UM Announces Commitment to ‘Climate Neutrality’

Chancellor signs American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, renewing campus focus on environmental issues


Chancellor Dan Jones signs the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment

OXFORD, Miss. – University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones announced a major campuswide commitment Tuesday (April 22) to the goal of making Ole Miss “climate neutral,” saying the university community is focused on making sure its operations will benefit the environment as much as they take away from it.

At the ceremony, Jones signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, to which some 600 of his counterparts across the country also gave their signatures. Jones said UM, which is already perennially ranked as one of the most beautiful campuses in America, will continue to focus on being “good stewards of our Earth.”

“A lot of good things happen on this campus and our university every day,” Jones said. “Students’ lives are changed. We make an impact on our state, but as we are doing that in a modern society; consequently, we have negative effects on the environment, on the Earth. This is simply a commitment to joining with lots of other universities in saying we want to be the best stewards we can be.”

The announcement of UM’s renewed commitment to the environment came on Earth Day. Green Week also kicked off on campus Tuesday, bringing a weeklong focus on environmental issues and sustainability. Green Week culminates with an Arbor Day tree planting celebration among the many oaks in the Grove at 11:30 a.m. Friday (April 25).

The chancellor also expressed his appreciation of the local landscape’s natural beauty and said he was grateful for the wisdom of state leaders in choosing the then-rural site for the campus, which opened in 1848. The picturesque surroundings inspire UM employees and students to strive for the goal of climate neutrality, he said.

“I say thank you to those founders of this community who had the vision to think that this beautiful place in the woods would be a good place for this university,” Jones said. “I’m grateful not to be in an urban environment here. I’m grateful to be surrounded by beautiful trees, by rolling hills that we can see and appreciate. I’m grateful to be in a place where it’s inspiring to be better stewards of the environment and also a little bit easier.”

In April 2008, then-Chancellor Robert Khayat signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and two months later, the university established its Office of Sustainability.

“Sustainability is about efficiency in all things; it’s a smart way to live,” said Ian Banner, university architect and director of sustainability. “Do as much as you can with as little as necessary. Try not to waste, pollute or destroy. Respect what is around you and preserve it for coming generations.”

The Office of Sustainability is working on “green” building construction principles across campus to promote energy and water efficiency and environmentally conscious uses of building materials. Last fall, it also launched a compost pilot program, supported by the UM Green Fund, which has diverted one ton of food waste from the local landfill and produced beneficial soil enhancements for the campus garden at Residential College South. The office also runs an intern program that provides valuable experience for students.

The office also supports the establishment of the broad campus council for sustainability that is to be formed this summer. There’s an ongoing effort to fully understand how the university is affecting the environment, as well as an effort to determine other initiatives to be undertaken as UM pursues climate neutrality. Students, faculty and staff will be involved in all these efforts as the university continues to learn and make positive changes.

Jones thanked sustainability staff members who have kept the issue in the forefront at UM, including Banner and Anne McCauley, the office’s assistant director. Banner and McCauley thanked those who have been involved in the fight for sustainability.

“The Office of Sustainability is here to support and move these efforts forward, but it’s by no means something we do alone,” McCauley said. “We work with people all across campus.”

The chancellor also thanked poet and UM English professor Ann Fisher-Wirth, who directs the environmental studies minor and has been active in environmental issues. Fisher-Wirth said she sees the student body becoming more engaged in those issues.

“I’m especially grateful for the leadership from the university and also for the students who are just increasingly active and outspoken and so mindful,” Fisher-Wirth said.

The chancellor said the students have been one of the main driving forces behind UM’s commitment to climate neutrality.

“My highest thanks goes to our students, who are always our best inspiration for making this a stronger and better university on almost every topic,” Jones said. “Students, thank you for encouraging, cajoling, pressuring us to be a stronger and healthier university in lots of ways, including protecting our environment.”