15 Ways Students Can Get Involved with UW–Madison’s New Sustainability Goals

In February 2024, Chancellor Mnookin announced a groundbreaking commitment to sustainability. Mnookin laid out five goals across fields of sustainability that will guide UW–Madison over the next two decades: achieve net-zero emissions by 2048, create a zero-waste campus by 2040, achieve STARS Gold by 2025 through cross-campus involvement, foster sustainability education, and catalyze sustainability research.  

At UW–Madison, students are at the forefront of the sustainability transition on campus, and their actions and voices have a large impact on the university’s ability to achieve its goals. To aid in the sustainability efforts, students can engage with the goals on a personal level. Here are 15 ways to do so:

Goal #1: Achieve Net-Zero Emissions by 2048

UW–Madison’s goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2048 aims to balance emissions with removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Achieving the goal involves reducing emissions from on-campus electricity generation, off-campus (purchased) electricity production, and all other emissions (commuting, sourcing, building materials, etc.) by ensuring renewable energy production and efficient energy consumption. Students can:

  • Join renewable energy-focused student organizations. Clubs such as Campus Leaders for Energy Action Now (CLEAN), Helios UW–Madison, Engineers for a Sustainable World, and WiscWind all work on renewable energy projects on campus.
  • Apply for the Office of Sustainability’s Green Fund. Do you have an idea you would like to see implemented on campus? Consider applying for the Green Fund! The Green Fund assists in planning, implementing, and funding student-led sustainability projects. Green Fund projects don’t just fall under the net-zero emissions category–they are applicable to any sector of sustainability. Previous projects range from bird-friendly windows and low-flow toilets to solar panels and art work on campus.

Goal #2: Create a Zero Waste Campus by 2040

UW–Madison’s goal to create a zero waste campus by 2040 aims to responsibly source, use, and dispose of materials. A zero waste campus will minimize waste generation, promote sustainable purchasing, save financial resources, yield social benefits, and create a culture of environmental responsibility across the university. Students can:

  • Join student organizations dedicated to reducing waste. The Food Recovery Network saves edible food from landfills, and Campus Clean Up works to reduce litter and physical pollution from our campus.
  • Participate in the UW Frozen Meals Program. UW Frozen Meals Program packages and freezes uneaten meals from the dining halls for later consumption. You can either take the free meals or volunteer your time to help their efforts. Students can also sign-up to free Free Food Alerts.

Goal #3: Achieve STARS Gold by 2025 through Cross-Campus Involvement

UW–Madison’s goal to achieve STARS Gold by 2025 is ambitious but achievable. STARS (the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) is a certification system for higher education campuses. Campuses are rated in four key areas: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning and Administration. UW–Madison earned a silver rating in 2022 and particularly seeks to improve its Academics and Engagement areas to achieve the gold rating. Students can:

  • Utilize the Campus Sustainability Map. Office of Sustainability Project Assistant Audrey Stanton developed an interactive map for those who want to explore sustainability features on campus. Although the map is centered on the Sustainable Development Goals put forth by the United Nations, the features still correlate with the STARS categories.
  • Stay up-to-date on our progress towards STARS Gold. The Office of Sustainability runs a sustainability dashboard to track the university’s progress and efforts to achieve STARS Gold.
  • Educate yourself by listening to the SustainUW Podcast. Student interns at the Office of Sustainability host and produce educational episodes on various sustainability topics. There is sure to be an episode that piques your interest!

Goal #4: Foster Sustainability Education

UW–Madison’s goal to foster sustainability education aims to increase accessibility to sustainability educational opportunities by expanding sustainability courses, providing experiences through internships, and supporting student educational pursuits. Students can:

  • Pursue a sustainability-focused certificate. If sustainability interests you, consider adding a certificate to your degree. There are a few options, depending on your interests: 
      1. Sustainability Certificate, offered by the Nelson Institute
      2. Environmental Studies Certificate, offered by the Nelson Institute
      3. Certificate in Engineering for Energy Sustainability, offered by the Wisconsin Energy Institute 
  •  Take sustainability classes. Interested in sustainability, but don’t have the room to add a certificate or major? Take a class or two that focuses on sustainability. The sustainability attribute, administered by the Office of Sustainability, helps you identify courses that have a sustainability focus.

Goal #5: Catalyze Sustainability Research

To address the current climate crisis, innovation is essential. UW–Madison’s goal to catalyze sustainability research will be supported by the Sustainability Research Hub, which was launched with the release of the sustainability goals in spring 2024. Students can:

  •  Discover our  Campus Sustainability Experts. As a global leader in research, there are many researchers and experts on campus. Consider reading some of their scholarship or taking a course with one of these experts. 
  •  Showcase your research at the Sustainability Symposium. Are you already involved in sustainability research on campus? You can share your findings in the form of a poster or flash talk at the annual Sustainability Symposium, hosted by the Office of Sustainability every fall semester, or consider attending to learn more about sustainability research on campus.

By: Kylie Schedler