An Introduction to UT Austin’s Master Plan for Sustainability

Hello all Green Voices readers! My name is Samara Zuckerbrod and I am the new director for the CEC’s blog. I am very excited to help educate others (while still learning more myself) about the sustainability movement both on campus and around the world.

That’s me!

Often, talking about the threat of climate change and everything that comes in hand with that challenge can be overwhelming. My vision for the blog this school year is that it serves as a resource for those searching for more condensed and straightforward summaries of specific topics within the larger movement. 

For my first post, I want to focus on what was being done at UT in regards to sustainability. Specifically, I want to discuss the Sustainability Master Plan (which was created in the fall of 2016 after 15 months of collaboration between administration, faculty, and students). It is the guiding document for UT Austin’s environmental mission.  The plan is applicable to both the main campus and the Pickle Research campus. The President’s Sustainability Steering Committee (PSSC) is another entity that was established to support sustainability within the parameters of the Master Plan. 

The plan emphasizes the relationship between “economic utility, ecological integrity, and advance social welfare”. Though the university aspires to be as ecologically conscious as possible, they will not let the educational mission of the school or experience of the student be negatively impacted by conservation methods. The plan prioritizes people rather than land and buildings to integrate sustainability into the campus culture and continue to adapt to fit the needs of the institution. 

Six core priority areas are emphasized in the plan:

  1. Leadership
  2. Experience and Culture
  3. Opportunity and Affordability 
  4. Teaching and Research 
  5. Conservation
  6. Partnerships

Within each of those areas, a relationship between students, faculty, and the greater Austin area is emphasized as being necessary for sustainable progress. This relationship is strengthened with the addition of certificate programs like the Bridging Disciplines Program tract and the two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability Studies. Sustainability education doesn’t just stop at those enrolled in aforementioned degrees; the plan integrates sustainability into the lives of all UT students and faculty. 18 new or modified courses (that integrate sustainability) across 14 departments have arisen because of the plan.  

There are many specific goals detailed in the Master Plan… the very long and wordy master plan. I won’t go into all the specifics, but I think it is important for everyone to know that the University does have a plan. It is our job as students (or faculty members or Austinites or random person reading this in the Bahamas) to do our best to support the plan (by making sustainable choices) and challenge it to achieve the greatest results. Though the plan addresses many important issues, the plan lacks quantitative goals/measurements. (This flaw in the plan is being discussed by my friend Kisara Dang in her column for the Daily Texan, so be sure to check that out!)

The spirit of the Master Plan is what resonates most with me. It is optimistic, realistic, and encouraging. Already, since the plan was established in 2016, the University has made a shift towards a more sustainable future. We, the members of the UT Austin community, have the power to make a change through our daily choices and our voices. One person using a metal straw won’t do all that much to reduce plastic waste in the grand scheme of things. An increase of people using bicycles as their mode of transportation to campus won’t reverse the carbon impact of the school’s fleet of automobiles. Little by little, however, these changes will have a collective impact. So use that metal straw! Bike to school if possible! Ask about local and sustainable options offered at the school’s dining halls! 

My final point is this: go out (whether on campus or the internet or your favorite coffee shop in the city you call home) and learn about sustainability. Larger institutions like University of Texas at Austin must also make definite plans to combat environmental degradation. Without the cooperation of  governments, companies, organizations and individuals, our sustainability problems will not be fixed.

But together… together we stand a chance. 

Also, if you are interested in becoming more involved with sustainability on campus, look into these organizations and programs:

-the Campus Environmental Center (CEC)
-Students Fighting Climate Change (SFCC)
-Social Innovation Initiative
-The @Texassustainabilty Instagram
–Weekly environmental and sustainability events such as the De Ford Series

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