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A computer displays the Interactive Sustainability Map. Photo by Brent Bemiller.

Office of Sustainability reforms sustainability measures

Sustainability Matters, the Office of Sustainability at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has recently implemented a number of improvements to better assess the state of sustainability on campus, including hiring a new employee, Ryan Kmetz, to the new position of Assistant Director of Sustainability. 

“We know that climate change is happening, so in Maryland that generally means wetter and warmer [weather],” Kmetz said. “How will that affect our campus and campus systems?”

With this question in mind, the Office of Sustainability has unrolled various new projects to help the community better understand how UMBC is handling these concerns. The office hopes to release a report on the campus’ current state of sustainability, which models a report card, in 2020. The report follows the framework of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System created by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The AASHE/STARS report will help the university “quantify what [the university] is doing well and identify what to improve upon,” said Kmetz. It consists of 300 questions, which the university hopes to submit by May or June of next year. It will then take about two months to receive the score, which is categorized as platinum, gold, silver or bronze. The report will allow the university to “benchmark against our peers,” according to Kmetz, and will be valid for three years. 

The office also released an Interactive Sustainability Map, a “living, changing piece” found online that highlights the sustainable highlights of campus, such as the library pond. Kmetz stated that he hopes to unroll a virtual Green Buildings Tour in the near future.

In addition, a Green Office certification program will “hopefully” relaunch next semester. This voluntary program, which began in 2014, provides participating offices with “resources… in reducing waste and conserving energy” such as recycling bins and training on sustainable practices, according to the Office of Sustainability’s website. The program stopped when the former sustainability coordinator left the position last year, Kmetz said. 41 offices at UMBC currently hold this certification.

While the Office of Sustainability has recently made many advancements, it acknowledges that students play an equally important role in this push for sustainability. Kmetz hopes to continue events like Harvestfest, which took place on Nov. 8 on Commons Main Street, that allow student environmental organizations to promote sustainability on campus instead of faculty and staff. He believes that peer-to-peer education is more effective because it breaks the barrier between students and employees. These student groups are “creating a sense of ownership” of sustainability measures on campus, said Kmetz.

In addition to empowering student sustainability organizations to lead these efforts, Kmetz has reinstated the student Eco-Ambassador program, which also began in 2014 and stopped last year. These students provide Kmetz with input on events such as Harvestfest and work on their own sustainability initiatives. 

Erin Kosloski, a sophomore interdisciplinary studies major studying cognitive science, is one of two Eco-Ambassadors this year. Kosloski is currently working on two initiatives to decrease food waste and increase composting, noting that UMBC currently only has compost receptacles in the Commons and True Grits, “but people eat and dispose of food in other places besides those two buildings.” She hopes that four new compost bins will be set up around campus within the next two semesters. 

In addition to increasing composting receptacles, Kosloski is also in the process of brainstorming an app that will notify students when there is extra free food from events. Kosloski and her friends came up with the idea when they “noticed that so much catered food is simply thrown away after events” despite data stating that approximately 25 percent of the UMBC student population is food insecure, Kosloski said. “We can simultaneously reduce the problem of food waste and the problem of food insecurity by doing a better job of letting students know when free food is available,” she said. 

The second Eco-Ambassador, Dakota Blum, ‘21, has focused on reviving Eco-Dinners, opportunities for student leaders of environmental organizations to update each other on their individual projects and foster a “sense of community.” Blum hopes it will become a “more permanent” responsibility of Eco-Ambassadors. These dinners will be held once each semester. 

Kmetz hopes that these recent proactive actions by the Office of Sustainability, coupled with initiatives by strong student leaders like Kosloski and Blum, will help the university be more prepared as the effects of climate change keep coming.