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U of L Cuts Climate Action Plan Budget, But Is Still Kentucky's Most Sustainable School

in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken | Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting
Eleanor Hasken
in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken | Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting

The University of Louisville received a gold rating for sustainability efforts last week, even as the school falls behind on other climate action initiatives.

The new rating reinforces the lengths the university has gone to become more sustainable, while at the same time highlighting how much more there is to do, said Justin Mog, assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives.

“The truth is we got STARS Gold, but that’s actually, we got a 66 percent of a potential 100 so we actually have a lot of work to do,” Mog said. “We’re not straight ‘A’ students by any means.”

Back when the university formed its climate action plan in 2010, the school aimed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020, with a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, Mog said.

But the latest report from 2017 demonstrates the university was not on track to meet its goals. The university reduced emissions by only about 13.5 percent, he said.

At the same time, U of L has slashed funding for the climate action plan by about 75 percent, Mog said.

“You know [with] recent scientific evidence, that’s even starting to look a little, not ambitious enough, honestly,” he said. “So I would think we would want to ramp it up but we’re not even meeting these initial targets.”

Last year a United Nations scientific panel concluded the world needs to drastically reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in the coming decades. The longer we delay, the worse off we will leave the world for future generations, according to the report.

U of L’s latest gold rating ranks it as the most sustainable university in the Commonwealth, and among the top 100 sustainable schools on the planet, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

It's the result of years of work by staff, faculty and students, Mog said.

The school received praise for programs including the Green Heart Project, the Urban Heat Island Study and Youth Summit, and maple tapping on campus.

In the classroom, the school has introduced a new major in sustainability. Around campus, U of L has introduced biodiversity protection, storm water management and sustainable procurement policies.

Freshman Grace Engelman said she’s happy to see accessible recycling, sustainable dining options and composting on campus.

“We are doing a pretty good job with sustainability on campus,” Engelman said, “But we’re still investing in fossil fuels,” she said.

Engelman works with the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition and is involved with a campaign pushing the university to divest from fossil fuels. She said she’d like to see the university become more transparent about its investments.

"The gold certification is great insofar as it reaffirms the great things that are happening on campus," she said. "The university shouldn't take that too far, and still remember that we have a much wider impact that goes beyond campus."

She said the gold certification reaffirms the actions the school has taken, but U of L still needs to work on mitigating its community and global impacts.

For example, Mog said the university was once a member of the Workers Rights Consortium, which used trademark licensing revenues to ensure that U of L apparel isn’t made in sweatshops.

“We fell off that bandwagon,” he said, “No one knows why, no one knows who is responsible for that.”

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.