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Earth Day keynote speaker advises University of Delaware how to improve sustainability

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

The University of Delaware’s Earth Week keynote speaker explained how colleges and universities often miss the mark on sustainability.

The UD sustainability council invited Tom Kelly, executive director of the Sustainability Institute at the University of New Hampshire, to show how his university was able to integrate sustainability on campus.

“We continuously have to address the strong tendencies and assumptions that the university was primarily about environmental science, rather than something that stretches across all of the sciences as well as the arts and humanities,” Kelly said.

Kelly says many institutions tend to separate academics and non-academics when it comes to sustainability - hurting their efforts.

UNH has the 5th highest rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, which uses a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS for short.

Chris Williams, co-chair of UD’s sustainability council discussed what UD is doing to remedy its own below-average efforts. He says the university has nowhere to go but up.

“We sit at the very bottom," Williams said. "It is disheartening, perhaps and it can be very scary on what we can possibly do to ever achieve a better future.”

Williams adds they hope to create a Climate Action plan in the coming years, but it is getting harder to do so as more components for a sustainable future present themselves.

The University of Delaware has one of the worst sustainability scores among the more than 1000 institutions rated by Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

UD managed just over 36 out of 200 possible points in the association’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.

“Sustainability is so much," Williams said. "It is education, it is energy, its finance, its food, its justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and its landscaping, water, and waste. All of these things come together to advance the university and again, advance our community as a whole.”

Williams adds UD is working on a Climate Plan to boost its STARS score.

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