On the Job with Sustainability Leader Michael Mendoza
Michael Mendoza is the Manager, Office of Sustainability, University Services, at University of Houston.
How do student-run organizations support sustainability efforts at your university?
We have several student-run groups that support sustainability. Some of our strongest support comes from the Student Government Association, which has passed several bills, including banning styrofoam cups in the on-campus Chick-fil-A to calling for a more robust recycling program. There is a Metropolitan Volunteer Program that participates in events like tree planting, campus clean-ups, and gardening. We have a Food Recovery Network that collects unsold food from our dining vendors to take to food banks and shelters, and we have a community garden and green roof on campus that are supported by our Horticulture Society. The Residence Hall Association hosts sustainability themed events at the various on-campus housing facilities. Lastly, this year we established a standalone sustainability student organization and a garden club that will partner with our office directly.
What has been the greatest driver of sustainability successes at your campus, student union, or student center?
Our students are very engaged and aware of sustainability trends. They care about eliminating plastics and single-use materials as well as waste reduction, sustainable agriculture, and decarbonization. Our current student government administration ran on a platform that was heavily focused on sustainability. We also invest in resources for sustainable research and invite researchers to focus on critical issues toward sustainable development. For example, we recently established centers for carbon management and corporate social responsibility specifically for the energy sector.
Explain how responsibility for sustainability is organized on your campus and describe an important initiative you are working on today.
My role is to support campus-wide sustainability through advocacy and engagement. Our campus is rated Gold by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, whose Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System framework provides the tool by which we assess sustainability on campus and develop initiatives to advance toward our ultimate goal, a Platinum rating. Our next goal is to address sustainability in our campus master plan and consider action to mitigate the institution’s impact on climate change. Recent weather events in Houston have helped to focus on climate resilience and our entire region seems to have catalyzed around working toward strategies in pursuit of carbon neutrality.