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Saturday, June 15, 2024

UW-Madison continues sustainability initiatives amid student calls for greater progress

The University of Wisconsin-Madison continues to make efforts toward a more sustainable campus, though students believe there is more progress to be made.

UW-Madison was rated silver in campus sustainability in a 2022 report from the Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS). Since then, the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability has continued efforts toward a more sustainable campus.

According to Nathan Jandl, the associate director of sustainability at the Office of Sustainability, UW-Madison has made various efforts to improve the university’s sustainability performance. These efforts include solar panels, campus sustainability events and more. As of 2022, 16% of the campus's total energy came from renewable sources.

“UW-Madison has integrated sustainability into many facets of campus, from reducing the environmental impact of our campus operations and incorporating sustainability into coursework to providing green certification services for campus offices and events,” Jandl said. “You can see what, and where, UW-Madison is doing by using our Campus Sustainability Map and exploring the Office of Sustainability website.”

Christina Treacy, the sustainability chair of the Associated Students of Madison, said efforts led by the Office of Sustainability are valuable for the future of the university’s sustainability. She also said Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin’s priorities for sustainability have been beneficial as well.

“We have a really good Office of Sustainability, and they have a good partnership with our chancellor's office,” Treacy said. “That's going to give us a lot of momentum moving forward. I think we're on a good trajectory.”

While UW-Madison continues to make efforts toward a more sustainable campus, Hannah Stahmann and Emily Valentine, the campus and systems executives at environmental advocacy group CLEAN UW, explained there is always room for improvement. They want the university to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2035. 

“We hope that, in the future, the university will prioritize research in renewable energy sources such as geothermal, hydropower, solar, etc,” Stahmann and Valentine said. “These technologies have been advanced and access to them is widespread, so it would be to the university’s benefit to invest in UW-Madison's sustainable future.”

Although UW-Madison has numerous efforts to improve its overall sustainability, Jandl said sustainability is a process that continues to have room for improvement.

“Sustainability is a process, not an endpoint, which means that there is always room to improve,” Jandl said. “UW-Madison has earned multiple [STARS] silver ratings, is a platinum-rated bike friendly university, and is Bee Campus certified, among other accolades — but there is certainly more progress to be made.”

Treacy also noted there are various actions the university can take to continue to improve its overall sustainability. She said improving the sustainability plan for the West Campus District, increasing solar panels and decreasing food waste are important areas of focus.

Stahmann and Valentine also had various improvements that they felt the university could make, including the incorporation of more sustainable ground management practices, prioritizing research in renewable energy sources and more.

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According to Stahmann and Valentine, CLEAN has voiced these concerns and is currently working with the Office of Sustainability and the ASM Sustainability Committee to implement new practices and engage in discussions with administrators regarding goals proposed by students.

Treacy noted ASM has voiced their sustainability concerns to the Office of Sustainability and the Chancellor’s Office, where Mnookin has expressed interest in helping to progress these goals.

“We are continuing to bring those concerns and raise our voices,” Treacy said. “And that's essentially our role as student government, being able to say things that the Office of Sustainability themselves can't necessarily say.”

When considering student concerns, Jandl said students have a high interest in sustainability on campus and continue to voice their concerns regarding actions made by UW-Madison leaders.

“Students have shown strong interest in sustainability. As the inheritors of our shared planet, they are concerned about their futures and want to ensure that UW-Madison is playing its part in addressing climate change, reducing waste and incorporating social sustainability principles into campus life,” Jandl said.

Elizabeth Bautista, a UW-Madison senior and Office of Sustainability intern, said she continues to advocate for the improvement of sustainability efforts on campus. She also mentioned that students who feel passionately about these issues should express their concerns to campus leaders.

“Students should voice their concerns publicly to our campus leaders and think about these issues when casting their votes,” Bautista said. “Most action and change comes when large, collective voices speak out. Getting involved in student organizations and practicing good habits at home, such as reducing energy, recycling, eating with more conscious thought to environmental impacts, etc., [are] all small efforts that students can take daily to reduce the impact of our university.”

According to the Office of Sustainability, its goal is to incorporate sustainability into campus culture, educational and research initiatives and operational excellence. Jandl said these goals help to explain the overall importance of sustainability as a university. 

“Sustainability principles directly support this mission of collective survival and quality of life,” Jandl said. “And at an immediate level, sustainability principles help to ensure that our campus is efficient, resilient, and fully supportive of teaching and learning.”

Stahmann and Valentine said UW-Madison's sustainability efforts have a large impact on how other universities perceive the importance of sustainability, ultimately setting an example that can lead to greater changes.

“[UW-Madison] is the biggest public school in Wisconsin and a Big Ten school, meaning the actions of this university influence those of other universities. If others see that UW-Madison prioritizes sustainability, then we hope other schools will follow suit,” Stahmann and Valentine said.

“Additionally, universities are a place of innovation and learning — the perfect environment to research and promote more sustainable practices. As a top research university, UW-Madison sets the precedent for what research looks like in the future and can change the face of sustainability with the correct priorities.”

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Ellie Bourdo

Ellie Bourdo is the features editor for The Daily Cardinal. Ellie previously served as associate news editor, where she specialized in breaking news and University of Wisconsin-System news reporting. She also works at WisPolitics. Follow Ellie on Twitter at @elliebourdo.

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