Higher Ed Professionals Learn Best Practices in Sustainable Certification Program

Clean energy, waste reduction, and developing innovative practices for sustainability are more important than ever on college campuses.
That’s why Lindsey Abernathy enrolled in the Campus Sustainability Leadership Professional Certificate, a five-day residential program at UVM where participants can find strategies for achieving sustainability goals on campus.
Abernathy is the associate director of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Mississippi. She came to UVM last summer to learn more about best practices and to interact with other campus sustainability leaders.
“One of the most beneficial things about this program was spending a week with instructors and students and having honest conversations,” she says. “I appreciated hearing about challenges other professionals in my cohort experienced and how they were successful.”
Participants in the sustainable certification program spend time on the UVM campus and also explore other locations during field trips to Champlain College, a small private college, as well as Shelburne Farms, a working farm and leader in sustainable education.
“We talked about systems thinking and how to be most effective in our work,” Abernathy says. “I had the opportunity to see first-hand on field trips how people are composting and addressing renewable energy.”

A Sustainable Certification that Focuses on Systems Thinking, Best Practices

In the UVM program, participants:
  • Develop a plan to address a specific sustainability issue on campus using Design Thinking principles
  • Explore funding options for clean energy projects on campus and socially responsible investing in higher education
  • Learn about specific design and planning issues for sustainable building practices
  • Exchange ideas with other sustainability professionals from across the country
  • Discuss partnership opportunities and leveraging community organizations
  • Develop skills as a systems thinker and learn new approaches for applying systems thinking to problems
  • Participate in site visits, lectures and panel discussions
The UVM program goes beyond the environmental focus of sustainability to also highlight social sustainability, which encompasses economic, environmental, and social issues.
Abernathy’s office addresses composting, recycling, waste reduction, inclusion, food sustainability, campus transportation, and pollinator gardens. Her office is also focused on connecting social issues and social equity with campus sustainability goals.
The University of Mississippi just finished its first Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) evaluation, a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. UVM’s Campus Sustainability program prepared Abernathy well for next steps in the process.
“I’ve been focusing on how to best communicate (the STARS assessment) and how to use the data to update our Climate Action Plan,” Abernathy says. “This was the topic of my final project at UVM, and I received a lot of helpful feedback from the instructors and other participants. The coursework at UVM was also helpful for systems-thinking material and information about forming sustainability coalitions to help advance the institution’s goals.”
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Campus Sustainability at UVM

UVM, which ranked fourth in the 2019 Top 50 Green School survey by the Princeton Review, is a national leader in campus sustainability.
After expanding its recycling efforts in the early 2000s, UVM introduced composting to the campus in 2009 and banned the sale of plastic water bottles in 2013.
UVM is an ideal place to offer the campus sustainable certification program as the University has set a positive example using sustainable practices. All undergraduates are required to take courses in sustainability. Meanwhile, 100 percent certified renewable electricity is purchased for campus and 13 campus buildings have attained LEED certification.
“The UVM program gave me a lot of ideas. We talked about systems-thinking, leverage points, and how to make the most difference,” Abernathy says. “The program is helpful for any type of sustainability or administrator role that is focused on sustainability. Even though it’s been a while since I completed the UVM program, I still reference the course all the time in my work.”
-Photo courtesy of University of Mississippi marketing and communications