Our Commitments

The University of the South recognizes the importance of the planet and its resources and the Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability (OESS) serves as a resources to the University community to shepherd awareness about stewardship and sustainability, as well as catalyzing action throughout the campus, the Domain and the community.

Sewanee commits to reviewing its impacts on and dependence on ecosystems locally and regionally and has set goals and targets around the resource impact areas of climate, water, and ecosystems.  

Vision: Empowered Human Communities. Resilient Natural Communities.


Mission: Provide natural resource and societal experiences that foster understanding of our place in the world.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability builds authentic cross-cultural relationships, improves environmental outcomes, and facilitates meaningful experiences with our environment that promote equity for future generations.

Our office has set forth the following commitments to ensure a thoughtful approach to DEI:

  1. Build community through genuine relationships and enable experiences to build a deeper connection with the natural world.

  2. Encourage the transfer of knowledge from subject matter experts in surrounding communities and provide them the platform to share their knowledge and become mentors for our students.

  3. Support the local economy by contracting labor and materials from surrounding communities in a way that is line with responsible and sustainable practices.

  4. Educate ourselves and the community about environmental injustices occurring locally and globally.

  5. Empower a strong and diverse set of future leaders advocating for environmental and social justice.

Carbon Neutrality

The University of the South’s institutional endorsement of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, by Vice Chancellor Joel Cunningham, was the first and largest sustainability focused public commitment the University has made.  This served as part of a series of efforts to increase sustainability practices on campus and reduce Sewanee’s carbon footprint and includes a plan to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2030.  This will be accomplished through a three-pronged approach:

  • Deep energy conservation,

  • renewable energy generation, and

  • evaluation of the potential for carbon sequestration in Domain forests.   

With nearly 700 signatories to date, the commitment recognizes the need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by 80 percent by mid-century at the latest, in order to avert the worst impacts of global warming and to reestablish more stable climatic conditions. Follow the University’s progress to Carbon Neutrality here.  



Sustainability Master Plan

The 2013 Sustainability Master Plan (Plan) outlines the University's commitment to sustainability and stewardship. As outlined in the Plan, the OESS has developed a comprehensive process to help the University achieve a broad array of sustainability goals that cut across all aspects of campus life including: energy, food, water, buildings, materials management, transportation, socially responsible investments and the curricular engagement of these challenges. Taken from the Plan, “It represents not a definitive statement, but a starting-point for further exploration and dialogue.”


In early 2016, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), in its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), awarded the University a STARS Silver rating for transparency and a commitment to sustainability throughout the University. The STARS system is the most comprehensive and widely recognized measurement of an institution’s progress in sustainability for higher education.

Better Buildings Challenge                                                          

Sewanee signed on to the US DOE Better Buildings Challenge in mid 2016 to further increase operational efficiencies and reduce energy consumption by 20% within 10 years.  In just 5 years, Sewanee has already reduced its energy consumption by 18%. You can see our progress here.



Managing the Forest

Managing the Forest Before Teddy Roosevelt named Gifford Pinchot the first head of the brand new U.S. Forest Service in 1905, Pinchot worked for Sewanee. In 1897, he and his assistants began developing a forestry management plan for the University that established the University Domain as one of the first professionally managed forests in the Southeast. Over the years, the management goals have evolved. For the past few decades, plans have placed forest revenue as a secondary consideration to education, research, and recreation. Yet as Sewanee is the home to one of the few forestry programs at a liberal arts college in the United States, faculty have long seen the need to demonstrate to students and others how forests can be managed for conservation and revenue at the same time. That basic principle, upon which Pinchot based the U.S. Forest Service, still guides management at Sewanee. Much of the current management of the Domain focuses on the maintenance and restoration of the oak-pine forests of the plateau top. This type of management is designed to create growing conditions favorable to our native oak species, introduce and encourage shortleaf pine, and promote low-density woodland and savannah habitat, which is critical to many species of wildlife. Since 2010, multiple sites across the Domain have been managed with harvest and prescribed fire to increase oak seedlings and saplings, create research sites for student/faculty research, and establish demonstration sites for private landowners and public land managers to visit.

Management on the Domain is driven by the development of a program wide management plan whose primary objective is to provide the framework to guide the day-to-day land and resource management operations of the Domain.  There have been many historical management plan, with the most recent being the,  2012 Domain Strategy White Paper which set out goals by which the Domain is to be managed.   Currently, there is a comprehensive management plan being developed that with a draft due in FY 2019.  This management plan will be a comprehensive plan that evaluates management on the resources on the Domain using ecological, educational, and recreational lenses.  

Old-Growth Preservation

Old-Growth Preservation Late-successional hardwood stands with complex structure are rare in the Eastern United States. Thus, Dick’s Cove (100 acres) represents an outstanding opportunity for study. Most stands in the region became established following timber harvesting. This activity peaked in the early 1900s, and thus, forests over vast expanses of the Eastern United States are characterized as even-aged, less than 100 years old. Forests that exhibit the structural complexity that epitomizes late-successional stands are underrepresented on the landscape. Late-successional structural characteristics of temperate hardwood stands include live large trees, multiple age classes, a range of canopy tree size classes, multilayered canopies, snags, and logs on the forest floor. These structural features serve as critical habitats for the maintenance of native forest biodiversity and provide important ecosystem functions such as carbon storage. The importance of late-successional forest structure and function for the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem services, combined with the acknowledgment that such structures are uncommon compared to pre-European settlement estimates, has led to a growing interest in restoring late-successional forests, especially on public lands. Between 1978 and 1983, Dick’s Cove experienced severe mortality in the overstory. Centuries-old trees came tumbling down. Why did this mortality occur? Likely it was a combination of old age, summer droughts, above-average temperature, and defoliating insects. Studying mortality patterns helps us understand the natural change that occurs in forests Recommendations have been provided for structure and disturbance-based restoration approaches. The success of either of these approaches to forest management designed to restore late-successional forests is dependent upon our understanding of the variability of late-successional structure and the long-term disturbance histories that produced this structure.