Sustainability Strategy Executive Summary

University of Notre Dame Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy

Executive Summary

May, 2017

Informed by the University’s Catholic character and inspired by Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, the Executive Vice President’s Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy Committee convened in 2015 to assess the University’s current sustainability practices and develop a Strategy to widen and deepen those practices across all its activities and functions. The Committee organized their work around three central tenets:            

  1. University actions should first benefit people—not just the current generation or today’s community but future generations and future communities.
  2. Decisions and actions must respect the planet’s inherent value and consider both immediate and long-term impacts on its resources.
  3. We must consider the economic impacts of our actions to ensure the University’s financial health for decades to come. 

The resulting Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy articulates the University’s stance on sustainability issues and identifies general strategies, current projects, and more specific five-year action plans in six major areas:

Main strategies include moving to less carbon-intensive fuels (from coal to natural gas completely by 2020), increasing the use of renewable and recoverable energy sources (including heat recovery, geothermal, hydroelectric, and solar), measuring energy use in buildings across campus to increase energy conservation and efficiency, continuing to decrease harmful emissions, and researching a strategy for Scope 3 emissions.

Strategies include installing flow meters to track our domestic, sanitary, and stormwater use by location; comparing the University’s water use and reuse to that of peer institutions; conserving water use in buildings (by retrofitting older buildings with low-flow fixtures), landscaping (via native plantings, rain gardens, and green roofs), and personal use (through educational outreach); investigating the feasibility of storm and gray water reuse, protecting wells and managing stormwater; and providing greater transparency of water resource use and management.

In addition to ensuring the efficient use of space before constructing new buildings, strategies include setting new construction design standards that seek at least LEED Silver certification (or equivalent) and include the use of passive design systems; designing a campaign to support the first LEED Platinum building on campus; incorporating energy and water efficiency goals and guidelines into University design standards for all renovations and upgrades; and developing the means to gather feedback, provide real-time monitoring, and report progress. (See current LEED-certified buildings here.)

Main strategies include decreasing food and organic waste throughout campus, reducing the use of plastics and Styrofoam on campus (particularly individual water bottles), improving campus-wide single-stream recycling rates through standardized signage and educational outreach, and making all campus divisions accountable for increasing their recycling rates and reducing their waste. The University seeks to divert 67 percent of all waste by 2030 and set an informed goal of overall waste per person. 

Primary strategies include incorporating sustainability standards into formal sourcing and licensing processes (thereby sourcing sustainable products and also encouraging sustainable practices among our vendors), developing a community-wide culture of purchasing more sustainable products (via BuyND and Green Purchasing Guides), improving partnerships with vendors and suppliers who have their own sustainability goals, and increasing the sustainability of food sources (by purchasing ethically-produced food and increasing vegetarian/vegan and locally-sourced options across campus).

Strategies begin with identifying current sustainability-related courses, research, and community outreach opportunities across the University.  Subsequent strategies include improving the tracking and promotion of sustainability-related courses and research across all academic disciplines.  Finally, the University seeks to explore ways to deepen its partnership with the City of South Bend on sustainability issues, consider major seed-funding efforts for sustainability-focused research, provide greater incentives for promising translational research and explore the feasibility of sponsoring an annual sustainability-related symposium or conference.

Overall, the University strives to be transparent in its commitment and actions toward greater sustainability.  Accordingly, the Committee intends this Strategy and its recommendations to be regularly updated and modified to reflect progress and new goals.  Small Working Groups of students, faculty, and staff will identify specific actions, set new goals, and report progress at least once every two years to the University’s Sustainability Standing Committee.  Their reports, the work of the Standing Committee, and the full Sustainability Strategy are available on the Office of Sustainability website.

Our University values, mission, and Catholic character call upon us to be good stewards of the Earth.  This Strategy reflects the University’s commitment to a vision and practice of sustainability that integrates care for natural resources with respect for humanity and social justice.  It is incumbent upon us as a community and as individuals to adopt more sustainable practices big and small, every day.