Master the future of sustainability on campus

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Written by  Nicholas Sauma

Just over a year ago, if I was asked about the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s goals for the future, I probably would have made some offhand, sarcastic comment about taking my money. My point is, that like many of my fellow students, I thought of UNO solely as an institution of education where I choose my 120 credits, pay my bills and drive home at the end of the day. Since then, I’ve learned more about both the strategic and academic priority areas here, and Sustainability, the fifth of the academic priorities, is one that I think provides the most opportunities for growth and involvement by students and faculty on campus by getting involved with the development of the Sustainability Master Plan.
Throughout my tenure at The Gateway, I wrote a number of stories about such issues, but my true immersion, the experience that got me most excited, was the bioretention garden located just west of the UNO Welcome Center. The garden collects rainwater, floods, and then slowly drains the excess water, storing it in the root systems and soil below instead of ejecting it onto the parking lot. On the surface, it looks like a collection of small plants, trees, and native grasses, but the amount of care, planning, and design that were invested blew me away.
Of course, there are countless other sustainability issues on a campus. The removal of desktop computers in some labs, making building airtight to save on heating and cooling, the LEED gold Mammel Hall and even the recycling program have all been part of consistent efforts to save energy, conserve resources or at very least reuse them.
The Sustainability Master Plan will run through October and will not only look to the future of efforts on campus, but also provides a framework to unite all the people, departments and groups that have been involved in sustainability issues. More importantly, this constructs a door to let new people get involved.
A lot of people would pause here and ask rhetorically why any of you should care, but to me, the question is absurd. The recycling program alone has saved the university almost $5,000 since 2010. Simply tossing plastics and aluminum into the correct bin. Virtualizing desktops removes maintenance and energy losses from the physical computer. Using rain gardens and drought resistant landscaping cuts down on water usage. In short, sustainability matters because it’s simple and it saves you money, time, energy and resources.
When I was learning about sustainability on campus, it turned into a series of interviews and meetings all around the campus from the administration building, to CPACS, to PKI and Mammel Hall. It covered issues of transportation, construction, landscaping and technology. What this means for my fellow students is that if you’re even remotely interested in sustainability, but perhaps won’t be around to benefit from the new minor that’s being developed, you can find an aspect of sustainability relevant to your field.
For faculty and staff with more developed expertise and skillsets, service learning projects with their students can immerse them in the issue. I might write about sustainability, but biologists, chemists and geologists among others have the knowledge to do things I could never dream of. The first step to getting involved, when I started, was to try to find the people already involved and write about their projects.
Now, visiting the website (unomaha.edu/green) displays a short survey for all your impressions and thoughts about the direction the plan might go, as well as the contact information and facts to get involved. Discussions about energy, resources and the environment have been going on for decades now, and having skills or knowledge of the issues, whether it’s to save money or to save the Earth (if you’re more high-minded!), are an important part of the future both of UNO and the greater community and country.

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