The University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Office of Sustainability is up and running, getting its word out, and beginning to make an impact. Over the past eight months, the office has put together a three-person team, formed four advisory working groups, launched a monthly newsletter, and finalized UMB’s 2022-2026 Sustainability Strategic Plan.
The strategic plan, which was developed by UMB students, faculty, and staff with feedback from groups across the University, expanded on a draft produced by the former UMB Sustainability Committee. It outlines overarching sustainability goals and strategies for the next five years and will guide sustainability initiatives at UMB, especially as legislative requirements evolve based on changes in Maryland law.
In October and December 2021, the strategic plan was shared with various UMB stakeholders and groups as well as Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability to gain feedback, then was presented to President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, in February. The plan has four focus areas — Utilities and Emissions; Campus Planning and Design; Waste and Procurement; and Education and Engagement — that include goals, sub-goals, metrics targets, challenges, and more.
Among the goals: minimizing greenhouse gas emissions while aiming to reach campus carbon neutrality by 2050; incorporating climate resilience considerations into campus planning and operations; promoting source reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting across the University; and ensuring that students leave UMB with an understanding of climate change and knowledge about sustainability. (Read the full strategic plan at this link.)
“Many of these goals are metric-driven, and we’ll be tracking the progress toward those goals,” said Anna Borgerding, MA, who leads the Office of Sustainability as director of operational excellence and sustainability. “For example, one of our goals is to increase UMB’s renewable energy source percentage to 65 percent by 2030. We are currently at 10 percent renewable energy from existing power purchase agreements made through the University System of Maryland’s energy consortium. We are researching different renewable energy options on and off campus.”
Elizabeth Main, who joined the office in September 2021 as associate director of sustainability, says the office’s goals regarding outreach, engagement, and awareness might be more difficult to measure but are no less important.
“A preliminary measure of success for these goals is name recognition,” Main said. “As a new office on campus, one of our first initiatives is to build awareness for what’s already going on and to build partnerships across UMB, so tracking metrics like the number of campus groups we collaborate with is a good way for us to show progress in areas that are less data-driven.”
Regarding such outreach to the UMB community, the office has launched a monthly newsletter that includes news, events, green tips, and resources (subscribe here); established a website; and will share more regular updates via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — @SustainableUMB.
Commitment to Sustainability
The office is building upon a commitment to sustainability made by Jarrell that serves as a catalyst to move UMB toward a more sustainable future.
“UMB recognizes its responsibility for careful and considered stewardship of the built environment and is committed to preserving the world's natural resources,” Jarrell said in detailing his commitment. “The University is in a unique position of leadership and influence in the community to serve as a model to promote progressive ideals in the areas of energy conservation, the elimination of global warming emissions, and the use of green design.”
This commitment is solidified in the University’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, which features the integration of new core values that include Well-Being and Sustainability and the statement: “We care about the welfare of our people, planet, communities, and University.”
“Incorporating sustainability into our operations through policies and mandates can obviously have an enormous impact, but what’s equally important is a change in culture,” Main said. “Having sustainability as one of UMB’s new core values is an excellent first step in embedding sustainability into the fabric of our University and starting to shift our community’s mindsets and behaviors in support of our shared planet.”
The Pandemic’s Impact
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on UMB’s sustainability efforts, Borgerding says. In fact, the office is a byproduct of UMB’s Energy Reduction Team, which was formed by the Office of Administration and Finance (A&F) in 2020 and tasked with reducing campus energy use during the pandemic. The team implemented innovative building system programming that resulted in more than $2 million in savings in utilities and operating costs. A portion of these funds was used to create the new office under A&F’s Office of Facilities and Operations.
“The pandemic has created a sense of urgency for more visible and impactful sustainable actions,” Borgerding said. “The COVID-19 crisis made us change how we operate, work, and live. With those changes, we could see more clearly the impact those decisions were having on the environment and our health. The Office of Sustainability has received support from all over UMB, showing an overdue appetite for environmentally focused resources and change at our University.
“We also are seeing several bills being proposed this session in the Maryland legislature that are highlighting the need for more aggressive action toward carbon neutrality and waste reduction,” she added. “UMB has a great opportunity to advance its mission in a sustainable manner. Our goal is to assist the University and each department within it to achieve their goals, and to do it in a way that has a positive impact on people and the planet.”
Advice and Leadership
The office has formed four working groups — Reduction; Resiliency; Engagement and Education; and Green Labs — that include students, faculty, and staff and will help provide direction and leadership to UMB’s sustainability efforts.
“The groups meet every other month and are asked to provide feedback and conduct research between meetings,” Borgerding said. “For example, the Green Labs Working Group is reviewing other green labs programs at higher education peer institutions and identifying ways to engage labs and principal investigators in our sustainability programs.”
UMB students have shown a particular interest in the sustainability mission, and nine are participating in the working groups, says Angela Ober, senior specialist of sustainability, who joined UMB in August 2021 and is the third member of the office’s team.
“Environmentally minded student organizations have reached out to us since we’ve formed, and we hope to continue to build those relationships,” Ober said. “As our office continues to build momentum, we hope to reach more students whether they are involved in environmental initiatives at UMB or not.”