University of South Florida: Innovating Generation ‘S’

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What do extracting energy from human waste, composting with little kids, and beekeeping for ecosystem health all have in common? They’re just some of the many strategies innovated by students at the University of South Florida to advance research on climate neutrality.

With a new School of Global Sustainability and a million-dollar Student Green Energy Fund, USF is preparing the next generation of sustainability leaders: Generation ‘S’. By bringing the campus into the classroom, USF students have transformed the university into a living laboratory for the study of global climate change.

In March 2008, the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s “College Sustainability Report Card” informed USF that we had earned a D+ in our efforts to go green. But everything was set to change rapidly when, in April of that year, USF President Dr. Judy Genshaft signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. This small act— the result of student activism and enthusiasm over the previous years— had herculean consequences.

Since the signing, we have: incorporated sustainability into our university’s Strategic Plan, revamped our campus Master Plan to focus on smart growth, convened a sustainability steering committee that prepared the university’s first greenhouse gas inventory and Climate Action Plan, established an Office of Sustainability with several full time staff members who have completed numerous initiatives (e.g., food waste audits, Styrofoam-free campus, solar golf carts, refillable water bottle stations, new solar arrays and EV charging), implemented a university-wide policy on institutional sustainability, launched the worlds’ first School of Global Sustainability (which offers the M.A. degree in Global Sustainability), erected the first eco-friendly (LEED Gold) building on campus (and several others since) and, most recently, created a million-dollar Student Green Energy Fund to steer USF toward a carbon-free economy fueled by renewable energy.

While still relatively new, these initiatives have already made significant strides for student success and research innovation in climate change, including the redesign of our General Education Program for undergraduates (now called the “Global Citizenship General Education Program”), the development of a service-learning curriculum based on the concept of ‘sustainable healthy communities,’ worldwide public-private partnerships (our “Global Academic Partners” program) with applied research internship opportunities in outcome-driven sustainability science, and substantive organizational and policy shifts that are paving the way for long term institutional sustainability at USF.

For its efforts, USF has been recognized as an AASHE STARS Gold institution, a “green college” by the Princeton Review, a Tree Campus USA school by the Arbor Day Foundation, and one of the top 50 “coolest schools” by the Sierra Club. All of these accomplishments are even more remarkable when one considers that the university’s state funding has been cut over $250M in recent years.

Despite our struggles, the administration is resolutely committed to making sustainability the cornerstone of our vision, values, and mission. If the past four years are any indication of USF’s commitment to making our campus and community a cleaner, greener place to live, learn, and work, then we can see that the road ahead may not be as steep as it once looked.

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