University Highlights Annual Successes in Sustainability

September 11, 2019

The Ohio State University is a leader in global sustainability, integrating sustainable practices and programming across all university functions. In fiscal year 2019, which ended in June, sustainability successes at the university spanned academics, research, operations, administration and engagement.

Reconfirming its commitment to enhancing social, economic and environmental conditions, Ohio State created the Sustainability Institute to support, lead and integrate sustainability and resilience scholarship and activities across the university. So far, 30 core faculty members have been hired in partnership with 18 different university departments through the Discovery Themes initiative.

The institute is pursuing a more coordinated and inclusive approach to sustainability that facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration, campus stewardship and applied solutions. Already at Ohio State, more than 600 faculty and researchers engage in sustainability research; over 1,000 courses support sustainability learning; and more than 80 student organizations focus on sustainability issues.

Teaching and Learning

The Sustainability Education and Learning Committee, launched in 2018, submitted a report on undergraduate sustainability education to the Office of Academic Affairs, establishing a framework for sustainability education at Ohio State and providing a coordinated approach in support of cross-unit collaboration, strengthening existing academic programs and creating new academic programs. And this spring, 20 Ohio State undergraduates received the first ENGIE-Axium Undergraduate Endowed Scholarships, which cover the cost of in-state tuition and fees, housing, dining and books.

Research and Innovation

Ohio State faculty made discoveries in new batteries for clean energy storage, a potential for an earth-friendly plastic replacement, and a new generation of direct current circuit breakers to transform the U.S. power system. Our researchers also gained additional national and international accolades for their accomplishments: Rattan Lal, environment and natural resources and Sustainability Institute affiliated faculty, received the 2019 Japan Prize, considered one of the most prestigious honors in science and technology, in recognition of his research on sustainable soil management and its role in improving global food security and mitigating climate change. In addition, Lonnie Thompson, earth sciences, was named a 2019 member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for research that has propelled the field of ice core paleoclimatology out of the polar regions to the highest tropical and subtropical ice field.

Outreach and Engagement

Ohio State’s 2019 annual Outreach and Engagement Conference, held in January, focused on how communities can be resilient and sustainable in spite of climate change challenges. Hundreds of faculty, students, staff and community partners discussed research, partnerships and resources to help build sustainable and resilient communities. The featured speaker for the conference was Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and current head of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. In addition, Ohio State-Mansfield launched an urban sustainable food-system project to increase area residents’ access to fruits, vegetables and other crops while supporting the local economy. Supported by a $2 million matching grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the Microfarm Network will allow researchers and growers to calibrate growing, harvesting and marketing processes for the local setting.

Resource Stewardship

Ohio State is implementing specific, “world-leading" university-wide operational goals to reduce resource consumption, neutralize carbon emissions and minimize waste. This fiscal year, the university’s Columbus campus achieved a gold rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), with high marks in the academic and water management categories and points in nine operations categories, including energy, buildings, transportation and waste diversion. Other developments: A pilot project in the College of Pharmacy focused on conserving water by changing lab equipment and has already achieved annual water savings of 16 million gallons. And the Wexner Medical Center’s Information Technology Office implemented multiple initiatives in support of improving power efficiency at its Ackerman Data Center. In 2018, installation of a data center hot and cold air isolation solution in 35 percent of the data center resulted in efficiencies related to AC run time, power costs and carbon footprint. Since 2015, combined efforts have reduced power usage by 41%, reduced the carbon footprint by 40% and saved approximately $342,000.

Read more about The Ohio State University’s sustainability achievements