Inside the planning process behind UR’s first sustainability plan

UR students often struggle to reconcile the University’s Meliora motto – “always better” – with the realities of campus life. Many laughed at it following the Jaeger Scandal, and many use it as a punchline when academic stress overwhelms their physical and mental health. But the occasional irony of the motto is at its height when we make direct comparisons with other institutions: why, for example, does UR not have an environmental sustainability plan similar to those of universities? counterparts?

Izzy Murphy Sr. posed this exact question to University President Sarah Mangelsdorf two years ago.

“We are in many ways similar to these other schools in size, in academic rigor, in what we are proud of, notes Murphy, a double major in environmental science and political science. “And we don’t have what all […] have – which is a comprehensive sustainability plan. Brandeis University, NYUand several ivies like Harvard all have climate action plans. At the regional level, laughsthe University at Buffaloand Syracuse University also have plans.

In 2019, Murphy and a small group of other students formed UR Students for a Climate Action Plan (URCAP) to push UR to follow the example of its peers and adopt an urgent climate plan. Although student-run, URCAP was not affiliated with the University in any official capacity. “We had specific ideas and we didn’t want to be forced [by an official relationship with the University]”says Murphy,” and also, we didn’t see the need to create an entire student organization […] We were only there for an initiative.

In the fall of 2019, URCAP worked on drafting a comprehensive report to present to President Mangelsdorf on the sustainability status and prospects of UR. The report noted that while some progress has been made and the University has signaled an appetite for sustainability efforts in the past, much work remains to be done. Among others, The report found that the University uses “no electricity from on-site renewables” and that “the total [greenhouse gas] emissions for UR have increased by 19% since 2010.”

URCAP sent the final report to President Mangelsdorf in early spring 2020, together with a request to organize an official meeting. Mangelsdorf, who has just moved from a university with a centralized sustainability officeOK.

COVID-19 took center stage in the spring of 2020, even seeping into the format of URCAP and the University administration meeting. Participants communicated through computer screens, framed in small Zoom squares. While there was widespread agreement and enthusiasm for a sustainability plan at this meeting, there was an implicit understanding in April 2020 that COVID-19 was, for now, a more pressing issue than climate change. .

The sustainability strategy sat on the back burner until November 2021, when it came back in full force.

Sustainability at UR has grown beyond student advocacy unaffiliated with the university into an institutionalized planning team, with members spanning positions and campuses throughout the university, from the medical center to the Memorial Art Gallery to the Eastman School of Music.

At the top of the team is the 17-member Advisory Council, representing leadership across the University. Perhaps the simplest explanation of the Council’s role is to “advise and direct the results to ensure that this is an achievable plan”. An important part of the council’s duty is to ensure that a “clear narrative” can be presented to the greater Rochester community. “We want to have something to share with them when we ask them for time to talk to them about what we’re doing,” says Cam Schauf, one of the team’s two co-planners as well as the director of on-campus catering services. .

The core team, made up of nine members, provides leadership and consultation to the last and largest element of the planning team: the working groups.

About 15 people make up each of the three working groups, whose tasks so far have been to draft the actual goals for UR’s sustainability plan. Schauf says, “We worked to make sure we had a mix of people from across the University [in all the Working Groups] — faculty, staff and students.

To narrow the scope of the planning process, each group focuses on its own sustainability theme: education and engagement (research and academic programs), the built environment (buildings and man-made infrastructure), and sustainable operations. (involving other operations such as waste management, transport, land, etc.).

But even all of these committees, with their diversity of experience and expertise, are not enough to bring a RU sustainability plan to fruition. The crucial partner in this whole endeavor has been Greenera consultant who helps higher education institutions design actionable sustainability strategies.

“I can’t imagine having to lead this process without their help,” says Amy Kadrie, UR’s other co-planning manager and sustainability coordinator. “They’ve done it at other institutions and colleges similar to ours, so they really have the expertise on how the process works.” As part of their responsibility to coordinate the overall planning process, Kadrie says GreenerU has facilitated working group meetings, community outreach and other larger events, and they will prepare the drafting and design of the plan. final.

As you might expect, crafting a comprehensive sustainability plan for an institution as large as UR is not easy. In fact, it’s damn complicated. All of those interviewed for this article cited UR’s decentralization as a major obstacle to implementing institutional change, and there is, of course, the thorny issue of budgeting.

So how does the planning team base its efforts?

“As a university, this is our very first sustainability plan,” says Schauf. “It doesn’t have to cover everything we always thought we wanted to do. He has to start moving us forward in all parts of the institution. And it has to be able to provide the framework so that everyone in the institution can understand where we are going and can help us get there.

Schauf also explains that the planning team devised criteria for the plan’s sustainability goals themselves, most importantly that they are SMART (Strategic, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals.

Some goal projects include establishing a sustainability office at UR, reducing “campus-wide greenhouse gas intensity by 30% by 2030, 35% d ‘by 2035, 40% by 2040 compared to 2022’ and the development of ‘programs that minimize or eliminate fossils’. transportation of fuel” by 2027, according to a document distributed by members of the planning team during a student feedback session on March 30.

At the time of writing, the planning team is in the stage of “finalizing draft goal language,” in Schauf’s words, so the above goals and others are subject to change. . They will be subject to comment and approval from voters and stakeholders within the wider Rochester community.

The only thing that seems to be missing in this process is advertising.

Murphy, the student activist, is thrilled to know that UR is committed to mitigating its environmental impact and is hopeful about its prospects, but they are surprised by the lack of public communications about the planning process.

“I haven’t seen any ads, and I’m [UR’s sustainability social media] pages,” Murphy says. “It kind of sucks that there isn’t this active publicity of the process itself, especially given the number of stakeholders involved in this process.”

The plan should be finalized this summer, but the implementation that follows will be just as important. According to Murphy, “Just because the planning process is underway doesn’t mean it’s almost done.”

Louisa R. Loomis