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UD to create Office of Sustainability and the Environment

Rachel Sawicki
Delaware Public Media
The University of Delaware recognizes Earth Day on the Green.

The University of Delaware is reevaluating sustainability on campus and setting goals to go greener.

UD President Dennis Assanis used Earth Day last week to announce several actions the school plans on taking in coming years to improve its sustainability ranking, like implementing renewable energy sources and recycling.

According to suggestions from the university’s Sustainability Council, one of the most important commitments is to establish an Office of Sustainability and Environment by the start of the new academic year.

“What Dr. Assanis announced on Friday was really more of an operational move of looking at enacting part of our strategic plan, which is focused on sustainability, and creating this office of sustainability and the environment so there is a fully staffed office driving any operational changes that are happening on campus,” UD spokesperson Andrea Boyle said.

Kristie Arlotta, undergraduate representative on the Sustainability Council, said UD is at the bottom of the list compared to other institutions.

“We do not recycle, we don’t compost, we create enormous amounts of waste, enormous amounts of energy are used on this campus, we do not invest in renewable energy,” Arlotta said. “And we do not have an equitable future for all of our students that go here.”

She also says that without administrative leadership, students can’t do it all.

UD let go of its Sustainability Manager in Fall 2020 as part of pandemic budget cuts, a move vehemently opposed by the Sustainability Council.

As part of a national rating system, Higher Ed institutions in the US earn an average of 73.7% of the credits available in the "Coordination and Planning" category – but due to the absence of a sustainability office, UD earned 0% in a 2020 report.

Boyle noted other changes the university has made in recent years, such as the Climate Scholars program that launched this school year. The goal of the program is to help students understand the challenges and nuances involved with climate change, and engage with the community to create solutions. In the course of the four-year program, the Climate Scholars must complete course requirements on the fundamentals of climate change and a capstone project that addresses a climate challenge.

To bring research and classroom academics together, the The Gerard J. Mangone Climate Change Science & Policy Hub was launched in Fall 2021.

“We are bringing everything together in that hub and that is very intentional from the university’s perspective because sustainability is so important,” Boyle said. “We want to make sure that all of the people working on those topics across campus are all coming together, sharing ideas, sharing innovations and making the most of what we can on campus.”

In an email to students on Friday, Assanis said they will also be expanding and promoting interdisciplinary research.

According to the national Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, UD is in the lower 25th percentile of all rated institutions. UD spokesperson Andrea Boyle said the school is a leader in research, despite a 2/18 score in it.

That research includes turning plant waste into plastics, powering the grid with electric vehicles, and offshore wind.

Boyle noted there are 15 majors focused, at least in part, to climate change. Some, like animal, plant and marine science, are long-standing, but newer routes of study like environmental data analytics and digital mapping give students modern-day skills and tools for combating climate change.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.