UNO sets sustainability record

Photo by The Gateway

Jose Rodriguez

The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s sustainability effort was recognized this year when it placed in the Sierra Club Magazine’s 2017 “Cool Schools” list.

The magazine ranks higher education institutions in the United Sates regarding their sustainability practices. This is the second year UNO has made it to the magazine’s list, but this year UNO was ranked 188 out of 227 schools with a higher punctuation compared to last year.

Better sustainability efforts at UNO would not be possible without the current organizations, policies, committees and students’ support on campus. Two of these organizations are the Office of Sustainability and the Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee, formed in 2013. The committee created the 2014 Sustainability Master Plan, which called for a sustainability coordinator.

Sustainability Coordinator Sarah Burke said one of the closer objectives on the horizon is to have 61 percent of our waste diverted from the landfill by 2020.

“Materials, waste and recycling in our master plan is the first goal that we need to achieve,” Burke said.

There is still a misunderstanding of what can and what cannot be recycled, Burke said.

Improved shuttle systems and programs like MavRIDE also help UNO be a sustainable campus. MavRIDE provides a free transit bus pass to UNO students, faculty and staff with their university identification. From 2015 to 2016, the MavRIDE program’s use increased by 36 percent, with 93,212 riders registered.

“The area in the master plan that we are doing the most headway is in our transportation,” Burke said. “We are making a dramatic effort toward decreasing the number of single-occupancy vehicles coming to campus.”

One of the most challenging aspects of sustainability is to give equal treatment and improvement at certain levels across all sectors, Burke explained.

“Sustainability is so broad dealing with energy, water, waste, food and transportation, to give equal attention to all of those categories is very difficult,” Burke said.

Student participation is an important factor in maintaining a sustainable campus, Burke said. Several organizations on campus, like the Student Government Sustainability Committee promote the environment. Some of the student government contributions to sustainability have been initiatives like the MavRide program in 2011, the smoke and tobacco ban in 2016, implementation of better water filling stations next month and other activities to raise awareness.

Student Government Sustainability Committee Chairman Joseph Harris said they are constantly searching for new ways to inform students and communicate with departments. He wants students to help impact sustainability at UNO.

“Educate yourself, open yourself up to different resources, and know that we are the younger generation. We are the next generation, so it’s important that we take on these initiatives,” Harris said.