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RCE North Texas Conference

Written by Gwen Schaulis- Sustainability Service Honors & Environ. Justice Eco Rep

November was an exciting month for our office! We partnered with the University of Texas at Arlington’s Office of Sustainability to gather a network of multidisciplinary leaders within the North Texas region with the purpose of promoting education for sustainable development. This collaboration is called the Regional Center for Expertise (RCE), and there are 170 networks worldwide. Together, RCE increases access to education and promotes sustainable development. DFW and its surrounding parts encompass sixteen counties, which calls for unified leadership across the region.

The North Texas RCE network includes universities, government agencies, nonprofits, and private sector companies. On a regular basis, stakeholders and specialists in these realms share their success stories and lessons learned from their sustainability efforts. The RCE actively advances the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals worldwide. Last month, on November 9th and 10th, the UTD Office of Sustainability hosted the annual RCE North Texas Sustainability Summit at the David Gundy Alumni Center on UT Dallas campus. 

UTD Mechanical Engineering Professor and UTD Wind Program Director Mario A. Rotea speaking on renewable generation from wind at the RCE Conference

The summit focused on 5 SDGs that the North Texas RCE is currently prioritizing. A panel of 4-5 professionals spoke on these 5 SDGs: 4 (Quality Education), 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), and 13 (Climate Action). The mornings commenced with powerful keynote speakers Jeff Kavanaugh, Chief Learner and Sharer at Infosys, and Bruno Basso, researcher, and professor at Michigan State University. Each SDG panel was moderated by various professionals who introduced and qualified each panelist. I could write lengthy praises on each panel, but I will recap only two.  

SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) aims to make human settlements safe, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable. The professionals speaking on the topic were Steven Duong (Principal and AVP for AECOM), Alexander Pharmakis (Sustainability Manager for the City of Farmers Branch), Ben Magill (Associate Vice Chancellor for Economic Opportunity at Dallas College), and Jennifer Harris (Broad Program Specialist for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration).

From left to right: Ben Magill, Jennifer Harris, Alexander Pharmakis, Steven Duong

Duong starts off by reminding us of the triple bottom line. Balancing the economy, society, and the environment in a way that places the planet and people over profit improves your return on investment. He informed us of a Dallas study that shows more than 65% of residents living in a transit-dependent core have access to less than 4% of regional jobs within a 45-minute transit commute. Transportation is a large concern in Dallas, so Duong warns of the consequences of not fully understanding the regional needs before breaking ground. He encouraged developers to use cost measurement analysis to weigh the social impact of their actions.

Alex Pharmakis divulged updates from the Farmer’s Branch Master Sustainability Plan incorporated in February 2022. He announced news of a 20-acre city landfill solar project located at Valley View Lane & President George Bush Turnpike to build grid resilience and expand the clean energy market, creating jobs for locals. The city contracted with BQ Energy, creating a purchase agreement to provide stable electricity pricing for 20 years. Farmers Branch residents can easily transition to renewables through the Power Switch and Solar Switch affordable programs. The city is also considering implementing a water rebate pilot in the future.

Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

The final panel was the Youth Network. RCE Youth Networks are for students ages 15-24 to collaborate with other budding sustainability leaders. This panel was led by our very own Sustainability Coordinator, Avery McKitrick, and her counterpart at UT Arlington, Bhargavi Jeyarajah. Paulina Hruskosi proudly represented UTD as one of the three panelists. She discussed the project she spearheaded on campus to eliminate single-use plastics and defined three commitments that boosted her sustainability career: political organizing, research, and education.

Joining Paulina was the coordinator for Walkable Arlington, Tony Pham, and the creator of the Sustainable Age Journal, Oriana Silva. Tony exposed a stark statistic stating that Arlington is the 13th deadliest city for cyclists and the largest American city without public transit. This led him to create a pedestrian-friendly solution and influence policymakers to implement it. Oriana Silva is a laboratory technician at UNT, where she researches stable isotopes and ecosystems. She created a student sustainability journal called the Sustainable Age, where students can share their experiences and read about others.

Check it out! The Q & A portion of this panel was especially interesting because it was a cross-generational conversation. The audience valued the young people’s opinions, realizing that their perspective is extremely important. Our youth are the ones ultimately tasked with reversing the ecological effects of current and past human actions. 

UTD Eco Reps, volunteers, and our Sustainability Coordinator checking guests and speakers in for the conference.

It was a privilege to host and learn from change-making leaders across North Texas who are committed to a clean and equitable future. Disciplines intersected, ideas merged, and divides melted as people joined for a common purpose – to prioritize people and the planet. The conference was a unified re-commitment to promote education for sustainable development in our schools, local governments, corporations, and respective homes across DFW. The fact that the conference took place under our roof is a result of UTD’s ongoing pursuit towards sustainable development. 


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