Sustainability Activation Program at the University of Dayton

University of Dayton

Date Posted: May 18, 2018
Submitted by: Margaret Maloney
Sustainability Topics: Curriculum, Campus Engagement
Content Type: Case Studies

Project Overview

The Sustainability Activation Program (SAP) is an innovative, large scale, and peer-to-peer education program that began in October of 2016 with the intent to better educate our student body about sustainability initiatives on campus and in the community. The catalyst for the project was a student-administered survey that showed a lack of familiarity amongst the student population with sustainability initiatives on campus. To address this knowledge gap, a group of highly motivated students then formed SAP with three goals: every student receive sustainability curriculum during their time at the University of Dayton (UD), create engaging curriculum that covers a wide variety of sustainability issues, and students will set tangible goals to live more sustainably. With the support of UD’s Hanley Sustainability Institute (HSI) sustainability student leaders program, the SAP team then created an hour-long education program taught in partnership with the UD Housing and Residence Life’s Aviate Program in the Fall of 2017, followed by video modules in the Spring of 2018. Over 3,000 students participated in a SAP course by the Spring of 2018, representing 40% of the student body. The team is now integrating this program into every part of student life: housing and residence life, student development, college courses, and the regional Dayton community. Through this program, the team educates students about the importance of caring for our common home, conserving natural resources, and committing to a more sustainable lifestyle. Students were surveyed before and after the program and were asked to make a commitment to live more sustainably based on what they had learned. Over 90% of participants committed themselves to a goal of living a more sustainable lifestyle. This program has begun to teach our students about the importance of sustainability, and, with continued growth, the team projects that 90% of the student body will receive peer-to-peer sustainability education by the end of 2022.


The University of Dayton is a Catholic Marianist institution with an undergraduate student population size of around 8,000. In 2014, the University received a generous donation from George and Amanda Hanley of 12.5 million dollars to create the Hanley Sustainability Institute (HSI), focused on sustainability education. With the help of the Hanley Sustainability Institute, the University of Dayton is taking great strides to be recognized as a national leader in sustainability. With a deep connection to Marianist values, the University prioritizes values in social justice, the environment, and the impact we have on our regional and global community. Therefore, the University emphasizes educating students to care for our common home, a theme in Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical Laudato Si. HSI created the sustainability student leaders program in 2016 to support undergraduate students in sustainability-focused experiential learning and leadership development.

Also in 2016, after sending out a campus-wide sustainability survey, a group of passionate students noticed a disconnect between the student body and sustainability knowledge and awareness across campus. With the University of Dayton aspiring to be a national leader in sustainability, these students were determined to create a campus-wide initiative to educate students about sustainability. Students proposed SAP to the Acting Head of the Hanley Sustainability Institute. In support of this idea, HSI created permanent SAP internship positions as part of the Institute’s student leadership program.

To incentivize students to participate in the program, the team formed a partnership with Housing and Residence Life to create sustainability peer-to-peer education through their Aviate Program. Aviate has a focus on integrated, applied and transformative education, with a series of learning goals that students should master by the time they graduate. Participants in Aviate events recieve “housing points”, which result in preferential housing options. By connecting with these learning goals, participants in the peer-to-peer sustainability education were also able to earn housing points. This connection to housing points created the incentive for students to participate in the education program.


There are three goals of the SAP Program: ensure every student receives sustainability curriculum during their time at the University of Dayton, create engaging curriculum that covers a wide variety of sustainability issues, and encourage students to set tangible goals to live more sustainably.


In October 2016, the Hanley Sustainability Institute hired a student intern to develop the education sessions and modules for SAP. The student met with various campus partners, such as Facilities Management, Dining Services, and Student Development, to identify and create content in sustainability topics around campus.

In the Fall of 2017, the SAP core team recruited an additional 23 students to train and serve as facilitators. This expanded the SAP team to represent every college on campus with a total of 12 different majors. A variety of age groups, first year students to graduating seniors, made up the team. The facilitators were trained in the Fall of 2017 and began teaching sessions two to three times a week for the entirety of Fall 2017.

