While the stated goal of education is to provide knowledge both general and specialized, it serves the greater purpose of preparing well-rounded citizens of the world, individuals with not just the knowledge and skills to develop theoretical solutions, but the desire and drive to enact tangible, positive change. To that end, sustainability is rapidly being integrated into education, as it is recognized that an understanding of sustainability allows for a multifaceted approach to problem solving necessary for the success of communities.
The word has been used erroneously as a synonym for “green,” but sustainability has very specific goals that go beyond recycling and tree planting. Sustainable systems can go on indefinitely, as we would hope for our societies, environments, and economies; unfortunately, as we have seen historically, this is not the case. Our current practices deplete non-renewable resources with no apparent plan for the future. Students are set to inherit a batch of problems years in the making, and must be aware of the economic, environmental, and social forces that drive human impact so future generations can make more nuanced decisions. By conducting ourselves in a manner that is positive for the community and world as a whole, we attain the goal of sustainability. By providing the community with information and resources to enable sustainable practices, we attain the goal of education.
The University of Texas will continue to uphold its responsibility in this endeavor by promoting the expansion of academic, scholarly, and outreach initiatives that educate students regarding the forces integral to the future success of the Rio Grande region. UTRGV makes efforts to infuse sustainability into its curriculum, into its community engagement efforts, and into its day-to-day operations. In doing so, the University must think and communicate across and beyond traditional disciplines, organizations, and cultural boundaries. The Office for Sustainability (OFS) is leading in many of these efforts by working with faculty to gain awareness of conservation, embrace a culture of sustainability, and connect sustainable operations with the broader academic mission across departments and programs through positive teaching/learning experiences. With this goal in mind, the OFS is excited to collaborate with all of UTRGV’s campuses through its Project Sin Fronteras (PSF) Faculty Development Program.
In serving the students by giving them the skills they need to bring sustainable economic development to our region, we prepare them to make global impact. Our faculty and students represent many countries that have similar demographics, climates, issues and concerns to the Rio Grande Valley. The solutions, innovations, and business models they develop can easily be implemented on a global level. We also support faculty from diverse fields and backgrounds to come together, contributing to the cultivation of a trans-disciplinary culture on our campus and preparing 21st century citizens and leaders of tomorrow. Through careful inclusion in every course and action, UTRGV can make an impact that will make a positive change for our region for years to come.
To transform the Rio Grande Valley, the Americas, and the world through an innovative and accessible educational environment that promotes student success, research, creative works, health and well-being, community engagement, and sustainable development. Updates here on the UTRGV Strategic Plan.
The Office for Sustainability’s mission is to advance the principles of sustainability through the continuing existence of a healthy, safe and environmentally sustainable campus that enhances individual health, community well-being, and positive teaching/learning experiences, while maximizing efficiencies, accessibility and affordability by educating and empowering faculty, students, staff, and community to enact change on our campus and the region.
The Office for Sustainability at UTRGV strives to satisfy the needs of these individuals as we move together in pursuit of sustainable innovation, opportunity, purpose and careers. In contributing to a sustainable, high quality of life on campus, the Rio Grande Valley and across the globe, the Office for Sustainability helps satisfy the goals of UTRGV in a manner that allows our region to shine as a global innovator in higher education.
We seek to engage and unite every corner of the university to create an environment in which all members of the campus community are generating knowledge, acquiring skills, developing values, and initiating sustainable practices in their personal and professional lives.
In this work, we reinforce UTRGV’s core priorities—student success, educational opportunity, community engagement, research impacting the Rio Grande Valley and beyond, and health & medical education.
What is the UTRGV Office for Sustainability (OFS)?
OFS is charged with institutionalizing sustainable development across all and recognizes the necessity of infusing sustainability into its curriculum, community engagement efforts, and its day-to-day operations. As such, we assist students, faculty, staff, and the community in connecting them with the resources to make inclusion of sustainable development.
UTRGV continuously engages students and the community, providing educational resources and partnering with several departments, both within and outside of the university, to offer student organizations opportunities to participate at sustainability programs, projects, and events both on and off campus.
UTRGV University Sustainability Council
The USC will be convened during the 2016-17 academic year. The University Sustainability Council (USC) is a permanent standing committee established to develop a framework for the university’s Sustainability Campus Action Plan. This committee reports to the EVP of Finance and Administration, who submits recommendations to the President. See University Sustainability Council.
What is Sustainability and Sustainable Development?
Sustainability — The most commonly accepted definition comes from the Brundtland Commission (1987),“Sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The three main pillars of sustainable development include economic growth, environmental protection, and social equality.
