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IUPUI establishes Office of Sustainability, to hire full-time director

As an urban campus with many commuter students, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis faces significant challenges when it comes to environmental sustainability. But those challenges are also opportunities, say the leaders of a campus sustainability initiative that's moving into high gear.

With most students, faculty and staff relying on cars to get to and from IUPUI, efforts to promote cycling and alternative transportation can have a big impact on the campus's carbon footprint. And sustainability projects could engage students who normally set foot on campus only for their classes.

IUPUI Sustainability

Rich Strong and Jane Luzar

Print-Quality Photo

IUPUI is establishing an Office of Sustainability and will hire a full-time director for the office by July 1. The director will report to Jane Luzar, dean of the Honors College, and Rich Strong, director of the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, which means that both the academic and administrative sides of the campus will be closely involved with the initiative.

"It's really a great opportunity for cooperation," Strong said. "Having both sides involved in this way is something that doesn't always happen."

Sustainability is development that meets the environmental, social, and economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The IUPUI Office of Sustainability will:

  • Help develop a coherent, campus-wide sustainability program by coordinating academic, research, operations and student activities
  • Develop and manage a program of environmental stewardship, energy conservation, applied environmental science and policy research, environmental literacy and community outreach
  • Promote a culture of sustainability throughout campus and, when possible, will connect with the local community to educate and enrich it

Luzar and Strong said having sustainability programs has become a critical component of a responsible university, with faculty, students and staff expecting the campus to take a leadership role in stewardship of natural resources, the built environment and operational practices.

IUPUI, with its location and breadth of academic programs, is well positioned to become an urban leader in sustainability, including stewardship of natural resources, the built environment and operational practices. And the timing is right.

A master plan approved three years ago by the IU Board of Trustees emphasizes sustainable future development of IUPUI. The effort is also likely to include partnerships with the City of Indianapolis, which has established its own Office of Sustainability and is working on adding bike lanes and urban trails and promoting reduction, reuse and recycling of materials.

National organizations such as the Association for Sustainability in Higher Education are available to provide resources and guidance. IUPUI sustainability leaders have also been working with Bill Brown, director of the Office of Sustainability at IU Bloomington, which was established in 2009.

Strong and Luzar added that support from Chancellor Charles Bantz has been critical to establishing the IUPUI Office of Sustainability. In addition to a full-time director, the office will have funding for six internships a year, which will enable students to conduct research, learn about best practices in sustainability, and initiate campus projects.

The new Office of Sustainability and its director certainly won't be starting from scratch but will be able to draw together and coordinate disparate initiatives that have developed on their own.

On the academic side, several IUPUI schools and departments are creating new majors, concentrations or certificate programs focused on sustainability or sustainable development. And faculty and students have focused on sustainability with the 2009-11 campus Common Theme project, the topic of which is "Consuming Well for the Wealth of Communities, from IUPUI to the World." And on the administrative side, waste-reduction efforts have been put in place by IUPUI Food Service and by various departmental "green teams."

Several campus groups joined together to create a Student Sustainability Council, which is exploring the establishment of a voluntary, $5-per-semester fee to support student sustainability initiatives. An urban garden established last fall gives students a chance to grow food for the community. And a second round of Greening IUPUI grants, awarded this spring, provides funding for nine sustainability-related projects, including water bottle refilling stations, a pilot project to eliminate the application of fertilizer on grass, a sculptural bike rack design competition and a project to reduce office waste and improve efficiency.

"There are plenty of opportunities for making progress," Strong said. "We've made some inroads, but there's a lot more we can do."