Office Of Sustainability Makes Aggieland A Better, Greener Place For All
In photo after photo on the Office of Sustainability’s Facebook page, groups of Texas A&M University students, faculty and staff show off giant checks, each one representing a concrete solution to an important need or problem on campus.
From $21,000 for new hand dryers in Evans Library to $110,000 for energy-efficient LED stage lights in Rudder Auditorium, these and other improvements are made possible by the Texas A&M Office of Sustainability through the Aggie Green Fund, which this year gave a record total of $300,938 in major grants to difference-makers across campus — plus an additional $26,815 in micro-grants for smaller projects like water fountains and recycling bins.
Each one of those checks is proudly signed by the Office of Sustainability’s director, Kelly Wellman, who says she couldn’t be more proud of everything the Green Fund has helped accomplish since it was first set up in 2011. More than 10 years and $2.6 million in grants later, the fund remains a cornerstone of Wellman and her team’s mission to make sustainability an everyday part of the Aggie experience.
“Sustainability touches on challenges that the entire world is facing, and we’ve got all these students that are coming here to learn how to solve those problems,” Wellman said. “So not only are we teaching and educating those students about what sustainability is, but we’re also working behind the scenes to ensure that Texas A&M is walking the walk and implementing sustainable practices.”
This October, the office is inviting the entire Aggie community to take part in that mission during Campus Sustainability Month, an annual celebration featuring educational events and activities; The largest of these is Campus Sustainability Day, which kicks off at 10 a.m. on Oct. 18 in Rudder Plaza.
Sustainability manager Ben Kalscheur said the annual festivities are a fun opportunity to connect with students and show them what sustainability is all about. Attending events or completing certain sustainability-focused tasks throughout the month will reveal secret code words, which Aggies can use to enter this year’s Campus Sustainability Month prize drawing.
“We get to spend time teaching them something, and then hopefully they can win something too,” Kalscheur said. This year’s top prizes include a Nintendo Switch game console, Yeti Cooler, and GoPro camera.
Respect, Protect And Preserve
When most people hear the word sustainability, they typically think of recycling and other environmentally conscious actions, Wellman and Kalscheur said. And while that’s certainly part of their office’s mission, the concept of sustainability applies to much more than just the natural environment.
“Ultimately, sustainability is about making the world a better place for today, but also for the future. We look at three big areas: environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability,” Kalscheur. “It’s looking at these big-picture issues, but filtering them all through the lens of people, because at the end of the day the earth is always going to be here — it’s the people that may or may not be here.”
To that end, the Office of Sustainability aims to address issues ranging from climate change to economic inequality, working with partners across campus to help reduce Texas A&M’s carbon footprint, provide resources like food and health products to underserved communities, and find creative solutions to emerging problems.
“One of the biggest things this generation is worried about is climate change,” Wellman said. “We talk to our students, and they’re very concerned about the quality of their life heading into the future. They’re highly aware, very involved and very concerned.”
Students can help make a tangible difference by applying for sustainability grants from the Aggie Green Fund — micro-grant applications are already open, while applications for major grants open Oct. 2 — or through a variety of work and volunteer opportunities, Kalscheur said.
“I think one of the crucial things that we have to do is be able to communicate and educate people,” Kalscheur said. “We have an internship program where undergraduate students from all different majors can work together and educate people about sustainability issues.”
Students, faculty and staff can also do their part by getting certified with the Aggie Sustainability Alliance and making small changes in their daily routine, whether that’s shutting down computer monitors when stepping away from a workstation, or choosing to bike across campus instead of drive.
“To have a sustainable future, we’re going to need more than just individual choices, but those also matter, and you as an individual can make a difference,” Kalscheur said.
As the Office of Sustainability celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, Wellman says the office is continuing to work with units across the university to lead Texas A&M in a sustainable direction. In 2022, A&M earned its fifth gold ranking from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, which collects sustainability scores from colleges and universities around the world.
Among other achievements, A&M’s flagship campus in College Station currently draws one-fifth of its electricity from renewable sources – a major step in the right direction for an institution of its size, and an example of the school’s readiness to address big-picture sustainability issues, Wellman said.
“Texas A&M is unique, and it’s because of the people who work here,” Wellman said. “When you’re at a place like A&M, you have faculty and staff coming from all over. They’ve had a myriad of experiences, they have different ideas about how these things can work, and they are willing to recognize the value that sustainability brings.”