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OU Office of Sustainability, student ambassadors begin progress toward Climate Action Plan

Ohio University students and faculty have worked this summer to achieve the university’s sustainability goals outlined in its Climate Action Plan as the community learns more about how they can get involved. 

In June, the OU Board of Trustees unanimously approved the new Climate Action Plan, which includes goals to be carbon neutral by 2050 and targets that align with external reporting and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, according to a previous Post report.  

Restructuring the sustainability plan was a central focus for Elaine Goetz, director of energy management and sustainability at OU. 

“When former president Nellis came in 2017, he asked us to restructure sustainability so that it was not as much just focused on the operational part of the university, like reducing carbon emissions and energy and water and waste, but on education of students and co-curricular activities and creating engagement ecosystems, so that everybody on campus and in their community could be involved,” Goetz said. 

Since the plan was accepted earlier this summer, the Office of Sustainability has been working on a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, report which was recently submitted to President Hugh Sherman for approval, Goetz said. 

According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s website, the STARS report is a “transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.”

Due to the Office of Sustainability’s small size, it relies on students to support and progress sustainability on campus. The Climate and Sustainability Ambassadors program, a collection of students and community members who promote sustainability at and around OU, has assisted the office. 

“We have monthly themes that correspond to our sustainability and climate action plan, and so each month (the ambassadors) took the theme for that month, and they created podcasts,” Goetz said. “That's another way we're trying to get the word out, but it's just hard. There are so many competing things going on in our world, and although I think people do really realize the importance of sustainability and climate action, just sometimes it's hard to get people to really pay attention.” 

The ambassadors are not the only people on campus encouraging sustainable change at OU. During the university's Student Senate elections in Spring Semester 2021, many of the executive candidates included sustainability as an issue to focus on in the following year. Vice President Elaina Tartal, a senior studying political science and sociology-criminology, said the plan seems like a good start for change. 

“This plan is a long-lasting thing that can have a great impact for many years … it's something that will work and be able to last for years to come, and will actually implement really good sustainability changes in campus that will help our Earth, and make us a greener community,” Tartal said. 

In conversations with students, Tartal said some didn’t know there was a change to OU’s sustainability plans but wanted to learn more about it. She also thinks Senate plans to make information about the new Climate Action Plan more accessible to students this year, she said. 

Amy Lynch, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, reflects Tartal’s outlook on inclusion of many groups across campus. She said the Office of Sustainability has done well to create a transparent sustainability plan that is accessible to large audiences. 

“Plans not only need to have good content but they need to be presented in a way that everybody can understand what that plan is saying and what that plan is asking them to do and what they can do to help implement that plan,” Lynch said. “A university plan, because it has such a wide array of audiences, needs to be very accessible, and I think they've taken a good step toward that.”

While Lynch said the plan seems to have reasonable and achievable goals, she feels the university can do more to accomplish the goals in a shorter time period. 

The Office of Sustainability provides many resources on its website for students looking to get involved in the change taking place at OU. Goetz said joining the Climate and Sustainability Ambassadors or the Green Initiative would also help create change. 

“We are just a little office and we really need amplification of our efforts by students,” Goetz said. “I think being present and paying attention are probably some of the biggest ways that students can help.”


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