Sustainable Development — Here at UTRGV, we are using the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals to educate our community—both campus and public—about where their work falls in the realm of sustainable development. The UN sustainable development goals outline 17 areas that fall within economic growth, environment protection, and social equality. For more information on these goals, go to the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform website.
Facts & Stats
UTRGV is situated in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most biologically diverse regions in North America located at the most southern tip of Texas, where the Rio Grande meets the Gulf of Mexico. Four climates (temperate, desert, coastal and sub-tropical) converge to create a 365-day growing season, and rich soils of the Rio Grande delta support a documented 1,200 plant species within the Valley. This plant diversity attracts wildlife, birds and butterflies that can only be found in the U.S. – and often only in this region.
The Valley is also one of the fastest growing areas of the country, largely due to its proximity to the international border between the U.S. and Mexico. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metropolitan statistical area is expected to jump to 1.9 million people by 2030, which is a 397% growth rate from the 1990 population. Though the growth is a boon to the economy, since the 1930s, 95 percent of the native habitat found within the Valley has been cleared for agricultural or urban development. This development has relegated native plants and animals to remnant tracts, possibly compromising the genetic integrity of many species.
Producing socially conscious citizens and leaders
The Valley’s explosive growth, coupled with its unique ecological situation, presents challenges as well as opportunities with regard to sustainability. The university is dedicated to being a transformative force for the Rio Grande Valley through education and service, while contributing to the economic growth, environmental stewardship, health, and cultural richness of the region. The Valley has much to gain in the area of sustainability, and UTRGV provides the tools necessary to enact such change through career paths for our students that will directly serve the community, improving health and longevity, while multidisciplinary research provides new business models, data for habitat preservation, and opportunities for entrepreneurship.
As an institution, UTRGV is in a position to inspire, engage and prepare countless students to be socially conscious citizens and transformative leaders who will discover and apply sustainable solutions to preserve and maintain the planet. UTRGV serves as a model for the region by integrating sustainability goals of preserving a healthy and renewable ecological system, developing economic viability, and pursuing social justice across all areas of the university. By addressing university goals through the wide scope of sustainability, and in accordance with our local tradition and global movements, UTRGV works to maintain a high standard of environmental responsibility. To that end, in 2009, the university created the University Sustainability Council (and the Office for Sustainability to bridge the gap between old traditions and new goals.
In the fall of 2008, President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas ushered in the start of a new semester. At UTPA’s (legacy institution) convocation, President Cárdenas outlined how the university was moving forward to create a culture of achievement and success. One of these initiatives included the campus going 100 percent green in the near future. Cárdenas said reducing the University’s “carbon footprint” is a work in progress and the responsibility of the entire campus community. “The issue of making UTPA an environmentally responsible member of the community is going to be something that will be taking up more and more of our attention, and something we hope that you will join,” she said.”
To reduce its carbon footprint, UTPA is planning significant changes in the landscaping and irrigation systems as well as with building construction. Cárdenas said UTPA plans to build a storm water management feature, part of the UTPA West Campus Master Plan, which will capture rainwater in the reserve to reduce flooding and irrigate the campus lawns. Green standards will be implemented this year in the construction of the Starr County Higher Education Facility and the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center that will be located in McAllen.
Cárdenas said the Student Government Association (SGA) encouraged the UTPA administration to implement the green standards. Among the recommendations already put into action is the Energy Management Program in which air conditioning equipment throughout the campus was inspected, cleaned, or replaced. Also, the light fixtures in five buildings were switched to the new energy efficient light ballast and fluorescent light bulbs, which resulted in the UTPA saving more than $85,000 on its energy bills. Also, the University’s dining services, Sodexho, has jumped on the bandwagon and has done away with the use of trays. The University also has plans to expand the campus-recycling program while the Environmental Advisory Committee is working to bring awareness to the University community.
In 2009, interim president Dr. Charles Sorber established the Office for Sustainability (OFS) assigning Marianella Q. Franklin as the full-time director of sustainability programs.
In 2010, president Dr. Robert S. Nelsen is committed to implementing sustainability across campus by charging the Council and Office for Sustainability with the responsibility of developing an integrated Sustainability Campus Action Plan (SCAP) which would guide the university in an effort to become a leader in responsible environmental stewardship, education, outreach and research.
In 2013, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in a historic move that brings together the resources and assets of UT Brownsville and UT Pan American and, for the first time, makes it possible for residents of the Rio Grande Valley to benefit from the Permanent University Fund—a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M University System.
In the fall of 2015, interim president Dr. Havidán Rodríguez appointed Marianella Q. Franklin as Chief Sustainability Officer for the new UTRGV Office for Sustainability.
In 2015, UTRGV, under the leadership of the president Dr. Guy Bailey, received the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) a Silver STAR rating (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System).