UVM hosts sustainability conference

“Even though our institutions may compete for students, we sustainability people work collaboratively.” – Director of the Office of Sustainability Gioia ThompsonColleges across New England are collaborating towards a sustainable future.UVM and Middlebury College welcomed guests from northeastern schools to participate in panels and workshops, focusing the discussion on “Sustainability and Emerging Futures in Higher Education.”Organized as part of the Northeast Campus Sustainability Consortium (NECSC), the sixth annual conference was a two-day event held in the Davis Center.”We formed a ‘consortium,’ but we have no money, staff or sponsors. We realized seven years ago that there was a critical mass of schools in the northeastern part of North America who wanted to talk with each other,” UVM director of the Office of Sustainability Gioia Thompson said.Thompson said that the conference is held in a different state each year, and UVM was the Vermont school with the most resources and accommodations to incorporate the 140 guests from schools such as Harvard, Bowdoin, Tufts, Cornell, McGill and Keene State.President Fogel represented UVM in the opening President’s Panel, along with the Dean of Faculty from Marlboro, Felicity Ratte, the President of Green Mountain College, Paul J. Fonteyn and President of Middlebury College, Ronald D. Liebowitz. The presidents fielded questions from Yale University moderator Dr. Julie Newman and from the representatives in the audience that filled the Silver Maple Ballroom. Fogel discussed what UVM has been doing in sustainable initiatives, such as signing a climate collaborative for all new buildings to be constructed as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. “We are also actively working on our climate neutrality plan for the Presidents’ Climate Commitment,” Fogel said. He also cited UVM’s new Sustainability Fellows Faculty Program, which seeks to engage faculty in “greening” UVM’s curriculum.Compared with the other three small schools evaluated in the panel, UVM faces different issues that result from being a large, public research university. “Small scale means that it is easier to reach out and affect change across the whole college community. Large scale means that it takes more effort and requires an approach that has reach a greater range of perspectives and cultures,” director of the Sustainability Integration Office at Middlebury College Jack Byrne said. Fogel cited driving limitations the University faces including a miniscule state budget and a rapidly rising amount of students, with low endowment funds. “We currently receive about seven percent of our budget from the state — it would take us 100 years to get what UConn receives in one year,” Fogel said.But UVM revealed more similarities than differences to small schools like Middlebury. “Both UVM and Middlebury have sustainability policies and task forces working on new initiatives, many green buildings, good recycling programs, commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, and both are working on making it easier for people to move around on foot, pedal and with mass transit,” Byrne said.An issue discussed in the panel dealt with the struggle for higher education to cut down on carbon emissions. “Research universities have bigger carbon footprints because they have more students, more faculty, and are more high energy intensive,” director of the Environmental Program at UVM, the academic advisor to the Office of Sustainability and professor of Environmental Studies Stephanie Kaza, said.The conference proved that the colleges are more than willing to work together to come up with the best plans possible for tackling the issue of sustainability.”Even though our institutions may compete for students, we sustainability people work collaboratively,” Thompson said.The conferences will continue each year to ensure lines of communication between the sustainability offices in Northeastern colleges.”This is important for students because we are trying to build a sustainable future together, one that will work for your generation and those that follow and is equitable and just across the world. This is a very tall order and will take all of our minds and good will to figure it out,” Kaza said.