Each month, GCSE spotlights one Member organization and the importance of sustainability at the institution and the institution's role in informed environmental decision-making.
To combat the growing environmental crises gripping the planet, Florida International University has assembled one of the largest teams of environmental scientists in the U.S. to create FIU’s Institute of Environment (IoE). More than 200 faculty members and more than 3,000 students are working in environmental resilience at FIU. With over $400 million in environmental resilience research in the past decade, FIU leads projects around the world to help ensure the long-term survival of key ecosystems, species, and the people and communities they support.
- The institute’s International Water Program has provided 87,000 people access to improved water and sanitation in the developing world. It is now home to the UNESCO Chair on Sustainable Water Security and a new, dual-Ph.D. program with the University of Florence in Italy focused on resiliency.
- Researchers in FIU’s Institute of Environment lead Global Finprint — the world’s largest shark and ray census. They discovered widespread, and previously undocumented, population declines of sharks and rays in environmentally and economically important regions of the world.
- The FIU Medina Aquarius Program — which features the world’s only underwater research laboratory — serves as a base for researchers studying how to save imperiled coral reefs and seagrasses and for NASA astronauts training for future space missions.
- FIU scientists, working with the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians, set the Phosphorus limit for the Florida Everglades more than 20 years ago — a criteria still in place today to preserve the iconic River of Grass.
- When thousands of fish died in Florida’s Biscayne Bay in the summer of 2020, institute researchers were among the first to respond. They worked alongside partners and government officials to determine the cause and identify solutions for the massive fish kill, and developed ongoing partnerships.
The world is taking notice. FIU is the No. 1 university in the U.S. where students can make a difference in the climate crisis, according to College Magazine. FIU is ranked No. 9 in the world on Impact on SDG 6, Life Below Water, their ecology program is in the Top 50 among public universities according to U.S. News & World Report and their environmental programs are in the Top 50 among public universities according to QS World University Rankings.
Did you know? From microscopic to global, FIU is making critical contributions for the environment in research, management, policy and education.
Texas A&M University (TAMU) has been a member of GCSE for 15 years, with a long history as a leader in research and education in sustainability.
Texas A&M defines sustainability as the efficient, deliberate, and responsible preservation of environmental, social, and economic resources to protect our earth for future generations of Aggies, the Texas A&M University community, and beyond. Consequently, sustainability is not only important, but rather, it plays an integral role in every dimension of our designation as an American Association of Universities Tier 1 Research University; our designation as a Land Grant Institution since 1876, and subsequent Sea Grant and Space Grant designations; and the three pillars of our academic mission – Teaching and Learning; the Discovery, Integration, & Application in Research and Creative Work; and the Engagement with Practice, Outreach, and Service.
The 2018 Sustainability Master Plan (SMP) envisions the next generation of sustainability work across the University. The SMP both builds upon successes of the last decade and aligns with other recent planning efforts at the University.The SMP also aims to: advance TAMU as a sustainability leader among its peer institutions; balance efforts and impacts of sustainability initiatives; identify metrics to evaluate sustainability successes; and establish the parties who will play critical roles in ensuring future successes.
The Aggie community is deeply committed to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same, with a focus on the environment, social equity and economic prosperity. Three examples of the scope and nature of this commitment include:
- Aggie Campus Initiatives from diverse administrative units and academic Colleges and Departments are actively taking steps towards sustainability. Learn more about campus initiatives.
- The Aggie Sustainability Alliance (ASA) is open to all faculty and staff, engaging participants in fostering a campus culture of sustainability through their voluntary contributions to sustainable energy and water use, transportation, food and purchasing, waste minimization, and social sustainability.
- Student Organizations are actively helping TAMU move forward through student projects and competitions. Learn more about student initiatives.
Did you know? Texas A&M University Residence Life earned an AASHE Innovation Credit for its development of a Residence Life Sustainability Plan. TAMU Residence Life was the first housing department in North America to dedicate resources to establishing a comprehensive plan.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) is a new member of GCSE. NUS is committed to protecting the environment and incorporating sustainability in all aspects of our campus life – from research to education to campus operations.
