URI receives $250,000 gift to advance sustainability efforts

The gift from the Schwab Charitable Fund, made possible through the generosity of Eric and Wendy Schmidt, will help advance sustainability practices at the University

KINGSTON, R.I.—Nov. 16, 2023—A $247,895 charitable gift to the University of Rhode Island will support a new on-campus sustainability initiative. The gift from the Schwab Charitable Fund, made possible through the generosity of Eric and Wendy Schmidt, will launch the URI Sustainability First Initiative and will accelerate the efforts of URI students, faculty and staff to turn research and thought leadership into practical application by advancing sustainability practices across URI campuses.

“From reducing greenhouse gas emissions to maintaining resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy buildings, the University of Rhode Island is committed to creating a more sustainable campus environment,” said URI President Marc Parlange. “We are pleased to announce this gift made possible through the generosity of Eric and Wendy Schmidt, that will support our ongoing efforts to eliminate single-use plastic, strengthen on campus food waste composting, and shape a greener, more sustainable future for our University and our state.”

Funds will support URI efforts already underway to increase the use of compostable utensils and serveware at events and in URI dining halls and to install new solar trash and recycling receptacles. Funds will also enable the creation of a new Sustainability Fellows program, similar to URI’s Energy Fellows and Agriculture and Food System Fellows programs. Administered through URI’s Office of Dining Services, the program will engage and train undergraduate students who are passionate about careers centered in sustainability. Fellows will engage with and educate members of the URI community on sustainable practices—including composting and disposal best practices—furthering the University’s sustainability efforts on campus in classrooms, labs, dining halls, and beyond.

“Building a resilient future is the challenge of the decade, if not the century, and everyone has a part to play,” said Wendy Schmidt, president and co-founder of the Schmidt Family Foundation and Schmidt Ocean Institute. “We are excited to support the University of Rhode Island in its efforts to lead not only its students and staff toward a more sustainable way of life, but also the state and perhaps even the country.”

Through their philanthropy, Eric and Wendy Schmidt are working toward a cleaner, healthier, more secure world for all. Their philanthropic organizations enable access to clean energy from the Navajo Nation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, support small-scale farmers and fishers of color in accessing climate-smart technology, provide a state-of-the-art research vessel to scientists exploring the world’s oceans, encourage students to develop solutions for sea-level rise, and bring sustainability to the sport of sailing. Wendy Schmidt also co-founded Newport-based 11th Hour Racing and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science from URI in 2023. 

URI, already a leader in sustainability research, launched its first signature research initiative, Plastics: Land to Sea, in 2021. Plastics: Land to Sea is an interdisciplinary network of more than 50 faculty working with universities, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations around the world. In just the past two years, the initiative attracted $4 million in private, state, and federal funding, and URI has recruited five new faculty members with expertise critical to plastics research. In May, the initiative supported a two-day URI Global Plastics Forum, which brought together scientists, policy makers, advocates, and business leaders from across the globe to discuss the current science, innovation, and policy approaches regarding plastic pollution—and to help build action-driven networks.

In February, President Parlange introduced the University’s ambitious and dynamic strategic vision, FOCUS URI, that seeks to broaden the institution’s impact, enhance student achievement, foster an inclusive culture, and power the university of the future. Embedded in the plan is a commitment to sustainability efforts and environmental responsibility positioning URI as a world-class destination that contributes positively to its local communities.