recently. UH launched a statewide sustainability initiative in April 2013, with the inaugural Hawaiʻi Sustainability in Higher Education Summit.
It was attended by the leaders of sustainability programs from the UH campuses and the private sector, administrators, students and representatives from Hawaiʻi Pacific University and Brigham Young University-Hawaiʻi.
The summit’s top priority was to gather critical input on a sustainability policy that’s expected to be finalized by the end of the year.
“The reason to do that is to help connect people from every different campus and also other Hawaiʻi universities, so that we can work together towards creating sustainable institutions,” said Aurora Winslade, director of sustainability at UH West Oʻahu who oversaw the summit.
One key component is to set up a system to easily share “best practices.”
For instance, Maui College just opened a campus community garden after years of planning. The new policy will make sure that the template for that program is available to all, so it won’t take as long for the next campus.
“There is so much already going on on each of our campuses and people are eager to bring that together and take it to the next level,” said Winslade.
The policy will pursue sustainability on many different fronts, including an operational standpoint.
“Which is how you build the buildings, how you run the electricity, how you move the water, how you move people to and from, what kind of food you’re serving in your dining halls,” said Winslade.
A great example of that is UH Hilo’s Local First program.
Sixty percent of the food served in the school’s cafeteria is locally grown and produced, and it’s a hundred percent local on the first Wednesday of every month.
UH also wants to continue to integrate sustainability into the curriculum, and not just by offering subjects that are directly related, like aquaponics and farming.
“Also about making sure that every program, that the students are moving through, whether it is a law degree, whether it’s a science degree, understand the implications of that profession and sustainable practices,” Morton explained.
Administrators say students are already initiating and leading the way on many projects. They want to build on that leadership, and continue to engage students, faculty, staff and the community by making sustainability an important part of campus life.
“Whether we print double sided or not,” said Winslade. “Whether we bring our own coffee mug, whether we bring our own water bottle, how much waste we create.”
The UH system is modeling its sustainability initiative after the ten campus University of California system. Before adopting its own policy, the UC system had one LEED certified building. Now it has 124 and it’s saved an estimated $91 million in eight years by using energy more efficiently.
UC administrators say it also created an environment of collaboration.
“Not only between campuses but between the different parts of each campus,” said Matthew St. Clair, the sustainability manager for the University of California System. “So the students and the faculty and staff have worked together like they’ve worked together on nothing else on our campuses and I see the same thing happen here.”