In research, the university has adopted an integrated approach that brings together researchers from diverse fields with an emphasis on eight research clusters, of which Integrative Sustainability Solutions is one. This cluster conducts research that is optimized for tropical, urban and Asian settings. The NUS Environmental Research Institute (NERI) is a key research institute that focuses on developing solutions relating to environmental surveillance and treatment; environmental and human health; green chemistry and sustainable energy; impact of climate change on the environment and food, energy and water nexus in urban farming. It collaborates actively with government, industry, NGOs and leading academic partners to address global climate challenges.
In education, NUS offers specialized sustainability-related degree programmes at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, programmes at residential colleges and short courses. Sustainability-related degree programmes include the Bachelor of Environmental Studies, Bachelor, Master and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering, and the Master of Science in Environmental Management programme, a multi-disciplinary integrated programme hosted by the School of Design and Environment, and taught by faculty members from eight other NUS schools including business, law, science and public policy, amongst others. In addition, NUS’ newest Residential College, Ridge View Residential College, offers a two-year living-learning experience with a focus on industry readiness and sustainability.
In campus operations, the campus masterplan is developed to meet academic, research, entrepreneurial, and student life needs, and to incorporate environmental sustainability considerations. Notable infrastructural highlights include:
- University Town, a mixed-use residential, sports, educational and research development, which is a sustainably designed, built and operated precinct, and which retains much of its original lush tropical terrain. It was awarded Singapore’s 1st Green Mark district.
- SDE 4, Singapore’s first purpose-built net-zero energy building which is designed to be climate responsive, energy efficient and environmentally friendly, and only consume as much energy as it creates. It is the first university building in the world to achieve WELL Certified™ Gold in 2019, and the first building in Singapore to be conferred this prestigious WELL Certification.
NUS is also embarking on its journey to become Carbon Neutral by 2030 by deploying more renewable energy, actively reducing energy consumption and improving energy efficiency, as well as exploring carbon sequestration and carbon offset options. It also endeavors to cool its ambient temperature by 4 degrees celsius by 2030 (“Cool NUS”), as part of its broader Sustainability and Climate Action strategy.
Fun Fact : Did you know that NUS has completed planting 10,000 trees on campus, and will be planting another 100,000 more by 2030 ?
The University of Rhode Island (URI) has been a GCSE Member for 12 years. URI’s campus culture is one that embraces principles of sustainability in all of its practices. Integrating sustainability in curricula and research agendas, supporting community programs and incentives, hosting the largest solar array in the state on a capped waste disposal site, and designing buildings that reduce our impact on the environment are just a few examples of Sustainability@URI initiatives. URI also partners with the State of Rhode Island and southern New England regional communities on several large-scale initiatives that highlight the state's 400 miles of coast and its contribution to a mission of supporting ocean awareness, understanding, and sustainability.
In the past decade, URI and its regional community have played key roles in meaningfully implementing offshore wind energy solutions and combating plastic pollution as part of its broader research theme of understanding the emerging contaminants that enter our ocean. As the world launches the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, URI aims to grow its local to global collaborations and collective impacts in these areas. With a surge in the use of plastics during the pandemic, URI and its partners, including GCSE, are eager to accelerate solutions to plastic pollution.
Across colleges, disciplines, and seas, URI provides global resources and leads several nationally funded projects to expand knowledge and solutions for challenges that threaten our oceans. One of the top oceanography schools in the world, URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) hosts cutting-edge research facilities and ocean exploration technology on the URI Bay Campus including the Coastal Resources Center (CRC), the Inner Space Center for ocean exploration and education, Superfund Program STEEP (Sources, Transport, Exposure & Effects of PFAs), URI Diving Safety and Research Program, and the oceanographic research vessel, the R/V Endeavor, which is soon to be replaced with a state-of-the-art Regional Class Research Vessel that is currently under construction.
