Huston-Tillotson University (HT) is an emerging leader among HBCUs in the area of sustainability. The school has implemented a series of initiatives centered on environmental education, including the introduction of an Environmental Studies (ES) major/minor and a variety of sustainable campus projects (solar charging station, solar power, greenhouse, organic food garden, and more). Additionally, an award-winning student group, Green is the New Black, engages their peers and is involved in education and outreach initiatives that link HT’s sustainability efforts to environmental groups and schools throughout Austin.
Over the past year, HT has strengthened their ties to the HBCU Student Climate Consortium, run out of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. In conjunction with this consortium, four HT students and staff members travelled to the COP-21 conference in Paris, France. In addition to participating in a variety of panels with partners such as the Sierra Club and NAACP, they engaged with local politicians so that a direct link back to the Austin, TX community can be strengthened as they bring the lessons and experiences back to campus to share with HT and the broader community.
Another key academic initiative on campus, Building Green Justice, is an annual environmental justice forum connecting the university with community groups and organizations that have environmental awareness and activism missions. Partnering with these organizations, we can demonstrate to students the multitude of ways that one can translate interest and passion for environmental issues into a wide variety of careers.
Developing relationships between HT’s Center for Sustainability and Environmental Justice and a number of local nonprofit organizations and governmental departments play a key role in building long-term partnerships that advance the university’s voice in the community’s efforts to reduce emissions and create an equitably sustainable community.
Green is the New Black students have undertaken a project over the past year to increase participation in on-campus recycling. Through a “Recycle Hoops” project, the students distributed recycling bins across campus that had been outfitted with basketball hoops. They held an event to educate their peers of the new, highly visible initiative.
Another of HT’s key sustainability education initiatives, the Dumpster Project continues on campus. This innovative program aims to turn a dumpster into a sustainable home. More broadly, the Dumpster is a way to engage and educate about sustainability and environmental awareness. We especially seek to increase environmental awareness and education among underserved groups. Historically, low-income and minority groups have had less input into environmental decision making and thus bear higher burdens of environmental damage. The Dumpster Project seeks to generate knowledge about how to engage both the student populations and broader Austin by maximizing the element of surprise.
This goal in combination with the larger campus mission to increase our involvement in and public interest and knowledge of environmental issues, particularly those relevant to environmental health and justice, are engaging and preparing both the campus and the surrounding community for a world experiencing the rapidly increasing effects from climate change.
In addition to the academic and outreach avenues, HT is seeking to transform into a leading green HBCU via operational initiatives. Taking a big step towards this goal, HT implemented a large solar project in 2015, installing a 240 kW rooftop array on three buildings on campus. This project was partially made possible due to local utility rebates for solar energy production. This installation makes HT the first private HBCU to generate a significant amount of energy from on-site renewable production.
HT continues to expand their food production capabilities on campus. Via a Retool Your School award garnered in 2015, the university is installing a greenhouse, which will add significant infrastructure to their food production capacity.
They continue their systematic examination of the university’s sustainability picture by analyzing all aspects of operations. Via two Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps Fellows, HT has undertaken campus energy and water analysis that has identified a number of key projects, such as the solar project, that substantially increase their investments in conservation projects. From the analysis in 2015, the university is beginning to install occupancy sensors that will significantly increase energy savings.
HT is also striding to establish a green revolving fund as a way to continue these investments in a financially sustainable way. The baseline analysis performed is key to identifying and prioritizing these projects. Another EDF Fellow will continue this work in the summer of 2016, focusing on a number of additional areas including waste and recycling and long-term strategic planning.