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New Office of Sustainability Takes Root

Formalized Office Centralizes University’s Longstanding Environmental Efforts

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The university's popular Community Garden Program is one of the many environmental efforts supported by the new Office of Sustainability.

03/19/2015
By Ed Brennen

From climate change to composting, transportation to facilities, UMass Lowell’s commitment to sustainability through education, research and innovation is nothing new.

What is new, though, is the university’s Office of Sustainability, which was launched this semester to provide a centralized, campuswide resource for those longstanding efforts.

“The importance of this office can’t be overstated,” says Richard Lemoine, director of environmental and emergency management and co-chair of the Committee for Sustainability. “This gives the university the opportunity to centralize all of its sustainability services and to provide support and access to our curriculum, to our research, to our building operations, to our infrastructure. It allows us to share best practices for sustainable efforts throughout the fiber of the university.”

The Committee for Sustainability was recently established as a committee for the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan.

“The recognition of the 2020 Plan is big,” says committee member and Director of Administrative and Office Services Tom Miliano, who credits Chancellor Marty Meehan for continuing to make sustainability a priority. “It’s his leadership, his desire to bring us there, that is a really important aspect of our success.”

The STARS align

While the Office of Sustainability settles into its new space at University Crossing (Suite 140), it already has been busy.

For the first time, the university is signing up for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a self-reporting framework that measures the sustainability performance of colleges and universities. Managed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), it awards bronze, silver, gold or platinum status. In February the university also submitted data to the Princeton Review as it seeks to be designated as a “Green Campus.”

To help compile all the required data for those reviews, the university hired two consultants last fall, Mary House and Kelley Begin, from the firm of Woodard & Curran. Thanks to her close work analyzing the university’s existing sustainability efforts, House will now serve as the first-year director of the Office of Sustainability.

“This is a continuum of building upon the great work that’s been happening here for a long time,” says House, who adds that she has been continually impressed with the tremendous progress the university has made in its sustainability efforts over the past five years.

“It’s really been a natural progression. All the pieces fell into place wonderfully,” Miliano says of the partnership with Woodard & Curran. “They’ve helped guide us to where we need to be.”

Sowing the seeds

According to committee member Ruairi O’Mahony, completing the STARS and Princeton Review processes benefits the university in a multitude of ways.

“Obviously the ratings are great, but this is just going to serve as a resource for the entire university as we aim to further develop and refine our sustainability program,” says O’Mahony, manager of Transportation Demand Management and Parking Services. “It gives us an excellent set of a baseline data that we can use to see where we are and where we need to go.”

And by bringing existing efforts like LEED-certified buildings and electric vehicle charging stations together under one roof with the Office of Sustainability, expectations are for increased collaboration, focus and synergy — as well as savings.
 
“Yes, we’re doing this because there’s an environmental benefit, but it’s beneficial to the campus in terms of operating budget, cost reductions, energy generation,” O’Mahony says. “So it’s a green movement, but it’s green in both senses.”

Miliano agrees that’s an important element to remember as the Office of Sustainability takes root.

“Ruairi said something recently that stuck with me, ‘If we’re doing sustainability right, you shouldn’t notice it as a stand-alone program.’ And that’s our goal: to integrate it and have it permeate throughout every aspect of the campus, but doing it so it’s not only environmentally sustainable, but it’s financially sustainable, it’s operationally sustainable, it’s culturally sustainable,” Miliano says. “It’s very important for us to do it the right way.”

You can contact the Office of Sustainability by emailing sustainability@uml.edu or calling 978-934-6360.