Ocean sustainability requires a multi-disciplinary approach, of course, and URI research teams across campus from the College of Environment and Life Sciences (CELS), College of Engineering, College of Arts and Sciences and College of Business are contributing to global ocean sustainability challenges via undergraduate education, graduate training, equitable community engagement, literature, effective and inclusive environmental communication, and globally recognized research.
Over the past decade URI’s faculty and students in CELS’ Department of Marine Affairs and GSO’s CRC have played pivotal roles in convening stakeholders to understand sustained ecological and social impacts of the historical siting and implementation of offshore wind energy just off the RI coastline. Through a five-year, $19 million statewide grant from the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research program, URI connects engineers, scientists, designers, and communication experts from eight of the state’s higher education institutions to develop new approaches to assess, predict, and respond to effects of climate change on coastal systems. In the past two years, URI has been aligning its capabilities and capacity across the state to launch its Plastics: Land to Sea Initiative with the UN Decade of the Ocean. Top researchers will work closely with industry, policy experts, and local to global nonprofits to co-create research efforts that will inform society, guide policy, and accelerate long-term solutions to reduce ocean plastic pollution and ensure ocean sustainability. Across all of these approaches, URI’s goal is to prepare a future workforce trained in sustainability principles and practices.
Did You Know? URI’s Metcalf Institute has been advancing informed conversations about science and the environment since 1998. In 2018, the Institute launched the Inclusive SciComm Symposium to expand inclusive approaches to science communication, from formal classroom settings to museums to journalism. URI is a leader in this growing inclusive science communication movement to ensure that ocean science and policy draw on the insights of all people to provide equitable solutions.
Montreal’s Concordia University is a new NCSE Member—one that just launched a comprehensive Sustainability Action Plan. The Plan was born out of extensive consultations with students, faculty, staff, and the community. It focuses on actions that the university can take by 2025 to improve its performance in five main areas: climate change, food, waste, research, and curriculum.
For over two decades, Concordia has ranked highest in its category for energy efficiency in Québec, according to provincial government statistics. Concordia has also worked to ensure that renovations and new constructions meet top efficiency ratings, including seeking LEED Gold certification for the newly completed Applied Science Hub.
It also has established an expansive composting and recycling program, including a creative reuse initiative that has diverted over 18,000 kilograms of materials away from landfill and into the hands of artists and members of the maker community. In 2019 alone, the university planted 185 new trees and ensured that landscaping work was undertaken using indigenous plants, water-capture techniques, and a focus on pedestrian traffic over cars.
More than 200 full-time Concordia faculty members are involved in research related to sustainability. Research units include the Next Generation Cities Institute, the Institute for Water, Energy and Sustainable Systems, the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre, and the Centre for Zero Energy Building Studies, which is about to complete its new Field Research Facility for Buildings of the Future.
Sustainability engagement is another university priority, with support for student, research, and institutional initiatives. Concordia’s Office of Sustainability seeks to bring different parties together through events, project coordination, and tools and resource sharing. The Sustainability Governance Framework brings students, faculty, and staff together to take part in shared planning and decision-making around strategic sustainability initiatives.
In fall of 2019, Concordia became a signatory of the climate emergency declaration and announced that its foundation will divest from investment in fossil fuels by 2025. In October 2020, Concordia signed on to the University Global Coalition, joining the decade of action to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Did You Know? Concordia phased out the sale of plastic water bottles at all university-controlled campus restaurants and vending machines in 2011.
North Carolina State University (NC State) in Raleigh, North Carolina, has been an NCSE Member for 12 years. NC State believes that successful sustainability pursues balanced, ethical solutions that are economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially just. Ranked as fourth in the nation for the study of natural resources and conservation (College Factual, 2021), NC State’s College of Natural Resources graduates students equipped to be environmental stewards and leaders in natural resources. Across its broad array of undergraduate and graduate programs, the College provides the technical expertise and hands-on experience students need to shape environmental policies, manage wildlife, implement sustainable forest and land management techniques, engineer everyday products from renewable resources, create sustainable recreation and tourism programs, and more.
