Office of Sustainability encourages low-carbon practices at University

Martina Bretous / News Director

While many believe sustainability applies only to the environment, the Office of Sustainability at the University strives to show it comprises people, planet and profit.

“The Office of University Sustainability is here to make FIU green. So basically, our overall mission is to reduce our carbon footprint,” said Alexandra Dutton, sustainability manager at the Office of Sustainability. “We do that through education outreach with our students, faculty and staff, and working behind the scenes with the different departments to implement projects, procedures or policies that … affect us operationally.”

Dutton says the office has many “reporting-type projects,” to the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System —a nationwide self-reporting framework designed to evaluate universities’ sustainability performance— and her role is overseeing those projects and the various programs carried out by the staff

In 2015, President Mark B. Rosenberg joined the American Campuses Act on Climate, launched by the White House, and issued a six-part pledge to increase low-carbon practices on campus. One of the University’s goals was to reach a 15-point increase in their rating by 2016 and a gold STARS rating by August of 2017, when the annual report is due.

“We’ve been working with departments to try and see what they can do in their own areas to increase our score on the different credits that pertain to them so we are working on it,” Dutton said. “Hitting STARS gold is definitely a very hard goal in a short amount of time so we’re getting close to there and hopefully, we can reach that by August.”

The STARS rating evaluates Universities in four areas:  academics, operations, engagement and planning/administration.

“We report things like how many classes does FIU have that incorporate sustainability, or what are we paying our employees, is it a fair salary?” said Dutton. “Even things down to the basics … what is our recycling and waste [percentage], how much water are we using, things like that.”

While the office does put a focus on the environment, Dutton notes that sustainability reflects a much bigger scale.

“… Sustainability, and a lot of people get this wrong, is not just about the environment,” said Dutton. “Sustainability is actually the intersection of three pillars which is: people, planet and profit, which is one reason why we look at our employees [and their salaries].”

Dutton says students can also participate in these practices on their own and help make the University more sustainable.

“Our most popular program that we have is our Nature Preserve volunteer days …” said Dutton. “We get a lot of students that are either there for extra credit … and we also get students who are out there because they like to be in the environment and it’s like another form of working out.”

The office also organizes events throughout the year including Campus Sustainability Day, RecycleMania, and various tabling events depending on what the staff decides.

“I feel like we are in a time of transition and, especially for climate, we’re at a really crucial time where we need to make some hard choices and changes to preserve our environment and planet for our future generations and if we don’t make those choices, we will definitely suffer the consequences,” said Dutton.

South Florida is particularly vulnerable to climate change, Dutton says, and that appears in the sea level rise.

“We have already experienced sea level rise, or what they call sunny day flooding, during high tides and we have … research centers on campus that go out, measure flooding and we can see the trend over time is increasing,” said Dutton. “And a lot of time, people think sea level rise is like a slow tidal wave coming from the ocean but that’s not the case here in South Florida.”

Because South Florida sits on porous limestone, the ocean water comes from underneath, Dutton says, penetrating the rocks and going through the sewer system, which is why flooding can often be seen in areas that aren’t near the ocean.

The Office of Sustainability piloted the RideFlag app in the spring, a carpooling service designed and customized for FIU, and plans on doing a “huge push for it” in the fall after they’ve worked out some kinks in the application, Dutton says.

“At FIU, we are largely commuter based … so the carbon emissions from just students commuting to campus is our largest force of emissions which is why we work with the  Department of Parking and Transportation to do carpool initiatives, or have electric vehicle charging stations and improve the public transportation around campus to other campus and around the community.”

For more information on the Office of Sustainability, visit


Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

About the Author

Martina Bretous
Afro- Caribbean. Communication Arts Major. Cat lover. TV Junkie.

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