UNO named Tree Campus USA, focuses on sustainability

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By Nicholas Sauma, Reporter

Visitors from around the country are often surprised by the number of trees in Nebraska. The state is commonly stereotyped as being a massive prairie filled with cattle and cowboys. Native Nebraskans know that isn’t the case. The state is the birthplace of Arbor Day and has a variety of tree species shading neighborhoods and streets.
UNO earned its third designation as a Tree Campus USA from the Arbor Day Foundation. UNO earned the achievement by meeting Tree Campus USA’s five standards which include maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicating annual expenditures toward trees, Arbor Day observance, and student service-learning programs and projects.
“We’ve been working towards a lot of these practices for years,” said Patrick Wheeler, senior environmental health and safety specialist at UNO. “Our horticulture program, particularly under Steven Rodie, has really helped develop a comprehensive and long term plan for trees here on campus.”
When it comes to long-term planning for trees, there are two key issues-species diversity and planning for where to plant new trees. Wheeler said tree plagues are destroying ash tree populations nationwide now, just as earlier ones affected Dutch elms.  
“Species diversity ensures that we won’t ever lose our entire tree population on the campus,” Wheeler said.
The Omaha Public Power District has been involved in planning when it comes to the location of trees on campus for years. After the ice storm of 1997, half a million trees in Omaha were lost, and the city planted 750,000 more, Wheeler said. OPPD worked with the community to ensure trees wouldn’t interfere with service lines or grow to become threats to buildings or roads. This investment of time means that trees throughout Omaha and at UNO, where they followed the same planning, have the chance to grow into mature plants without needing to be removed later.
“Work like this with the city and community hasn’t been uncommon among us working on sustainability,” Wheeler said. “However, we are currently moving towards involvement in a Center for Urban Stability that will partner us with the city and local industry to work on sustainability at large.”
Sustainability goes beyond planting trees. UNO has been working to progress toward even greener standards. From bicycles, to the new Zipcar program and shuttle service, UNO has many transportation options designed to cut energy costs.
One recent project has been Information Services changing computer labs on campus to virtual desktops, eliminating individual computers.  
“The amount of energy this cut was significant, not to mention the costs of equipment and maintenance it removes, and there’s no difference in service,” Wheeler said.
Students didn’t notice the change right away.
“I guess I noticed that the computers were gone from under the desks, but I never really paid it much attention,” said Matthew Augustyn, UNO junior. “I vaguely remember reading the information cards they had about it now, but I really didn’t think anything had changed.”
UNO and the sustainability team are also retrofitting buildings with new and more efficient lighting systems, analyzing locations for wind, solar and geothermal power, and developing housing showcases to teach students living on campus how to minimize their impact and help keep prices down.
“It’s an ever-evolving, constant process for us here, but if you ask the average person what sustainability is, you get the same answer,” Wheeler said.
That answer? Recycling.
“Being a tree campus is a great honor, and one we want to continue to earn, but it’s part of a broader goal,” Wheeler said. “We need to change people’s mindset on sustainability to more than just recycling, but also reducing usage, reusing resources, and utilizing existing infrastructure to plan far into the future because that’s when we really reap the full benefits of our work.”

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