From transportation to classroom content, sustainability guides progress at Texas A&M University.

By Kara Bounds Socol

When the Office of Sustainability opened its doors at Texas A&M University in 2008, it received an enthusiastic welcome from students. But as Kelly Wellman ’95, Texas A&M’s director of sustainability, recalls, students reflexively equated “sustainability” with familiar environmental efforts such as recycling.

Twelve years later, Wellman notes that as student support for the office and its many campus partners has escalated, so has awareness of the plethora of areas that fall under the wide umbrella of sustainability.

“The students’ breadth of understanding of sustainability has grown immensely,” she said. “Yes, recycling is a sustainable practice. But sustainability also has to do with climate interruption, water resources and even social equity.”

Grasping a concept as vast as sustainability can be a formidable task. Sustainability at Texas A&M involves using an earth-friendly lens when making decisions that impact the campus, teaching and researching sustainable practices across academic disciplines, and developing graduates who will be good stewards of the earth long after they leave the university.

The success of some of these broad goals are easier to measure than others. The Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education uses a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) to score institutions. Categories considered include academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership.

In the 2019 STARS report, Texas A&M not only earned its fourth Gold rating, but also ranked first in the SEC and sixth among 15 peer Vision 2020 institutions in overall findings.

“At an institution where we’re teaching students to go out and solve global challenges,” Wellman said, “we’ve got to practice what we preach.”

Wellman is the first to say that along with campus initiatives, it’s the Office of Sustainability’s “amazing student partners” who make sustainability work at Texas A&M. Below are but a few of Texas A&M’s sustainability contributors:

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Campus Initiatives


Moving people from one place to another using as few fuel-dependent vehicles as possible is one of the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges. Texas A&M’s Transportation Services takes this challenge to heart, providing a wide range of alternatives to single-rider cars.

“We offer a variety of mobility choices that support all Aggies in being sustainable, including providing options for sharing rides—from riding on buses to car share, ride share and bike share,” said Peter Lange, Texas A&M associate vice president of transportation. “We also educate members of the campus community about ways to get around without owning a personal vehicle.” While the 1,200 Veoride bikes on campus are the most noticeable bicycle effort, bicycle maintenance stations, borrow and lease programs, and repair specialists also play a key role in this alternative transportation effort. Transportation Services even offers a bicycle concierge service to assist with off-campus routes.

Similarly, rideshare programs now go far beyond the familiar sight of out-of-town ride requests posted on a Memorial Student Center bulletin board. Today’s car options range from the on-demand Zipcar service to the Zimride ridesharing social network. A park-and-ride stop on the campus bus route and electric vehicle charging stations further support transportation sustainability.

As of 2019, some 58% of Texas A&M students utilized one or more sustainable transportation options. Through steps like installing energy-efficient garage lighting and purchasing newer, more fuel-efficient shuttle buses, Transportation Services is continually finding even more ways to make the campus more sustainable.

Campus Initiatives

Sustainable Design

In overseeing the development of buildings and other campus areas, Texas A&M university architect Lilia Gonzales ’94 encourages the incorporation of sustainable features that minimize both environmental impact and operational energy use. These features might include locally resourced and recycled materials, native plants, cisterns for rainwater harvesting, or low-emitting finishes, to name a few. Such sustainable design practices are highlighted in Texas A&M’s 2017 Campus Master Plan, of which Gonzales served as co-chair.

Gonzales explained that strategic use of sustainable design elements combines function with pleasing aesthetics. Texas A&M’s new Innovative Learning Classroom Building (ILCB), slated to open in the fall, is a prime example. The dot pattern featured on the building’s fritted glass windows brings an interesting visual effect to the ILCB’s exterior but doesn’t interfere with the view from inside. Along with an eye-catching design, the fritted glass helps to reduce glare, cuts cooling costs and decreases the chances of birds hitting the glass. Terra cotta sunshades on the ILCB likewise provide visual appeal while reducing heat gain.

Beyond mere functionality, however, Gonzales stresses that on a university campus, sustainable architecture should serve as a learning tool for students. She points to the 2014 Francis Hall renovation, where construction science students take classes in a building where exposed mechanical, electrical and structural systems are incorporated into the design.

“When you’re a student, you’re taught to look at architecture in a holistic way,” she explained. “The same concept should apply to the design of campus buildings. Yes, we need to consider everything from energy efficiency to air quality. But we also need to think of the building as a living, learning environment for future architects, engineers, and construction and project managers.”

