Sprouting Upward

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Farmers Market co-manager. Originally posted on August 14, 2017.

In 2008, the Sustainability Office and several campus partners came to a conclusion: The university needed better access to healthy and local food options. To meet this need, the partners launched the University of Utah Farmers Market. Organizers sent invitations to students, administrators and even residents of neighborhoods adjacent to campus, explaining their goal to “bring fresh, local food to the campus in order to help build healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.”

Ten seasons later, the popular market excels at connecting students, faculty and staff with local farmers and food purveyors. But even more so, the market has become a space for community, where students hang out and interact with small business owners from the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. This year’s market kicks off at Tanner Plaza, west of the Union, on Thursday, Aug. 24, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and takes place every Thursday through Oct. 5.

I first participated in the Farmers Market in 2013, where I witnessed firsthand the powerful link between food and community. The market is a staple of the fall semester, and campus members come back year after year to frequent their favorite stalls. It can look like seeing old friends, or in some cases, even like seeing family. Searching through the records of the past 10 seasons, I learned that some vendors, such as Tagge’s Famous Fruit & Veggie Farms and Jensen Farms, have been part of the market since the very beginning. Perennial favorites Tamales Tita joined the market in 2012. Other early vendors are now better known for their brick-and-mortar stores, such as Tulie Bakery and Skewered Thai. And newer vendors are branching out beyond traditional farmers markets — you can grab a Bubble & Brown pastry at Three Pines Coffee downtown or get some Salsa Del Diablo on your sandwich at The Bagel Project. For this fall’s market, we have accepted 25 vendors — some new and some returning.

In celebration of the 10th season, we are broadening our community focus by inviting more nonprofit organizations and campus partners to join the market to better highlight local opportunities and resources. Groups including the Green Urban Lunchbox and Enterprise CarShare will be part of the market, and campus entities including (but not limited to) Student Success Advocates, Student Equity & Diversity and Career Services will be in attendance.

We’re also keeping our original mission to increase access at the forefront of our market. The Double Your Dollars program will return for its fifth season, thanks to support from University of Utah Health. Double Your Dollars provides students with a $1-to-$1 match for students and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase produce/food items at the market. Participants purchase tokens from the Market Manager’s Booth and can spend those tokens on grocery-like food items, including (but not limited to) fruits, vegetables, honey, salsa and baked goods. More than 400 students took advantage of the program last year.

When I took over management of the University of Utah Farmers Market in 2015, I was reminded of the service the market provides the campus community. I watched consumers interact with producers, which is so often lost in our faceless food system. I listened to producers describe where ingredients are grown, which is regularly hidden by lists of indecipherable ingredients. The market is a place to eat local, real food, and just as important, a place to gather. See you Aug. 24.

Merging Research and Design

By Ashley Babbitt, public relations specialist, College of Architecture + Planning. Originally posted on July 3, 2017.

The University of Utah recently approved the creation of the Center for Ecological Planning and Design. The new center merges the provisional Ecological Planning Center and the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center — both in the College of Architecture + Planning — in a new partnership with the Global Change and Sustainability Center. The Center for Ecological Planning and Design is positioned to bridge the gaps between research and the design and planning fields, both within CA+P and across campus, with a focus on the built environment and the human communities that inhabit it.

Sarah Hinners, director for the provisional Ecological Planning Center, answers questions about the new center:

Tell us about the significance of the work of the new research center?

The built environment refers to buildings, roads, parking lots, etc. — all that stuff that humans build for ourselves to make life easier, safer and more comfortable or convenient. Cities are dominated by the built environment and it is becoming more and more the dominant habitat of humanity worldwide. But our environments are not always a healthy and life-enhancing and can be vulnerable to environmental changes and disasters. The built environment affects people’s lives and in turn, human communities shape and influence the built environment.

At the center, we’re focused on bringing together the people who study the built environment, such as scientists, social scientists and engineers, with the people who plan, design and build it. We have most of these disciplines represented here on campus, but they are widely dispersed among multiple colleges and dozens of departments. We’re interested in bringing these experts from across campus and outside of academia together to generate ideas and knowledge, ultimately to build better places for humans.

How will this center allow the college to collaborate in new ways?

There are challenges to interdisciplinary work. People in different disciplines and in different colleges on campus don’t necessarily speak the same language and it can be difficult to work with others without the feeling of stepping on toes or coming into competition with one another. There is a tremendous opportunity, one that is so often missed, to build collaborations and this potentially has the power to transform the way cities and communities take shape. The center is intended to build bridges between departments in the College of Architecture + Planning and across campus. By working under the umbrella of the Global Change and Sustainability Center, we offer a place to collaborate on disciplinary neutral ground — a place where people interested in resilient communities and built environments can meet in the middle and do great things together.

What types of research will emerge from this center?

We anticipate building a research portfolio of collaborative solutions for cities, including sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems, highly functional and beautiful urban ecosystems, strong inclusive communities and equitable access to a high quality of life in cities.

