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A plan to advance sustainability and climate resilience efforts on the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s three campuses was boosted by a summit that explored goals, opportunities and challenges.

A large group of UWO faculty and staff members capped their week May 19 with a second annual Sustainability Summit, identifying nine actionable goals for the 2023-24 academic year.

Among the proposals: Seek to formalize a School for the Environment and Society, create a schedule several days a week with a ‘golden hour’ in which nothing else is scheduled, develop marketing that focuses on UWO’s sustainability successes and research a transportation connection between campuses.

“I think we accomplished some good work—setting actionable goals in operational areas of the University, where we are continuously working to infuse sustainability, “ said Brad Spanbauer, campus sustainability director.

Attendees broke into teams that explored sustainability goals related to the following nine areas:

  • Teaching and research
  • Energy, buildings and water
  • Food and dining
  • Transportation
  • Waste and procurement
  • Grounds and water
  • Outreach and engagement
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Well-being at work

Anna Haines and Nancy Turyk, scientists from UW-Stevens Point and leaders with Wisconsin Initiative of Climate Change Impacts (WICCI), were on hand to talk about climate change in Wisconsin. The two provided a good deal of data and noted the state is wetter, winters getting warmer and weather overall is more extreme—causing disruptions to communities.

“How different our weather will be depends on how much we mitigate,” Haines said. “We are a bit buffered (in Wisconsin) but we’ll still see a lot of change.”

Spanbauer said people are fortunate to be located in Wisconsin, with close proximity to the Great Lakes and other bodies of water. He stressed the need to protect the resource.

“The issues are only going to get more complicated as we start adding more people,” he said.

Reduce, reuse, recycle still important

During a presentation, a picture was flashed on the wall showing a large waste container filled with furniture and clothing from move-out at the campus residence halls. A program during recent move-out from residence halls diverted two trucks full of items to a local thrift store.

There was interest in adding more EV chargers, a transportation hub for people to connect about carpooling and researching the addition of inter-campus transportation.

A break-out group focused on outreach and engagement would like the University to continue working toward sustainability as part of the UWO brand identity. A group focused on energy, buildings and water would like to see data collected for an energy audit.

Stephanie Spehar, director of UWO’s Sustainability Institute for Regional Transformations, commended the 417 members of the UWO community who completed a recent climate survey, with 40 percent of them students.

Last spring, more than 600 students signed a petition calling for carbon neutrality at UWO. On Earth Day  April 22, 2022, Chancellor Andrew Leavitt signed a Second Nature Climate Commitment on carbon and resilience. The commitment is an ambitious one, calling for UWO to have carbon neutrality by 2030.

Priorities to reach carbon neutrality require the institution to accelerate energy efficiency, stop burning fossil fuels, transition away from steam, expand the use of renewable energy and integrate the climate action plan into curricula, research and student experiences.

Sustainability is a focus at UWO and more than 40 events are held each year—many designed to engage students.

Spehar expressed appreciation for the Sustainability Summit attendees.

“Having (more than) 80 people here—it gives us our strength,” she said.

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