A quarter-century of positive change

UNH’s Sustainability Institute marks a milestone and looks ahead to the next 25 years
graphic of earth and sustainable resources
It’s late — but the tide is turning.

That’s the message shared by Sustainability Institute founding director Tom Kelly at the institute’s 25th anniversary celebration, held to mark the progress in the vast field of sustainability that has been made to date.

“As we pivot into the next 25 years and we think about where we’ll be in 2047, we have our work cut out for us,” Kelly told the crowd that had gathered on DeMerritt Hall lawn to enjoy local food and hear more about what sustainability means at UNH.

“Fortunately, we have a new generation of activists, demanding and driving change even in the face of active resistance by powerful political and economic actors.”

UNH has long lived out the belief that sustainability is about much more than being environmentally friendly. “We follow the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals that there is no true sustainability without equity — that ecologic health is inextricably linked to human well-being and vice versa,” explains Fiona Wilson, deputy chief sustainability officer and director of the Sustainability Institute. “A sustainable world is also an equitable and just world, so sustainability really puts front and center access to education, basic healthcare for everyone and reduced inequalities of all kinds.”

Wilson and Kelly agree: the 25-year milestone is a pivotal look-back and thinking-ahead moment.

“UNH was very forward-looking 25 years ago and had the ability to understand how important this was going to be today. Now, we have that same ability to look out another 25 years from now, and to think about what’s going to be important in that time,” says Wilson. “In a time of so many challenges, including the climate crisis, income inequality and poverty, racial injustice and threats to democracy, we need to ask ourselves what is it that a university like UNH is uniquely positioned to do to help shape the future and contribute as much as we can to really effect change.”

The celebration was just one of the ways that the institute is marking the anniversary of its founding — the annual Social Venture Innovation Challenge was held in the fall, as was the awarding of the Social Innovator of the Year award, this year given to Alex Freid ’13. A new webinar series also launched.

“As a land-grant university, it’s been in our DNA for more than 150 years that we’re here for the public good,” says Wilson, who notes that the research done here, the students UNH prepares to be changemakers and its position as role model to other universities, businesses and municipalities are the key ways UNH is contributing.

At the fall celebration, Kelly thanked early organizers who solidified the Sustainability Institute’s permanence at UNH, including leaders in the UNH Foundation and the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture. He also noted the visionary philanthropy of longtime UNH benefactor Oliver Hubbard, whose series of gifts established the $10 million endowment for sustainability and inspired other donors such as Jo Lamprey, Tom Haas and others to follow suit (sadly, Jo Lamprey passed away in January; you can read more about her legacy at UNH in the next edition of UNH Magazine).

Sustainability advisory board co-chair Katie Bouton ’96 said when she thinks about the Sustainability Institute, she thinks about her kids. When her teenager says the world is on fire, no one likes each other, no one’s paying attention, the world is a mess, says Bouton, “I can always come up with an example from here to give my kids for why they shouldn’t feel hopeless.”

Her fellow chair, Ned Dane ’88, also a member of the UNH Foundation board (which manages the university’s endowment), noted that thanks to looking at investing through a sustainable lens, UNH is a leader in that now-popular area of investing. “It’s been a capstone in how you can take your passion and your purpose, and you can have a much better outcome,” Dane said.

Other speakers included Ali McPherson ’96, principal at Niagara Share and co-leader of the Collaborative for the Regenerative Economy (CoRE) with the University at Buffalo’s Materials Design and Innovation Department and Clean Production Action, as well as Alex Vergara ’23, who admitted that she came to UNH after a gap year with no more direction than she had before the break.

But then she found the Sustainability Institute, which she said allowed her to “hone my desire to create community,” and through which she became a changemaker fellow. She interned as a UNH changemaker Semster in the City fellow at 826Boston, a publishing and tutoring nonprofit that services Boston public schoolchildren. She plans to go into education as a career.

“To be sustainable depends on our threads of connection to one another. I am excited for what change will continue to come,” Vergara said.

— Michelle Morrissey ’97

Learn more about sustainability at UNH, including anniversary events, free webinars, UNH’s STARS Platinum rating and the sustainability dual major for undergrads: