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UT Dallas Helps Lead New Sustainability Coalition for North Texas
April 18, 2019
A University of Texas at Dallas sustainability leader is helping to spearhead a new regional coalition of experts that will advance sustainable development education and build partnerships for a collective impact in North Texas.
UT Dallas promotes sustainability throughout the year, including a free gardening workshop during Earth Week. The University is now part of a new partnership aimed at growing sustainability education and efforts across North Texas.
Gary Cocke, associate director for sustainability and energy conservation at UT Dallas, and Meghna Tare, director of the Institute for Sustainability and Global Impact at UT Arlington, are coordinators of the new Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCE).
The RCE North Texas, one of just seven centers in the U.S. and 168 worldwide, is based on a United Nations program to develop global sustainability goals.The center was approved in February by United Nations University, the academic and research arm of the United Nations that oversees the international network.
Sustainability efforts seek to balance the global need to move forward technologically and economically as well as the need to protect the environments in which we live. They range from conserving water, managing renewable fuel sources and reducing carbon emissions to ending poverty and hunger, and promoting better education and health care.
“We recognized several years ago the importance of having a strong sustainability presence on our campus to support our students, faculty and staff,” said Dr. Calvin D. Jamison, vice president for facilities and economic development. “The RCE is the next stage in the evolution of these initiatives, and we have two outstanding committed professionals to provide the leadership. The collaboration between sustainability professionals from across the region will shine an important spotlight on an area that will impact the region for years to come.”
“My overall goal is that through the network we’ll have structure so that all of the stakeholders in sustainability — that means higher education, K-12, nonprofits, municipal government and corporate partners — all begin speaking the same language when we talk about sustainability.”
Cocke said he is excited about the possibilities that will come out of the coalition.
“My overall goal is that through the network we’ll have structure so that all of the stakeholders in sustainability — that means higher education, K-12, nonprofits, municipal government and corporate partners — all begin speaking the same language when we talk about sustainability,” he said.
Theoretically, K-12 sustainability projects could feed into university projects and complement what is happening on the municipal level. For instance, a UT Dallas student may come up with a way to address childhood poverty and bring it to the city of Dallas to see whether it could be implemented.
“There are just a lot of possibilities that we think will arise from having stakeholders in communication with one another,” Cocke said.
About 60 sustainability advocates from across North Texas attended RCE’s launch in March. The number of interested groups has since grown to 89, including the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Toyota Motor North America, State Fair of Texas, Lennox International, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas Sierra Club, Texas Trees Foundation, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the cities of Dallas, Plano, Lewisville and Denton.
Many entities, like the city of Plano and the Dallas County Community College District, already have robust sustainability programs. The RCE will help accelerate regional collaborations among sustainability experts from different fields.
“Higher education is a natural fit because we have the status and the leadership to take the driver’s seat and can organize people around the initiative,” Cocke said.
Tare, who is the chief sustainability officer at UT Arlington, stepped up to engage with the U.N. effort and surveyed area sustainability leaders about participating.
“There was not much happening in getting people together in North Texas. We got a lot of positive response when we asked people if they were interested in a sustainability coalition,” she said.
When UT Arlington signed on as the anchor institution, Tare asked Cocke to be her co-coordinator.
The RCE North Texas will focus on three of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals — the global standard in sustainability education — to focus on for the region. It will promote inclusive and equitable education, support health and well-being at all ages, and make communities safe, healthy and resilient.
“It made sense to collaborate. Gary and I work really well together. Being coordinators will help us advance sustainability education within our own institutions,” she said. “Gary has a lot of engagement with students on the UTD campus, and that is a key part of the RCE.”
For the past year, the pair navigated the application process, held meetings with stakeholders, determined sustainability needs for the area and formulated the center’s mission and vision.
Five committees will be set up this year in North Texas: research and development, governance and monitoring, outreach and communications, education and events, and a youth network for members 25 and younger that will have equal standing with other committees.
Cocke expects UT Dallas will have a leadership stake in the youth network. Cocke has invited UT Dallas student participation from the Sustainability Club, Student Government Green Initiative, Model UN and Eco-Reps.
UT Dallas also will have access to conferences, publications and cross-collaborative opportunities for students who study abroad and connect with RCEs in other countries.
Cocke said committees will be established to work on action items before the center’s next quarterly meeting in the summer. He admits he’s “super-stoked” about the network and what it will mean for UT Dallas and North Texas.
“It’s good to be seen as a leader in this area. I hope our students will get to see what sustainability means, how impactful sustainability initiatives can be at the regional level and how that contributes to global initiatives,” Cocke said. “UT Dallas will have access to all the expertise in this network. I’m excited to see where it goes.”
UT Dallas will celebrate sustainability and environmental practices April 22-26 during the eighth annual Earth Week on campus.
Earth Fair will feature hands-on activities at the Plinth.
Earth Fair, which will be held 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at the Plinth, will be a zero-waste event with hands-on activities sponsored by 12 campus departments, five organizations and 14 community partners.
“We’re upping the game this year,” said Mackenzie Hunter, director of the OSV. “We’re having recycle and compost bins only at the Earth Fair, and even our T-shirts will be made of organic material. We’re really aiming to have a zero-waste event.”
Students also can participate in rock painting at eARTh-a-rama on Tuesday, April 23; Operation Upcycle, where they will turn plastic bags into jump ropes for area schoolchildren on Wednesday, April 24; and a BioBlitz competition, where participants will use the iNaturalist app to identify flora and fauna on campus on Friday, April 26.
Other highlights include free garden workshops on Monday, April 22; a screening of the EarthX movie “Youth Unstoppable” followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker on Tuesday, April 23; and a Pop-Up Farmers Market and faculty research panel on Thursday, April 25.