GCSE Member of the Month

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.

January 2021: The University of Rhode Island

January, 2021

students on a beach sampling for microplastics
Students Jacqui Roush (center) and Cara Megill (right) sample for microplastics in Narragansett Bay with post-doctoral researcher Dr. Brian Preziosi (left) as part of ongoing research under URI Professors Dr. Andrew J Davies and Dr. Coleen C Suckling. Image credit: Rory Maynard-Dean.

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.

December 2020: Concordia University, Montreal

December, 2020

Students planting trees
In November of 2019, Concordia students, staff and faculty planted 185 new trees on campus. © Concordia University.

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.

November 2020: North Carolina State University

November, 2020

NC State students in a park area, looking at a map.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).

October 2020: The University of Arizona

October, 2020

Photo rendering of the planned agrivoltaic green roof by Kevin Choi, 2020.
Photo rendering of the planned agrivoltaic green roof by Kevin Choi, 2020.

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. 

September 2020: University of Alaska Fairbanks

September, 2020

Rob Rember and Mette Kaufman, both with UAFs International Arctic Research Center, train graduate student Rachel Lekanoff how to sample sea ice during a training trip to Utqiaġvik, Alaska prior to the MOSAiC expedition
Rob Rember and Mette Kaufman, both with UAFs International Arctic Research Center, train graduate student Rachel Lekanoff how to sample sea ice during a training trip to Utqiaġvik, Alaska, prior to the MOSAiC expedition. Photo by JR Ancheta.

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.

August 2020: Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo

August, 2020

solar panels at intecAt 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.

July 2020: George Mason University

July, 2020

Smithsonian-Mason Semester students testing water on learning about watershed management on the Shenandoah River. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University.
Smithsonian-Mason Semester students testing water on learning about watershed management on the Shenandoah River. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University.

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. 

June 2020: Seminole State College of Florida

June, 2020

Seminole State CollegeSeminole State College of Florida is a full-service education provider within the Central Florida community, offering a wide range of two-year college-credit degrees, bachelor’s degrees, career and technical certificates, adult education, and professional educator preparation. Seminole State College has been an NCSE Member for seven years and has contributed to the Community College Handbook for Sustainability Education and Operations.

Global sociocultural responsibility is considered a key learning outcome at Seminole State College, and the institution has taken many efforts to introduce sustainability across the curriculum. Among these programs, Seminole State offers a unique multidisciplinary Sustainability Certificate, with course options available to first- and second-year undergraduates in fields as diverse as renewable energy, green building, alternative fuels, sustainable business, and environmental policy. Students pursuing degrees in engineering technology may seek a specialization in sustainable engineering, while business graduates may now complete an additional Certificate of Professional Preparation in Sustainability Management. Founded on relationships made through NCSE and supported through generous grants, an ongoing travel study program for women in STEM, Sustainability Studies in the New Mexico High Desert, is also offered at Seminole State.

Seminole State College continues to seek opportunities to improve the sustainability of its operations and to promote the long-term social, economic, and environmental wellness of the college and the community. Seminole State’s newly established collegewide Sustainability Committee has been tasked with articulating a new vision for sustainability at the institution and for developing the College’s first ever comprehensive Sustainability Plan.

Did You Know? Last year Seminole State College’s sustainability program launched an exciting partnership with the Center for Fine & Performing Arts. Technical theatre students enrolled in a special topics course on Green Theatre & Sustainable Design. In tandem, the College hosted its Fix It Up! Art & Repair Fair, a community event that featured multiple workshops, a Student Recycled Art Show, a panel discussion on green theatre in Central Florida, and a guest lecture on future prospects for a circular economy.

May 2020: Universidad del Desarrollo

May, 2020

Photo of Universidad del Desarollo campus and buildingsUniversidad del Desarrollo (UDD) is one of the first NCSE Member Institutions in the International Network, joining in 2019. UDD is one of the most modern and fast growing universities in Chile. Founded in 1990, it has become one of the best academic institutions in the country for undergraduate, postgraduate, and other studies, and is also recognized for its research centers and programs in several fields. UDD is a dynamic and young university that aims to contribute solutions to society’s problems with quality, security, and efficacy, now and in the future. UDD researchers are involved in high-impact research and adapt effectively in a dynamic international context to attract collaboration from all over the world. UDD aims to achieve strategic alliances with international centers that have a high level of scientific productivity and impact in innovation.

UDD graduates should be able to devise new and different solutions to solve complex problems and address situations with a changing context. UDD future professionals should be driven by the impact of their achievements and be able to lead others as well as collaborate with them. UDD faculty have a strong involvement as experts or members of advisory boards of governmental institutions, such as National Agency of Research and Development, National Commission in Innovation and Development (CNID), Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Energy, and the Chilean delegation for COP21. Faculty also contribute to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) and the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR). 

At an international level, the university is a member of United Nations Sustainable Development Networks (UNSDN), Network for Business Sustainability, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and International Water Research Association. UDD also contributes to Future Earth, an international research program for global sustainability working on the water-energy-food security nexus.

Did You Know? As part of the Public Responsibility Week, UDD celebrates a “Sustainability Day,” in which students and faculty can learn more of the sustainability initiatives, such as recycling points, solar chargers for mobile devices and special parking for bicycles. In addition, a farmer’s market is held every other week at the campus, where the UDD community can buy fresh vegetables and fruits. UDD has many diverse initiatives that improve the quality of life in the three major dimensions of Sustainable Development: economic, social, and ecological. UDD is the second institution in Chile in The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings (second edition), the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

April 2020: The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

April, 2020

Aerial view of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley campusThe University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) has been an NCSE Member for three years. Created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas, this transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, located along the U.S.-Mexico border in one of the most underserved regions of the country. UTRGV has been named a  CollegeNET Social Mobility Innovator  for its success in making college affordable, advancing economic opportunity, and providing opportunities for its students to make a positive impact in their lives and on their community, such as through various research centers including those for nanotechnology, spacecoastal and climate change research, and entrepreneurial and economic growth. A new School of Medicine, which will graduate its first class in 2020, also contributes to the health of the region’s populace and advances research on diabetes and infectious diseases that disproportionately affect the Rio Grande Valley. Across the Rio Grande Valley, students and faculty wholeheartedly engage in applied community-engaging and sustainable development research to the extent that the university was awarded the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for 2020. 

Coordinated by the UTRGV Office for Sustainability, UTRGV offers a Sustainability Fellowship program in which masters students carry out impactful sustainability and community resilience projects. UTRGV also recently launched a new Sustainability Graduate Student Leadership program in partnership with the Office of Professional Education and Workforce Development which aims to scale the impact students make towards communities’ sustainable development, providing leadership training and support for collaboration. Sustainability Faculty Fellows contribute their expertise to these programs.  

Did You Know? The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is an AASHE designated International Center for Sustainability Across the Curriculum and one of only five universities in Texas to receive an AASHE Gold Rating for overall efforts to integrate sustainability across the university. UTRGV’s commitment to maintaining a sustainable environment on campus is also evident through its Tree Campus USA and Bee Campus USA designations, both informed by their faculty and student researchers.