Published: May 7, 2024

Students at the sustainability summitIn a celebration of current sustainability efforts and undertaking to improve climate-action initiatives, the Environmental Center, in collaboration with several campus partners, hosted the 31st Annual Campus Sustainability Summit at CU Boulder April 24-25. 

The summit continues to serve as a pivotal gathering for bringing people together to explore solutions, forge partnerships and celebrate achievements in CU Boulder climate and sustainability initiatives.  

From featured presenter Dr. Anu Taranath to campus initiatives exhibits, this year’s summit marked another milestone in the ongoing pursuit for environmental stewardship and served as a dynamic platform for faculty, staff and students to exchange ideas and uphold transformative action.

Campus Leadership Forum

During a campus leadership forum at the summit, members of the Campus Sustainability Executive Council announced the official release of the Climate Action Plan (CAP). The goals outlined in the CAP are a 50% reduction in emissions from the 2019 baseline by 2030 and a clear path to a zero emissions target by no later than 2050.

Chief Operating Officer and Chair of the Campus Sustainability Executive Council Patrick O’Rourke stated that the CAP is ready to go from design to action. 
“Now is the point where we hit a transition, and now we have a set of commitments and principles we need to follow and honor those commitments to the community. So I’m excited about that,” he said. 

All of the forum’s panelists stressed that input from campus and community stakeholders is essential to the success of this plan. The active engagement from every participant throughout the two-day summit reinforced that finding that essential input won’t be a challenge.

“The campus has a history with sustainability; not just in terms of what we do on campus, but we’ve got talented faculty, we’ve got students who are energized and engaged, and we’re working on integrating sustainability into all parts of the curriculum so that when somebody leaves CU with a degree, they will also know the roles and responsibilities we all have as we think about the planet,” O’Rourke said.

Student Ideas Showcase 

Students, in particular, exhibited their passion for the topic through a presentation of over 20 pioneering ideas at the Student Ideas Showcase. Ranging from biodegradable Nerf dart blasters to a solar-powered Folsom Field, from AI-integrated waste sorting bins to biofibers spinning machines, these ambitious creations indicate that students' minds are already on the right track.

“I think the distance between the good ideas and where we already are is not that far, and actually trading those ideas into real things we could do doesn’t feel like that outlandish of an idea. So I feel pretty optimistic about some of that,” Joshua Radoff, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy (RSE) Specialization lead, said when reflecting on how sustainability planning on campus is evolving. 

Students who competed in the showcase were awarded $10,000 in cash prizes funded by the CU Climate Action Fund and CU President’s Sustainable Solutions Challenge. Read about all of the student projects.

Summit Activities 

The summit featured three informational sessions, each addressing critical aspects of sustainability at CU Boulder:

  • "Decarbonizing Food Pathways" offered insights into ongoing campus initiatives aimed at minimizing emissions within the food sector. 
  • "Buffs vs. Plastics" delved into strategies that combat single-use plastics, aligning with this year’s Earth Day theme, "Planet vs. Plastics." 
  • "Innovating Sustainability Education in the Classroom and Beyond" explored new approaches to climate-action education, including further discussion around Provost Russell Moore’s Sustainable Futures Common Curriculum that made environmental stewardship a focal point in CU Boulder's strategic alignment of education plans.

Additionally, attendees could partake in the Zero Waste outreach team’s Drop ‘N’ Swap event, where they could pick up free pre-loved clothing.

“The Drop-n-Swap is a super important event on campus because it gives students the opportunity to encounter free and accessible resources that not everyone is lucky and fortunate enough to have,” senior Elizabeth Rosenberger said.

Micah Borkan, co-chair of the CU Student Government Environmental Board, suggested starting with the Environmental Center to any student looking to get involved in sustainability efforts on campus and beyond.

“For me, the Environmental Center was really the first place I found community at CU as a transfer student who got here at the beginning of my junior year last fall; and I think that it really is that gateway for students to be involved in sustainability in a place and in a space that they can feel the effects of the change that they are making,” Borkan said. 

Amidst the ample opportunities to engage in environmental action on campus year-round, the Campus Sustainability Summit continues to foster collaboration and inspire a shared commitment to sustainability among faculty, staff and students alike.

Student Ideas Showcase Award Winners

Grand Prize: Biofibers Spinning Machine for Sustainable Smart Textiles – by Eldy S. Lazaro Vasquez and Xin Wen 
Overall Runner-up: Footprints – by Andre Daley, Usman Khan and Simon Schaab
Innovation: De-CAN-taminator – by Julia Abboud, Hussain Almatruk, Tristan Johnston, Alex Lu and Kaitlyn Vu
Creativity: Carbon Quest – by Gavin Fortin, Ayah Husain, Adam Kaddoura, Sophia Novello and Annika Ott 
Climate Impact: Collegiate Wind Competition – by Preston Brumley, Elyse DeBarros, Megan Finnigan, Julia Gentile, Jacqueline Hall, Dongggyu Jang, Carver Lindley, Mia Lonergan, Aria Mundy, Loren Peterson, Stewart Rojec and Daniel Sherry  
Human Impact: Microgrids in Mexico – by Dillion Hardwick in collaboration with Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation 
Campus Impact: Paths to Circulatrity – by Krystal Geevarughese
Audience Choice: Smart Mirror – by Ryan Chen, Zubin Cheruvallath, Brendan Maline, Will Minton, Xander Santangelo and Ahmed Zainaddin