The College’s award-winning research faculty work across disciplines to find innovative solutions to global environmental challenges and partner with industry and government to put solutions to work. Through outreach, extension and continuing education, experts team with community and business leaders, policymakers, educators, students and members of the general public to spread knowledge and ensure sustainable and proper use of natural resources.
As the host university for the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center, NC State brings together a breadth of expertise and capacity in natural, physical and social sciences as well as the management of natural and cultural resources. As part of the center, College of Natural Resources faculty gather scientific information and build the tools needed to help fish, wildlife, and ecosystems adapt to the impacts of changing climate and land use.
The NC State Center for Geospatial Analytics, housed in the College of Natural Resources, is the foremost interdisciplinary research and teaching center of its kind in the nation. Center faculty work alongside top researchers, policy experts and leaders in industry to apply data-driven spatial modeling and cutting-edge visualization to pioneer solutions to environmental and societal changes.
Did You Know? NC State is a Top 20 Green College for sustainability-related policies, practices, and programs (Princeton Review, 2019).
The University of Arizona (UArizona) in Tucson, Arizona, has been an NCSE Member for 15 years and takes a truly transdisciplinary approach to environmental research. Through university-wide and college-level research institutes and centers that bring together and connect their outstanding environmental faculty to tackle the world’s grand challenges, UArizona seamlessly incorporates the expertise and needs from Arizona communities, industry, and government stakeholders. The breadth of environmental research and academic programs at UArizona spans focus areas from environmental economics and business systems to arts and humanities to environment and public health to water resources—and many more.
The UArizona Office for Research, Innovation and Impact recently formed the Arizona Institutes for Resilience, or AIR. AIR is a “constellation” of 11 institutes, cCenters, and pPrograms that, in aggregate, aim to better understand environmental challenges and to develop solutions that tangibly improve people’s resilience in the face of environmental shocks, including those due to impacts of climate change. The UArizona’s Office of Sustainability focuses on sustainability efforts that are environmentally sound, socially just, and economically viable across the university campus and broader community. This includes Compost Cats, one of the longest-running student sustainability programs at the university.
UArizona faculty and student researchers work alongside community partners to offer decision-makers the most forward-thinking strategies to combat the climate crisis and other environmental challenges. Through the University Climate Change Coalition, AIR builds on the university’s role as a land-grant university, exemplifying sustainable practices and social and environmental justice, enabling innovation, and taking science-based solutions into the real world to prepare for a new era of environmental realities.
Did You Know? The LEED-platinum certified Environment and Natural Resources 2 (ENR2) building on the university campus is currently transforming its roof to an agrivoltaic green roof, integrating photovoltaic energy and agricultural production to improve both solar panel efficiency and plant production.
University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has been an NCSE member for four years. UAF is a small university making large contributions to sustainability. Research and teaching at UAF informs decisions on environmental issues spanning geographies, cultures, and generations. The school takes advantage of its small size to knit together disciplines and ways of knowing in powerful ways. Like any university, UAF has diverse departments and programs, but the boundaries are porous and internal and external collaborations contribute to informing environmental policies.
The geographical breadth of issues such as climate change requires international collaboration as manifested, for example, by UAF’s International Arctic Research Center. The cultural implications of environmental changes and decisions, of course, must be understood across disciplines and diverse knowledge systems, and UAF brings together academic and Indigenous scholars through its College of Rural and Community Development and the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center’s Tribal outreach efforts and other programs.
UAF’s Office of Sustainability was founded by students and today is entirely student-funded, driven by a student-led board, and programs are run by students. Using this model UAF students run a campus recycling program with over 100 bins, a bike rental program with a fleet of around 120 bikes, a FreeStore, a campus repair cafe, a student gardener training program, a campus food bank, and an Office of Sustainability that provides resources, education, and programming for the campus and greater Fairbanks community. Close collaboration across these and other University of Alaska programs helps to ensure that today’s decisions meet society’s needs without compromising the needs of future generations, the very definition of sustainability.
