Office of Sustainability 2014: A year in review

December 16, 2014

With a new year right around the corner, we in the Office of Sustainability have been reflecting on accomplishments and challenges during the past year and looking forward to the opportunities 2015 will bring for our campus.

It has been an exciting time in the Office, from expanding sustainability-related education and engaging the campus in a discussion around climate change, all while strengthening intersections between campus operations and academic activities.

In partnership with the Nelson Institute, we launched a new Sustainability Certificate this year along with a Sustainability in Practice capstone course (ES 602). Together, these give undergraduates from all backgrounds a powerful combination of literacy in sustainability concepts and principles with hands-on experience tackling real-world problems. Beyond earning an extra credential, our students are learning the skills they need to compete in today’s economy and shape a more sustainable tomorrow.

That sustainable change begins close to home, and we are working hard to improve the sustainability of our campus. Working with invaluable on- and off-campus partners, the Moving Days and Housing move-out campaigns have dramatically reduced waste and increased reuse and recycling as students move out of old residences and into new ones. We’re studying waste streams from several campus buildings to learn how to improve recycling and keep our resources out of the landfill. This fall’s zero waste initiative at Camp Randall was also a major success, with some important and pragmatic lessons about how to tackle waste at events as large as our Badger football games. The trash isn’t completely gone yet, but waste has dropped and recycling and composting are on the rise.

We are continuing to build our research efforts and expanded our SIRE award program to support Research Experiences for Undergraduates and development of Major Extramural Initiatives through planning grants and logistical support. We supported submission of three major interdisciplinary proposals in 2014 and hope to see more in 2015.

We have also seen the development of exciting ideas through campus initiatives on climate change. The Climate Knowledge Project is improving literacy and promoting thoughtful discussion through an innovative peer-to-peer education model, while the Climate Quest competition brought interdisciplinary teams from across UW–Madison and the community to create tangible climate change solutions. From 80 original ideas submitted, five finalists are now working on solution prototypes to compete for the grand prize on January 30.

Of course, none of these accomplishments would be what they are without our many partners both on and off campus. We are proud and grateful to be part of a community of collaborators working toward a more sustainable campus, city, and world. Thank you to all of you who have been part of our efforts.

In the upcoming year, watch for more news about our “Forward to Zero Waste” initiative, our new Green Teams program, engagement opportunities around campus massive open online courses, and more.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and sustainable holiday season, from all of us at the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability.

Craig Benson, Director of Sustainability Research and Education

Faramarz Vakili, Director of Campus Sustainability Operations