seeing green

Rice University announces its plans to be carbon neutral by 2030

Rice University has set a goal to become carbon neutral in the next several years. Photo via rice.edu

A Houston school has announced its mission to achieve carbon neutrality in the next eight years, and university executives described how exactly they will get there.

Last week, Rice University President David Leebron and Provost Reginald DesRoches wrote a letter describing the university's community as eager to participate in initiatives to stave off climate change on campus.

"Given the commitment of Rice faculty to research and scholarship that supports human knowledge and progress, it is unsurprising that this issue has been addressed from many disciplinary perspectives," the letter reads. "Our faculty, students and staff have a strong desire to contribute to solutions and to see their university as an active participant in the global effort to address climate change and other pressing environmental issues."

Leebron and DesRoches's letter explains how Houston is at the forefront of the energy industry and must continue to lead the sector by developing, implementing and transitioning to clean technologies

"The success of both Rice and Houston are closely intertwined, not only with respect to our future competitiveness but also in our shared vulnerability to the impacts of climate change on the Gulf Coast," the letter continues.

The university outlines four initial strategic focus points, including research, endowment, student leadership, and campus changes.

"By making these commitments we are placing investments in the environment as one of the university’s highest funding priorities," the university explains. "Many of the actions we describe below will require significant financial investment and we will need to determine how best to secure necessary resources and prioritize them among other university endeavors."

The Rice Management Co. Board of Directors meeting in December approved the addition of a sustainability statement. Additionally, RMC and Rice received board approval to become a signatory to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment.

On campus, the university will implement several sustainability practices, including:

  • Rice will aim to have its new construction project achieve gold certification level in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating program.
  • Rice will invest in water efficiency and conservation projects to reduce overall consumption of potable water while also leveraging alternative water sources such as captured rainwater.
  • Rice's sustainability, facilities and finance teams will partner with the Rice Management Co. to identify viable emissions reduction opportunities.

From a research perspective, many faculty members are working on sustainable projects and Rice is offering new funding opportunities for this research.

"In late 2021, the Office of Research launched a 'Sustainable Futures' seed fund through the Creative Ventures Fund program to support interdisciplinary research on the broad range of environmental challenges for which Rice could be a leader," according to the university. "This fund promotes the development of new research or academic partnerships that extend across multiple schools to engage faculty in new and creative scholarship."

The Office of Research received 23 proposals in response to its initial call for proposals, and, according to the release, funding will be increased to support more projects. The Office of Research will announce its second call for proposals later this year.

The letter concludes on a hopeful outlook on Rice University's plans to meet carbon neutrality and help Houston lead the energy transition.

"The actions we collectively take or fail to take as a society this decade will directly impact the well-being and prosperity of future generations as well as ourselves. As a university committed to the discovery, transmission and application of knowledge, we must assure that we are contributing to addressing the most fundamental challenges of our time," reads the letter. "Rice University and Houston have a unique role to play in building that future and we intend to be significant participants and leaders in this ambitious undertaking."

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

While numerous factors outside of work impact individual mental health, employers can make a difference with a few key steps. Photo via Getty Images

In 2023, it is imperative leaders keep the wellbeing of their workforce at the forefront of their minds.

According to an October 2022 publication from the McKinsey Health Institute, 59 percent of the global workforce report having at least one mental health challenge either now or in the past. These challenges not only threaten employee wellbeing but can also impact performance by a reduction in productivity.

Numerous factors outside of work impact individual mental health. Nonetheless, employers can make a difference with a few key steps, such as properly training management to mitigate toxic behaviors, prioritizing inclusivity and providing mental health resources.

Management training

To start, leaders need to prepare their managers to set the tone for employees. Frontline managers can have a large influence on employee wellbeing through their daily interactions with their teams. Even if organizations offer a host of mental health benefits, employees might not take advantage if their managers do not buy in. There is no substitute for the genuine care and concern that a supportive manager offers their employees, and they can tell the difference when they are authentically cared for or not.

Although the vast majority of managers have good intentions toward their employees, managers also may hold themselves and their teams to high standards without realizing the impact on mental health. Managers should receive training in how to respect work-life balance, help employees prioritize their duties, and create and maintain a supportive, positive work environment. These things may not have been on the radar for management in the past, but it is now the norm to lead with the wellness of the whole person in mind.

Beyond helping employees balance their lives, managers also need support in balancing their own, particularly to avoid burnout. Employees and managers may both face pressure to perform, and leaders need to make sure mental health initiatives for junior employees do not simply transfer excessive workloads to their supervisors. To accomplish that, train managers in time- and stress-management techniques and keep the lines of communication open with the executive team. Staying in tune with the pulse of wellness at work requires open communication and the commitment to support work-life balance by all members of the organization.

Prioritize inclusivity

Since 2020, inclusivity has become a bigger and bigger part of the conversation about workplace culture. The impact of a discriminatory workplace on mental health can be profound. When employees experience or indirectly experience discrimination in the workplace, their overall wellbeing suffers, with engagement and satisfaction decreasing as well, according to a 2021 survey from Gallup. The good news is most workplaces already have policies in place to prevent and report discriminatory practices.

However, a truly inclusive workplace will go beyond anti-discrimination policies to create an affirmative environment where employees can fully embrace their identities. Steps to promote inclusivity include celebrating holidays of various cultures, creating opportunities for employees to discuss their heritage and traditions, organizing relationship-focused exercises and offering educational opportunities in the workplace. To promote unity in the workplace, leaders should take care to discourage the formation of cliques and ensure all employees feel welcomed and not judged or mistreated by coworkers. Valuing diversity and honoring the individual drives the culture of tolerance and acceptance, which promotes a harmonious and productive work environment and team.

Provide mental health resources

To promote mental health and wellness, employees need access to the right resources and the knowledge to navigate those resources. In many cases, employees with the biggest mental health challenges may also face the most obstacles in receiving care. For employers offering health care benefits, employees may need training on how to find mental health practitioners in their area. What is more, employees accustomed to inconvenient appointment times or long wait lists for therapists may benefit from learning about online therapy platforms, which can offer care sooner and outside of typical work hours.

Many employers also choose to offer an employee assistance plan, or EAP, which can offer further mental health programs, free of charge. Despite their relevance to employees in need, EAPs are often overlooked and underutilized, making it even more necessary for managers or HR to proactively reach out to employees and educate them about their EAP benefits.

For organizations without the budget to provide health care benefits or EAPs, their leadership should investigate free or low-cost mental health resources in their region. In many cases, local government will provide free access or subsidies for mental health care. Nonprofit organizations may also offer free programs for those meeting eligibility requirements.

Employers should keep in mind employees may feel afraid to use mental health benefits for fear of stigma. While managers should be careful not to intrude on employees’ personal lives, managers can still gently offer caring support to employees who show signs of struggling with mental health, including chronic tardiness, absenteeism, low mood and a sudden change in personality or work performance. The ability to know if a behavior is out of the norm for an employee, the manager needs to have built a relationship with them and to care enough to notice the change.

As employees continue to face mental health challenges in their personal lives, employers can be part of the solution by educating managers, emphasizing inclusivity and offering mental health resources and support. Being a caring human being goes a long way, even at work.

------

Karen Leal is a performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

Trending News