Office of Sustainability

As the University’s needs increase, the Concho Community Garden, located just east of campus, faces an uncertain future. The student-run garden along with the Microfarm are home to various fruits, vegetables and a wide array of flowering plants.
Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

Campus construction plans will currently not displace the UT Microfarm and Concho Community Garden, but future campus expansion could put their locations in question, according to Jim Walker, director for the Office of Sustainability. 

UT student-volunteers manage the garden areas, which produce vegetables, fruits and herbs. Since the community garden and Microfarm were initially built as temporary locations in 2011 and 2012, respectively, the areas were viable options for 2015 campus development plans that could have relocated the gardens, Walker said. 

“The University administration has definitely seen that the gardens are popular and a positive experience for our students to have access to,” Walker said. “We are committed to helping the garden experiences. … However, whenever we build buildings, it’s going to take precedence on [the gardens].”

The campus development plan outlines the expansion of campus and locations of new facilities, mainly into East Campus. In the initial planning stages, Walker said there was a possibility new tennis courts would be built in the current locations of either the Microfarm or the community garden.  

Lily Nguyen, geography junior and Concho Community Garden director, said fall 2013 was the first time she heard about the possibility of relocation.

Walker said the University ultimately found a way to expand campus as part of the plan without jeopardizing the gardens’ locations.

Audrey Nguyen, philosophy and plant biology junior and assistant manager at the Microfarm, said the group has been told there is a possibility the Microfarm and the garden will now be incorporated into the development plan and will be able to remain where they are.

“If this ends up being the case, [the Microfarm] would love to be involved in development talks,” Nguyen said. “Future plans for the area will directly affect us [and] our operation.”

Audrey Nguyen said the Microfarm leaders discussed developing land at the Pickle Research Campus, located in north Austin, when they were told they might have to relocate. 

Audrey Nguyen said the group still wants to keep its location in East Austin, although the leaders are still considering expanding to the Pickle Research Campus. 

“We’ve put a lot of work into the land over the last three years, and we love how close we are to Main Campus,” Audrey Nguyen said.

Lily Nguyen said the Concho Community Garden, founded in spring 2011, has also looked into relocating. The main option was to disperse the gardens into multiple smaller areas on campus. She said that would have made the gardens more convenient for students.

Lily Nguyen also said she was surprised the two groups were not consulted about the possible move.

“I wish that community gardens were a priority for the University, and I wish we had a say in the conversation deciding whether they should stay, or the permanence of them,” Lily Nguyen said.

Walker said the UT System Board of Regents will vote on the campus master plan in May, but it cannot be released until then. With the new plan, Walker said the garden and Microfarm should remain where they are, but continual campus growth could put their current locations in question at some future point.

“We’re hopeful that they can stay where they are,” Walker said. “I can’t guarantee they’ll always be there.”

Student group collaborates with University on efforts to create greener campus

A nonprofit organization that evaluates sustainability on college campuses gave UT a B+ for the 2011 school year.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute provides a “Sustainability Report Card” for the 300 U.S. and Canadian universities with the largest endowments. The report card has nine sections, including green building efforts and recycling, that evaluate different aspects of sustainability on college campuses.

“Doing well in these kind of surveys is a nice measure of the kind of sustainability work going on on campus,” said Jim Walker, director of sustainability at UT. “I think it’s probably too soon to tell if it’s a result of the Office of Sustainability’s work.”

The organization issued UT a B- last year. Walker said the improvement was a result of better reporting on the initiatives already in place on campus.

The University provided the Institute with more complete information about strategies implemented to improve sustainability, and distribution of endowment funds, which could have increased their score, he said.

The Campus Environmental Center, a UT student-run environmental preservation group, has led initiatives that may have factored into the new grade the University received. The CEC used to control some recycling on campus and hosted the annual Trash to Treasure garage sale. They are also in the early stages of developing a program to reduce carbon emissions.

Since the University took charge of on-campus recycling this summer, the center has focused on creating programs that allow more opportunities for environmental awareness, including providing information about campus sustainability issues at new student orientations.

“Last year, they did take some steps to get more sustainability into new student orientation because ... the ratings system that’s sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in higher education specifically mentions that in their grading system,” said Karen Blaney, adviser for the CEC. “And you can get points for having sustainability integrated in the new student orientation.”

Although the program was not implemented, the center began discussing possible strategies with the coordinators of new student orientation.

“A lot of things have been going on [on campus] for a long time, it’s just that we’re now getting recognition for that,” she said.

The center will begin other programs this semester that may improve the University’s overall sustainability rating. Rachel Aitkens, co-director of the center, said UT is looking at how to make water fountains easier to use to refill water bottles and other measures to reduce plastic waste.

Walker said involving everyone on campus is another way that the Office of Sustainability hopes to improve ratings.

“We’d like to have more interest from the faculty and students on different aspects of the report card. We welcome a broader conversation on different aspects of the card where the University can do better,” he said.