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Notre Dame students a huge part of university sustainability efforts

NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- The University of Notre Dame has worked for decades to build a bright tomorrow for future generations through its research and innovation. Now, it's setting its sights on our environment.

Notre Dame is striving to cut down its carbon footprint. One of the many ways it's working to do that is through its greenscapes. And the university's students are a bigger part of this project than you might think.

If you watch the news, you've likely heard the latest scientific reports on climate change.

"There are many reports out there that you can read, warning us of if we continue some of our current behaviors, that we are doing damage to our environment," Senior Director of Sustainability and Continuous Improvement at the University of Notre Dame Carol Mullaney said.

So the University of Notre Dame's students, researchers and faculty, like Mullaney are making it their mission to undo that damage.

"Sustainability is very important to the university. We have had a long history of it," Mullaney said.

Back in 2016, the university announced plans to cut its carbon footprint in half by the year 2030. It's all part of its 21-page Comprehensive Sustainability Strategy.

"It was the result of many, many months of work of a cross campus committee that formed it. And also in response to Pope Francis’ encyclical of 2015 named “La Douto Si,” in which he exorted all of us as Catholics, that we have responsibility for care of our common home," Mullaney said.

Most recently, the university installed its fifth greenscape atop the Joyce Center.

"They provide a lot of energy benefits. So they are a natural insulator and will provide insulation, allowing us to reduce our heating and cooling needs within the building," Mullaney said.

It's the largest green roof in the state of Indiana, spanning nearly 80,000 square feet.

"They also will collect the storm water, the rain, allowing it then to be released back into the environment... It’s really very exciting," Mullaney said.

Students like Senior Chemical Engineering Major Kevin Hottinger play a central role in the university's sustainability efforts.

Whether it's research into a project like a green roof, or something more hands-on, Kevin and his classmates work alongside Mullaney to reduce plastic, food and water waste across campus.

"I also work on looking up what other universities are doing, so looking at their websites or getting in contact with people to see what we can learn from other places that are doing great things," Hottinger said.

"What our student volunteers do on game day is go through some of our primary parking lots where tailgating occurs, building relationships with our guests and educating them about responsible recycling versus trash," Mullaney added.

"I think it’s a really great way for me to pursue my passion by getting other people involved and helping them see that these are issues that we need to be worried about even if we don’t see it right now," Hottinger said.

So, why act now?

"It’s very important for us if we want our success of generations, not only for our own ability to enjoy the world that we have, but also for our success of generations," Mullaney said.

Mullaney says because future generations and bright minds like Kevin's are depending on it.

"A lot of the environmental problems that we’re seeing and are told are going to get worse in the future, are going to affect my generation," Hottinger said.

"It’s extremely important for us to be aware of that, to educate ourselves and to take actions that we can now," Mullaney said.

Another major goal the university is working toward is eliminating burning coal completely by 2020. A Notre Dame spokesperson tells us they expect to achieve that next year, well ahead of schedule.

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