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Uncovering USD’s achievements in sustainability and the collective effort behind it

As more people continue to try and find new solutions to help mitigate the environmental crisis impacting the world, USD has proven itself to be a committed player in the collective fight toward environmental justice.

Just this year, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) awarded USD with a gold star ranking for its efforts in sustainability. AASHE uses The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) to measure the success of higher education establishments in their individual endeavors toward becoming more sustainable.

The ranking system focuses on five key categories: academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership. The gold ranking is one below the highest-ranking of platinum, which is an achievement that USD hopes to earn by 2024, according to Director of Sustainability at USD, Trey McDonald.

The Sustainability Club President, USD senior Hannah Phelps, shared her excitement on this achievement and her optimism for USD’s future in sustainability.

“USD just recently earned the STARS gold rating, which is a big deal. Universities are assessed and ranked on a scale of sustainable efforts and actions, and we improved from our previous silver rating,” Phelps said. “The highest is Platinum which is an aspiration, but we are headed in the right direction.”

There are various organizations at USD focused on making more sustainable changes within their line of work. For example, Auxiliary Services made great strides toward sustainability in dining.

One of the most notable contributions made to dining was the introduction of the Ozzi Box. The Ozzi Box is a reusable to-go box that helps limit the waste caused by single-use to-go boxes. These boxes are found in both Student Life Pavilion dining and Tu Mercado, and the program has grown in popularity since the beginning of this academic year.

Other behind-the-scenes contributions from Auxiliary Services include the implementation of the BioHiTech Digester machine located in the dish room. The BioHiTech Digester takes food scraps and waste and breaks them down with enzymes, converting it into liquid that can be put down drains rather than having the food end up in the landfill.

Loryn Johnson, Auxiliary Services Marketing and Licensing Director, shared that the BioHiTech Digester has helped reduce our campus’ waste production, a major goal for Auxiliary Services.

USD also works with New Leaf Biofuel, a company that collects the dining hall’s cooking grease and filters it to create biodiesel, an alternative transportation fuel.

Social and academic resources also made their own contributions toward increased campus sustainability, earning USD the gold star ranking. Student outreach and engagement can be as important as the work done by higher-authority organizations such as the Office of Sustainability.

McDonald additionally emphasized the importance of collective action.

“One thing that a lot of people still believe is that sustainability is just about the environment, and it’s not,” McDonald said. “It really is about how our approaches involve environmental stewardship, but also social responsibility and fiscal responsibility.”

However, McDonald gives all due credit to USD’s mission to commit and devote efforts to pressing matters and to those individuals who help execute the plans.

“USD has a lot of strengths in those areas, particularly the social. I mean, look at the anchor institution and the changemaker emphasis. So, all credit needs to go to those departments and those organizations on campus. It’s a nod to the faculty,” McDonald said.

With great strides already made toward sustainability and even more exciting plans for the future, students, faculty, and community members alike have much to celebrate. Moreover, with the current sustainability and food waste issues that the world faces, it is more relevant now, than ever, that USD has begun to chip away at the work that needs to be done.