Student Initiatives

Aggie Green Fund

For those passionate about creating a more environment-friendly campus, a lack of funding can easily deflate a great idea. That’s where the student-run Aggie Green Fund comes in.

“The Aggie Green Fund provides grants to implement sustainable project ideas on campus,” explained doctoral student Sarayu Sankar ’17, its 2019-20 student chair. “If a student, faculty or staff member has an idea to make Texas A&M more sustainable and doesn't know where to start, the Aggie Green Fund is the right place.”

Thus far, the fund has supported more than 90 sustainability projects to the tune of $2.1 million. Examples of these projects include water bottle-filling stations to discourage single-use plastic water bottles, installation of high-efficiency LED lighting and water-efficient showerheads in campus buildings, and a vertical aeroponic (off-the-ground) food-growing system to provide produce for Texas A&M’s food pantry.

Student Initiatives

Howdy Farm

Texas A&M’s Howdy Farm typically has a long waiting list of students who want to get their hands dirty, while those overseeing the farm want as many Aggies as possible to learn firsthand the merits of organic, sustainable agriculture practices. The hope is that after they leave Texas A&M, volunteers will take the knowledge and skills they acquire at the Howdy Farm into their own communities.

“Learning about the seasonality of produce, the time and effort put into production, and engaging in the finished product helps inform students about food systems,” said Michael Legorreta ’16, Howdy Farm manager and advisor.

To complete the farming cycle, students sell the produce they’ve raised at local farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants.

Student Initiatives

Residence Life U-Challenge

In 2017, a four-member student team claimed first place in the Texas A&M Department of Residence Life’s inaugural U-Challenge. While the team researched the ins and outs of the Davis-Gary Hall utility infrastructure to develop ways to increase its proficiency, competing teams pored over the utility systems of other residence halls.

“The U-Challenge is about both increasing energy efficiencies and educating students,” explained Kristianna Bowles ’19, graduate assistant sustainability coordinator for residence life. “The challenge is a hands-on research experience that equips students with the knowledge to provide recommendations for infrastructure improvements and methods to engage their peers in sustainable behaviors, from turning out the lights to taking shorter showers.”

Along with the potential for course credit and job and internship opportunities, the U-Challenge gives participants the opportunity to become intimately acquainted with utility equipment and data, energy audits and careers in the field.

Student Initiatives

Aggie Replant

What started in 1991 as an initiative by the late Scott Hantman ’92 and 40 volunteers to replace trees cut down for the Aggie Bonfire has evolved into one of the largest student-run environmental service projects in the nation. Each fall, Replant Day sends more than 500 Texas A&M students into the Bryan-College Station community to plant trees at parks, schools, nonprofit organizations and homes.

In recent years, Replant volunteers have extended their reach beyond Bryan-College Station borders. From 2013-17, student volunteers planted 45,000 pine seedlings in Bastrop State Park to help replace trees destroyed in a 2011 forest fire. Other Replant efforts have involved the replacement of trees along the Blanco River and Lake Somerville.

“Today, Aggie Replant’s tree-planting efforts extend far beyond compensating for Aggie Bonfire cuts,” said Mia McCallum ’21, Replant sponsorship executive. “Our efforts allow the university to give back to the community through environmental service.”

Make a Donation

To provide trees and materials for Aggie Replant, you can give to the Replant Excellence Fund.

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Data Compiled for the 2019 STARS Report Revealed the Following:


Texas A&M is the largest Fairtrade university in the nation, reflecting its commitment to ensure that as many Fairtrade products as possible—including food, drink and clothing—are available in as many campus locations as possible. This practice positively impacts the livelihoods of workers and farmers in developing countries.


Even though full-time equivalent students, faculty and staff increased by almost 41% and gross floor area of building space increased 131%, Texas A&M has reduced total water use on campus by 50% since 1991


From 2002 to 2019, the university reduced energy consumption per gross square feet by 49%, resulting in a cumulative purchased energy cost avoidance of $270 million.

The 2018 Sustainability Master Plan identifies




Evergreen goals


Targets to move Texas A&M toward a more sustainable future

More Than


of the Texas A&M departments that have sponsored research conduct sustainability-related research.



of rain runoff is retained on-site using low-impact development practices and green infrastructure.



of Texas A&M’s academic departments offer at least one course related to sustainability.