Conference emphasizes need for UT sustainability

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Ryan Reid, center, is asked a question from the audience at the Sustainability Conference in the SAC on Friday morning. Panelists gave brief lectures on how different areas of UT, including housekeeping, food services and athletics, are helping increase the university’s sustainability.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers Jr. emphasized the importance of reducing long-term environmental impact at the University in a speech he gave at the second university-wide sustainability conference Friday.

He said changes should be implemented now to prepare for the future.

“Just on the issue of getting a better mix of our energy sources, if we don’t make serious progress on that in 25 years, then we’re not going to be in very good shape,” Powers said.

Powers said the University should be involved in improving sustainability through daily operations, research and implementing sustainability into existing curricula. He said conservation programs at UT could impact students throughout their lives.

“Things like recycling programs, it’s not just what they do. It’s getting students, ourselves, in the habit of living in a way that’s sustainable,” Powers said.

The conference, attended by about 250 people, featured 22 presentations and five panels on sustainability research and operations at the University. For example, Meagan Jones, environmental specialist at the Division of Housing and Food Services, said the division has reduced waste from residential dining halls and diverted some to a commercial composting company.

The President’s Sustainability Steering Committee, which is made up of faculty and students, organized the conference to inform people of UT’s efforts toward conservation, said sustainability director Jim Walker.

“Not a lot of people on campus know the stuff that’s happening on campus, what kind of cool research or even cool operations things we have going,” Walker said.

Walker said sustainability economically benefits the University.

“It’s about using less resources just so that we can continue to avail ourselves of resources for a longer period of time, and that tends to save us money,” Walker said.

In a presentation, geography graduate student Moulay Sounny-Slitine said UT should install solar panels on current buildings but determining which buildings to use will be challenging.

“You always hit the big social barrier of ‘well, we don’t want to cover up the beautiful red roofs that we have,’” Sounny-Slitine said.

Historic preservation graduate student Serena Bolliger said she was particularly impressed with the recycling programs in the Athletics Department.

“People, when they go to a game, they’re not thinking, ‘I need to try and reduce my consumption,’” Bolliger said. “It seems like they’re trying very hard in an environment where the majority of people don’t care.” 

Printed on Monday September 26, 2011 as: Powers emphasizes importance of sustainability