The Office of Sustainability at the University of Vermont
Our office of two full-time staff, four graduate Fellows, and several undergraduate interns supports grassroots efforts across campus and helps define and implement university-wide strategies for integrating sustainability on campus through programs, projects, and initiatives in four general areas:
- Academics: Integrating sustainability into the curriculum--for example, our Sustainability Faculty Fellows program
- Culture: Nurturing awareness and action in the ever-changing student population: see the Eco-Reps program
- Campus Operations: Evolving best practices in campus operations--students work with staff and administrators through the Campus Sustainability Course
- Accountability: Establishing goals, processes, and information systems to ensure progress over time-- we have committed to climate neutrality and are informally using the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) to organize our work.
Explore the left menu or use the search engine to learn more about our programs and emerging projects and initiatives.
To see what is happening across campus, check out our STARS pages.
But What is Sustainability?
Sustainability is a big idea, like Love, or Justice, that looks different to different people and from different vantage points. It can be described in a wealth of ways, but internationally the idea is most commonly referring to "sustainable development" as defined by the U.N. Brundtland Commission in 1987:
"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.".
It contains within it two key concepts:
- the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
- the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.
In the U.S., the term "sustainability" has recently become a label in product labeling that vies with "natural" and "healthy" in its potential to create ambiguity and greenwashing, and many institutions that are members of STARS are now grappling with defining sustainability in the curriculum. Fortunately for members our campus and greater Vermont community, finding the words to define our sense of what sustainability means to us has not been an obstacle to action. Connecting the mission of the university with Vermont values and Yankee ingenuity, the relatively new term "sustainability" feels like common sense.
Have a comment on the definition of sustainability? Please contact us with your thoughts.