A More Sustainable Responsible, Resilient Campus

Our Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson will be retiring in early July. As our sustainability leader for the past 10 years Myron has enabled us to make great strides toward a more ethical, resilient and inclusive campus, boosting our ability to be exemplary community members. He has allowed us to model what sustainability can and should look like, collaborating not only across campus but also with other universities, as well as our city, county and even state government. He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

Perhaps his most visible achievements on campus include developing a 50-percent renewable energy portfolio (a first in the country for a university of our size), a healthy revolving loan fund to support green initiatives and institutionalizing a place-based approach to energy efficiency. He has played an important role in greening athletics and advocating for air quality and climate solutions, and in the context of our community, he has engaged thousands of residents in renewable energy and more responsible transportation. While Myron has excelled in program and project development, his true legacy lies in mentorship and service.

The Sustainability Office will be hosting an open house to celebrate Myron’s legacy on June 18th. An invitation will be sent out to all newsletter recipients shortly. Please contact kate.whitbeck@utah.edu to be added to the invitation list.

Sustainability Programming:
Revolving Loan Fund
Working at the forefront of the sustainability movement can be challenging, taking both dogged persistence and patience to convince others to invest in new systems and practices. It was with unfaltering dedication that Myron was able to create a successful revolving loan fund on campus despite years of roadblocks. Once the revolving loan program was established, Myron worked behind the scenes to put processes and infrastructure in place to ensure successful programming. This grant fund is now a competitive program that has already invested a quarter million dollars in sustainable infrastructure. These projects currently return more than $25,000 a year in energy savings, which accounts for almost 20 percent of funding available for new sustainability projects.
 
Creating a Place-Based Standard For Efficiency in Campus Buildings
As a trained architect, Myron’s particular area of expertise in emissions relates to buildings and energy efficiency. Gathering colleagues from facilities, health sciences, administration, and housing, Myron initiated conversations about creating a standard more prescriptive and aggressive than LEED standards, while also attending to our specific geographical health-related concerns. At the time, the state required public buildings to achieve LEED silver. Myron advocated for the creation of a university-specific standard that would mandate inclusion of three key areas—air quality, water conservation and responsible transportation. While LEED silver required energy efficiency to be approximately 10 percent better than code, the U standard required 40 percent better than code. With intensive lobbying efforts and the support of local non-profit Utah Clean Energy, the standard was accepted for all new buildings on campus.
 
Sustainability in Athletics
With similar persistence and collaborative spirit, Myron initiated and led sustainability initiatives in partnership with our athletics department. He worked with senior administration to join the Green Sports Alliance, making the Pac-12 the first conference where all institutions were members. Recognized as an early leader of Pac-12 sustainability work, Myron was organizing ad hoc sustainability initiatives at sports events prior to joining the Alliance. He has always recognized that through sport, the U could mainstream a culture of sustainability. Dave Newport, director of the Environmental Center at CU-Boulder, described Myron as always bringing levity and an all-encompassing vision of sustainability to the earliest conversations between the conference’s institutions.
 
Air Quality Road Map
Air quality in the Salt Lake Valley is recognized as among the worst in the nation. As a result, Myron has worked tirelessly on campus, in the community and with state and local government to clear the air. He serves as a key member of the University’s Air Quality Task Force. He lobbied the head of Facilities and the vice president of Administrative Services to focus on commuter emissions, point source emissions and area sources within buildings and in exterior spaces (grounds equipment, emergency generators, construction-site and road dust, etc.) to contribute to healthier air in the valley. His efforts eventually won the support of Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety. Bringing together faculty, staff, students and representatives from city and state government, the task force was able to take a critical look at operations and create a road map for emissions reductions. At this point in time, over half of the tasks on that road map have been completed. From 2008-2011 alone, the University of Utah cut air emissions by over 69 tons per year. These reductions were achieved despite the addition of several hundreds of thousands of square feet of classroom, research, and clinical space. The university is currently conducting a feasibility study to eliminate future combustion on campus, a concept for which Myron has been consistently advocating.
 
Community Renewable Energy Programs
When new technology is introduced there is often a lag before it becomes accepted by consumers and before the price point reaches an accessible level. Myron initiated energy-related community programs in an effort to normalize and make accessible new renewable technologies that result in local impact. In the past, the focus had been to support off-site renewable energy production by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from wind energy to offset the carbon inventory. Myron orchestrated a partnership with Utah Clean Energy to offer solar systems at a discounted rate to community members with an option to donate their RECs to the university. This resulted in over 598 residents participating and generating more than 3 MW of energy. This program had a significantly greater economic impact than off-site purchases based on the fact that the 300 homes donating RECs will continue to generate clean energy for at least 25 years. They also have a greater impact on the local airshed by decreasing the demand for coal-fired electricity.

Similarly, the U Drive Electric and U Bike electric programs have made new technologies more accessible and helped normalize purchasing behavior. These programs put over 200 electric vehicles and 150 e-bikes on Utah’s roads.

Service and Mentorship
The impact of many programs and projects can be measured in metric tons of carbon offset, KW generated, or gallons conserved. Some impact is harder to quantify. This is especially true when we measure impact on individuals. Beyond the myriad of programs and projects that Myron has shepherded over the course of his 10 years at the university, it is the impact that he has had on individual faculty, staff, and students that will define his true legacy on campus. These contributions were only feasible given his vision for how sustainability could function at the University of Utah.
 
Under Myron’s leadership, the Sustainability Office grew from two full-time and one part-time position to 10 full-time staff and moved from Facilities to Academic Affairs. This move allowed for expanded and integrated functionality, working across education, curriculum, research and operations. The increased visibility, elevation of status and expansion of scope can all be traced to Myron’s vision and dedication and set the path for his most profound contributions.

One of the greatest gifts Myron has given to the University of Utah is the time he spent mentoring students and ensuring that their voices were heard. The most recent example is the support he provided to students this spring in developing a resolution to re-examine the university’s 2050 carbon neutrality commitment. He spent countless hours advising and providing feedback to help them craft an effective statement. The resolution passed the Academic Senate with unanimous support. In working with students, Myron is adept at providing feedback and support without imposing his views and opinions.

Myron’s willingness to give his time and energy, and work alongside the team regardless of the activity, is perhaps one of his most admirable characteristics. When he is not advocating for sustainability at the highest levels of the university’s administration, Myron can be seen weeding in the campus gardens, riding the RecyBikes to collect recyclables during tailgating events and directing traffic at the community e-waste collection event. He serves on countless boards and committees on and off campus to build relationships and support needed to make our campus and community more sustainable. Beyond the work and volunteer hours, Myron donates to Sustainability Office activities from every paycheck.

We are so grateful for the contributions Myron has made to the University of Utah, the local and regional community.   He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy with his dedication to making the university and the world a more sustainable, responsible, and resilient place.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *