The global push for sustainability has had a big impact on the University of Houston campus. Despite the exponential growth of our campus, energy efficiency has increased and sustainability has become more of a priority. Here are the top 15 UH sustainability achievements of 2015.
- Whole Foods Market Community Day benefits UH – Each year, Whole Foods Market sponsors an organization or initiative in the Houston area by donating 5 percent of a day’s sales to the chosen groups. The UH Campus Community Garden, located by the Cougar Woods dining hall benefited from community giving day. The funds raised at community day will be used to construct a shed for the campus garden that has solar panels, passive cooling and rainwater collection.
- Solar-powered phone charging station installed – A charging station powered by solar panels and donated by NRG Energy was installed in front of the M.D. Anderson library, allowing students to stop and recharge their cell phones on their way to class.
- Sustainable purchasing options expanded – UH dining installed ecoGrounds kiosks in all the convenience store locations. EcoGrounds is a Fair Trade certified coffee brand produced on Rainforest Alliance certified farms, which meet rigorous environmental, social and economic standards to conserve wildlife and protect local communities.
- UH educated campus and community members – There were many sustainability firsts for UH in 2015. As part of Recyclemania, the first electronics recycling drive gave the UH community an opportunity to properly dispose of old electronics. The first Bike to UH Day brought together seasoned bikers and novices alike, fueling the expansion of a campus biking community. The first-ever UH Earth Week was launched in April, featuring service learning projects, movie screenings, a Central Plant tour, a healthy cooking demo and an Arbor Day scavenger hunt. The Sustainability Meetup program was launched to facilitate conversations about sustainability among the campus and local communities. The fall semester’s Sustainability Fest had an acroyoga demo, exhibitors from all over Houston, raffle prizes and a Creative Expressions Contest. The event, which brought in more than 300 guests, only produced a small bag of trash about the size of a beach ball. Everything else was recycled or composted.
- Student conservation efforts nationally recognized – Two UH undergraduates, a biochemistry student and an engineering student, were recognized for research excellence that focused on conservation. Sujata Gautam, a sophomore majoring in civil engineering, received an Udall Scholarship Honorable Mention for her work in environmental studies and conservation field research. Sophia Ewens, a junior biochemistry major, received a Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention for her collaborative research on bioremediation and nanoshells as carriers for drug molecules.
- UH groups recognized in Mayor’s Proud Partners Awards – The Mayor’s Proud Partners Awards in partnership with Keep Houston Beautiful celebrated many local organizations that made significant contributions to Houston through beautification and sustainability projects. The UH Design Build Collaborative earned the Outstanding Proud Partner Innovation award for its project, Re/Cycle Hub. The UH repurposing program also received a Mayor’s Proud Partner Award; the program allows campus members to use items left over from construction and UH remodeling projects. Twofold, a steel shade pavilion designed by the UH Graduate Design/Build Studio, received an honorable mention.
- Campus members work to improve sustainability at UH – In 2015, faculty, staff and students were invited to nominate themselves or colleagues to the Sustainability Task Force. The new task force, along with other subcommittee members, have made significant strides in sustainability at UH. These champions (in partnership with the Office of Sustainability) proposed a campus pocket prairie, developed a campus tree care plan, launched a bike working group and drafted a revised campus sustainability policy.
- Students develop start-up that recycles anesthetics – Students from the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship have developed a gas reclamation startup that uses a molecule developed by Ognjen S. Miljanic to facilitate the recycling of anesthetic gas. The product, Anecycle, acts as a powder-like sponge that temporarily stores fluorinated anesthesia. It can then be retrieved, purified and safely re-administered to other patients.
- METROrail introduced at UH – METRO opened the METROrail purple line with three stops serving the UH community. Students who sign up for the reduced fare Q-card can save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to get around Houston.
- UH launches first Campus Kitchen in Texas – UH students launched an initiative to provide meals for community members at New Hope Housing. Using food that was destined for the trash, students recovered unserved food to prepare meals for New Hope residents. The campus kitchen is the first of its kind at a public institution in Texas and has recovered over 1,000 pounds of unserved food.
- Molecule developed to bind greenhouse gases – Ognjen S. Miljanić, PhD, associate professor of chemistry, and his team have developed a molecule that can bind a large percentage of greenhouse gases and other substances. The material is lightweight, porous and stable to water. The molecule could potentially be used to clean up oil spills or trap gases to reduce air pollution.
- UH researchers developed technology that recycles waste energy – Researchers have created a new thermoelectric material that can convert waste heat into electric power. According to Zhifeng Ren, PhD, principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, the application of the material can range from converting exhaust from a vehicle tailpipe to capturing waste heat from power plant systems.
- UH Center for Sustainability and Resilience established – CeSAR was established to create opportunities for interdisciplinary research and collaboration that address sustainability and resilience issues. Led by Bruce Race, PhD, FAIA, FAICP, CeSAR has hosted a number of symposiums including its most recent one, which featured a panel of local experts who discussed sustainability and resilience priorities in Houston.
- UH listed as one of greenest U.S. colleges – UH was recognized in the Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges for the sixth consecutive year. Reduced-rate METRO transit passes, outreach initiatives, waste diversion efforts, and energy-efficiency practices are a few of the factors that placed UH on the final list that was released in April.
- UH holds highest STARS rating in Texas – The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ measures sustainability progress and performance at hundreds of colleges across the U.S. UH now holds a gold rating on the STARS report, which makes the University of Houston the first public institution in Texas to receive that recognition. 2015 has been a turning point for the University of Houston, and we’re just getting started.
– Gabriela Contreras