Arlington becomes first UT campus to set sights on climate action plan

dfwnewsa | February 21, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Arlington becomes first UT campus to set sights on climate action plan

The University of Texas at Arlington will become the first UT campus to develop and implement a climate action plan. The effort kicked off in January 2024. (Emily Nava | KERA News)
” data-medium-file=”https://fortworthreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/UTA-Emily-Nava-4.jpeg?fit=300%2C200&quality=89&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://fortworthreport.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/UTA-Emily-Nava-4.jpeg?fit=780%2C520&quality=89&ssl=1″>
When Meghna Tare became the University of Texas at Arlington’s first sustainability director in 2010, the sustainability office was in its infancy. She started from scratch, building the university’s reputation as a hub for recycling, food waste reduction and student education initiatives. 

Sponsored

Fourteen years later, the university is embarking on a new journey: becoming the first UT campus to create a climate action plan, with goals to significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2040. 

Other UT institutions have sustainability offices working toward energy efficiency and other environmental benchmarks, Tare said. What sets UTA apart is the formal climate planning process, which kicked off Jan. 22, and its focus on becoming carbon neutral over the next 15 years. 

“We are taking the next step forward by saying: ‘OK, we have accomplished all these operational sustainability and efficiency goals. How do we take that success and move the goalposts a little further and work towards it?’” Tare said. 

What is carbon neutrality? 

Carbon neutrality means that an organization puts as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it takes out through some other means, such as installing solar panels, reducing vehicle trips or switching to renewable energy sources like wind or geothermal. 

With more than 40,000 students and 5,000 faculty and staff, UTA is a “city in itself,” Tare said. The sustainability office provides a wide range of services to that population, including composting and recycling services, an e-bike rental program, a community garden and environmental policy research. Students work as “eco-reps” to educate their peers about sustainability programs through outreach on campus and social media campaigns. 

See also  Castleberry ISD proposes $98 million bond to renovate high school

Tare’s team is also responsible for tracking the university’s greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat and transportation is the largest source of emissions. 

View this post on Instagram A post shared by UTA Office of Sustainability (@gogreenuta)

Because UTA’s campus expanded in size between 2010 and 2022, the university’s overall greenhouse gas emissions decreased only slightly from 73,000 metric tons in 2010 to 71,847 in 2022. 

However, the university reported that emissions per square foot decreased by almost a third during that period, largely because of decreases in electricity use. UTA’s emissions ticked up slightly in 2023, as officials increased their purchase of electricity. 

Compared with its peer institutions like UT-Dallas, UT-San Antonio and UT-Austin, UTA emits fewer total greenhouse gas emissions and emissions per square foot. Data collected over the past 14 years will help inform university officials on where they need to focus their efforts next, Tare said. 

“The intention of the climate action plan is to create a roadmap that sets UTA on a path of decarbonization,” Tare said. “Working with our facilities management and transportation people, how do we go on this decarbonization path considering all the challenges that we face?” 

Groups of staff, faculty and students will convene every three months until the final document, including goals for carbon emissions reduction and strategies to get there, is ready by the end of the year. Climate action plans often include strategies such as installing solar panels on buildings, transitioning from diesel to electric vehicles and expanding existing programs to reduce food waste. 

At the same time the climate action plan is being developed, university officials are also updating the campus master plan to identify necessary improvements to infrastructure and buildings. Simultaneous planning efforts will help ensure that UTA is in position to withstand more frequent extreme weather events, Tare said. 

“We’re working toward making sure the operational aspect of the campus, the infrastructure, is sustainable, but also the students,” she said. “They are our biggest assets on campus.” 

As UTA sets new enrollment records each year, the university must prepare for the future in terms of sustainability on campus and in the classroom, Tare said. 

Students at University of Texas at Arlington’s campus distribute information about a potential green fee to fund sustainable projects on UTA’s campus. That fee was approved in spring of 2022. (Courtesy photo | Meghna Tare)

“UTA is on this immense journey of growth right now, and for the next few years,” she said. “How do you grow in a sustainable way so that it accommodates students physically on campus, but also in terms of the kind of courses they want to study?”

Thanks to student support in 2022, UTA became the first university in Tarrant County to create a green fund. Each student pays a flat fee of $5 per semester to go toward environmental projects on campus. For UTA, which implemented the fee last fall, the green fund can support programs such as electronic waste recycling, composting, urban farming and the climate action plan process itself. 

See also  Here are the candidates vying for City Council seats in Haltom City, Haslet, Keller

While Dallas and other Texas cities have developed climate action plans, Tarrant County cities have not. Of the top 25 largest U.S. cities, Fort Worth is the only city that has not adopted a long-term plan to reduce its carbon footprint, achieve sustainability goals or address the challenges posed by climate change.

Tare sees an opportunity for UTA to help the region achieve its environmental goals, including improvements to air quality. The university has built strong partnerships with the Arlington-based North Central Texas Council of Governments, the city of Arlington and other government agencies. 

“UTA is such a big part of the region,” Tare said. “Over the last 14 years, we have transitioned from making sure everything is functioning right on campus in terms of operational sustainability to building those stakeholder relationships and partnerships outside of the campus walls.”

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at haley.samsel@fortworthreport.org.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

Recent Comments