Throughout the 2017/2018 school year, the team worked closely with Housing and Residence life to incorporate the curriculum into their Aviate program and worked with the Learning Teaching Center to help professors emphasize sustainability curriculum in their lesson plans. The team also partnered with professors in the School of Engineering for the SAP session on energy, leading to tracking student energy behavior across campus housing between the Fall of 2017 and the Spring of 2018. Moreover, the team met with members of UD’s Rivers Institute to create curriculum for SAP’s water modules and with Facilities Management for some data for our sustainability initiatives on campus. The team also worked with community members such as Ruskin Elementary School after school program and the Holy Angels Church on their recycling initiatives. Through the wide variety of networking, the team reached essentially every facet of campus.

Lastly, in the Spring of 2018 the team opened the sustainability modules with 7 interactive video quizzes on a variety of sustainability topics. These quizzes were designed for students who were unable to attend the Aviate sessions due to learning or physical disabilities, as well as those students who have other commitments. These modules covered a variety of sustainability topics, and had over 2,000 participants.


  • September 2014: The Hanley Sustainability Institute was created through a generous donation from the Hanley family of 12.5 million dollars for the University of Dayton to become a leader in sustainability education.
  • May 2015: A student-administered survey was sent out to the entire student body asking questions regarding sustainability initiatives on campus.
  • October 2016 - July 2017: An official student position was opened for education with the creation of the SAP team. Over the summer, this student met with numerous individuals from Housing and Residence Life, Facilities Management, Hanley Sustainability Institute, Student Development, and other departments to create the program curriculum for the 2017/2018 year.
  • August 2017: The SAP team completed training to become facilitators and teachers of the program.
  • September 2017: The facilitators led Aviate sessions twice to three times a week throughout the Fall semester for approximately 60-80 students per session.
  • December 2017: The Aviate sessions officially ended, and the team opened up online modules for completion.
  • February 2018: Online modules closed, with a final count of over 3,000 people completing either an Aviate session or the online modules.
  • January 2018 - May 2018: The SAP Team restructured by bringing in new students and conducting weekly training sessions that created a cohort of SAP Leaders proficient with the material, public speaking, and sustainability leadership.
  • May 2018: The Hanley Sustainability Institute created two new paid student positions for the SAP team to help with the growing demands of this program.


This program has largely received funding through the Hanley Sustainability Institute’s student leaders program. SAP student leaders work 10 hours a week during the fall and spring semesters, with a full time position during the summer. Including donated supplies, the total cost for all SAP supplies for the 2017-18 sessions was $600.


The results of this program from the first year were extremely surprising and showcased the success of this program. The Sustainability Activation Program led to 40% of the student body attending a sustainability session by the end of the Spring 2018 semester, within one year of beginning the program. We also saw noticeable behavior change in the student body, with energy usage reductions of over 14% in student houses over the Fall/Spring semesters. In addition, our surveys show a larger awareness of composting on campus and more interest in sustainability on campus. Moreover, in our post survey, 87% of students said they would think of their impact on the Earth daily or weekly, with 77% of the student body identifying they would like to learn more about sustainability after these sessions. Since receiving this feedback, the program has continued to grow with 5 different sustainability lessons being offered in the Fall of 2018, on varying topics of sustainability. We have also been asked by students to begin attending floor meetings, club meetings, and more community events compared to the years before this peer-to-peer education program. Lastly, we are creating more online modules for next year, with a goal of offering 10 modules in the Spring of 2019. We have begun a conversation to also incorporate sustainability curriculum into incoming first-year student programming. The demand for our program has become so great that two students have recently been hired onto the SAP team to help manage the increased demand for programs.

Lessons Learned

Our program is still growing, but we realized small actions can make a difference. Any school is capable of widespread sustainability education; it only takes some initiative from students and the desire of others to learn. We were excited to see that many students loved our curriculum and truly wanted to make a difference. One student commented that they believe our student body was not ignorant towards sustainability, only uneducated in this field but willing to learn. Through this program, we have seen more students composting, enjoying our green roof, recycling, saving energy, and having an overall positive perspective on sustainability. We have also learned how to create a shared vision between a multitude of departments on campus, and how to work together as a collective University to help strengthen the vision for sustainability.



Every student receives a sticker at the end of each session to remind them of the pledge they made to live a more sustainable life.

Every student receives a sticker at the end of each ...

Photographer credit: Katie Bringman- Hanley Sustainability Institute