Did You Know? The student sustainability board has selected over 90 (mostly student) projects for funding, coordinated the development of a campus sustainability plan, and established a Green Revolving Fund.
At the Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo (INTEC) in the Dominican Republic, sustainability and environmentally responsible decision-making are cross-cutting to all institutional work. Through the current Campus Sostenible program, they reformed all procurement processes to ensure that their suppliers share their values. Additionally, they have developed an ongoing educational campaign aimed at the members of their community and visitors. They also maintain a recycling program and weigh their waste to monitor results.
INTEC has been an NCSE Member for one year. The university has designed cross-curricular coursework for all careers and programs oriented to conservation and sustainability issues. Additionally, researchers at INTEC are involved in various projects in the energy area. They have three research groups focused on Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, and Energy Planning. As an additional contribution to the Dominican Republic on these issues, they have developed the country’s first doctoral programs in Environmental Sciences and Energy Management for Sustainable Development.
The university also leads by example at the country-level. The campus models conservation practices and pioneers in renewable energy. For example, there are more than 1,400 solar panels on campus. These panels cover 90 percent of the campus building rooftops and yield impressive energy efficiency results.
Did You Know? Every year, INTEC prevents the emission of more than 420 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and generates up to 20 percent of its total energy consumption in clean energy. This is the highest figure available of impact for the education sector in the Dominican Republic.
George Mason University has been an NCSE Member Institution for 14 years. Sustainability is a key educational, operational and research priority at Mason. Mason educates sustainability leaders, conducts interdisciplinary research of consequence, invests in green infrastructure, and promotes and supports socially conscious entrepreneurship. Through civic and community engagement in and outside the classroom, Mason offers students a transformative education in programs based within the Department of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP), Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Earth Sciences, Global and Community Health, and the School of Integrative Studies, among others. Mason’s globally-recognized faculty deliver high-level educational experiences, field applications, and leadership in extension and outreach, within one of the most diverse academic communities in America. Building upon strong foundational partnerships and its convenient location, their programs address local, regional and global environmental issues, translating science into policy.
ESP embraces ecosystem health and sustainability as a research and academic focus under the One Health/Planetary Health approaches, demonstrating solutions to pressing issues to policymakers and the general public. ESP focuses on conservation of species and their habitats; ecology of water and watersheds; monitoring and management of environmentally-derived emerging infectious diseases; and the sustainability of socio-ecological systems that support healthy humans, species, and ecosystems. The department delivers 125 “green leaf”-designated sustainability courses across dozens of academic programs. Mason students have directly offered hands-on watershed education programs to over 100,000 middle school youth.
Nine of Mason’s colleges and schools also support research centers that focus on sustainability, including the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, the Center for Climate Change Communication, the Business for a Better World Center, and the Center for Energy Science and Policy. With much of its research related to sustainability, Mason recently launched the Institute for a Sustainable Earth to connect faculty with policymakers, businesses, civic organizations, and communities to foster transdisciplinary research. Mason’s Center for Resilient and Sustainable Communities facilitates locally led, bottom-up initiatives supported by effective, replicable models.
The Office of Sustainability provides leadership in environmental, social, and economic stewardship on our campuses and throughout the local and global communities. Mason is committed to achieving carbon neutrality no later than 2050. The Patriot Green Fund has financially supported more than 70 student-led projects, including the first four hives of what became the Honey Bee Initiative (HBI); HBI is managed by the Business for a Better World Center and now has more than 800 hives around the world! Recently, HBI’s work in Colombia was selected as the 15th best overall social and environmental project in Latin America. On campus, students may participate in the Green Residence program, work in the hydroponic greenhouse that supplies microgreens to campus diners, and live in the Environment and Sustainability Living Learning Community.
Did You Know? Mason students can spend a semester at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. This one-of-a-kind Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation partnership offers residential programs with Smithsonian scientists where students care for endangered animals and learn how to protect vanishing ecosystems and species.