 Who are the key participants and collaborators of the center?

The center started out as the Ecological Planning Center, established as a provisional center in 2012 and funded with a donation from the Swaner family. As we grew, we came to understand just how interdisciplinary this work needed to be. A bunch of pieces fell into place within the past year that really opened important doors for us. One was an opportunity to join forces with the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center that has been doing research on the ecology of construction practices and building materials for a long time. The second was a desire, with the Global Change and Sustainability Center, to coalesce some of its expertise into a smaller number of topical themes, one of them being the built environment and communities.

In addition to myself, the new center includes Diane Pataki, associate professor of biology, and Ryan Smith, director of Integrated Technology in Architecture Center. The steering committee also includes members from city and metropolitan planning, parks recreation and tourism, mechanical engineering, biology, geology and geophysics, environment and sustainability studies, the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program in the Law School and a member of the local planning professional community.

How can a person get involved?

We’d love to engage with anyone who is interested in these topics through collaborative interdisciplinary research, education, events and symposia. One opportunity is to get involved with our work associated with Red Butte Creek here on campus. We have been working on a plan for revitalization of the U’s portion of the creek and the intent is to create a hub for implementation of the plan as well as the development of research and education programs associated with Red Butte Creek.

Our website: cepd.utah.edu
Contact Sarah Hinners: sarah.hinners@utah.edu

GCSC Grows Through Partnership

Global Change and Sustainability Center expands with new Center for Ecological Planning and Design and University Water Center.

The Global Change and Sustainability Center has expanded to include a partnership with two new centers; the University Water Center and the Center for Ecological Planning and Design. These centers bring scholars together around specific research themes to facilitate interdisciplinary strategies and solutions for local and global challenges.

The Center for Ecological Planning and Design at the University of Utah is the fusion of the existing Ecological Planning Center (EPC) and the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center (ITAC), both in the College of Architecture and Planning, and an expansion into the interdisciplinary territory of the GCSC. The new CEPD focuses on research on the built environment and communities by interweaving research and practice in human, biophysical, and built systems – people, place, and design.

The University Water Center combines the research trajectory of the USAID-funded U.S.-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Water (USPCASW) and the NSF-funded iUTAH project, forming a catalyzing hub for water research and associated activities at the University.

The GCSC has played a pivotal role in the creation of these two centers, helping connect expertise and interest from disparate departments across campus and offer infrastructure that supports the formation of these two new centers.

The GCSC and these two new centers are inclusive, interdisciplinary hubs for research and all faculty engaged in related work are invited to participate.  For more information contact: Steve Burian, Director of the Water Center, and Sarah Hinners, Director of the Center for Ecological Planning and Design.

 

Another Year in SCIF

Another Year in SCIF

By: Emerson Andrews, SCIF Coordinator.

One more academic year has passed us by, and as people get ready for their summer adventures, now is a good time to reflect on some of the wonderful work that students did this year through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF). Since the creation of SCIF, the money available for projects has never been fully spent, however, 2017-18 marks a big change as all SCIF funding for this year was allocated to some awesome projects.

The following three projects are a small cross section of all the wonderful work that has happened through student energy and SCIF support this year. For detailed information about all SCIF projects, please stay tuned for the 2017-2018 SCIF Annual Report, which summarizes every project that was funded.

Burned Out – $262.14

  • This grant funded the construction of an interactive sculpture installation that lit up when viewers interacted with it on the second floor of the Marriott Library. This sculpture encouraged people to discuss energy usage, indirectly bringing awareness to carbon dioxide emissions created by power plants which generate electricity by burning fossil fuels. The piece consisted of black structures – evoking industrial facilities – and had handles placed at varying points, which viewers were encouraged to touch. Cranking the handle hard enough caused a certain portion of the sculpture to light up. All four handles must be turned by different people at the same time in order to see the entire piece light up. This piece encouraged people to engage with energy production, and both physically and mentally reflect our current global crisis.

Food Recovery Network Operations Coordinator – $4,953.05  

  • This grant funded the pay and equipment necessary for a Food Recovery Network Coordinator. The coordinator recorded food waste data and gave it to Dining Services so that Dining Services could adjust their production scheduling and eliminate unnecessary waste at pre-production. This data included up-to-date records of inventory and preferred foods for delivery based on student/client preference and acquisition. Additionally, this process provided a larger variety of foods while giving students and clients healthier alternatives to existing dry and canned food options. All of these objectives helped to reduce the amount of edible food waste in the university’s waste stream; recorded hard data with respect to specific aspects of the campus food systems, and provided hungry students with healthy food options.

Sustainable Tech for Design Build Bluff – $35,535.00

  • This grant funded the purchase and acquisition of appropriate sustainable technologies to be used on the Bluff Campus. These technologies increased energy and operations efficiency, specifically through the use of a solar PV array – arrangement of solar panels – on an existing building, and an earth block press and non-toxic insulation machine for future university building projects on the Bluff campus and throughout the region. These are all demonstrable technologies in an area that is a confluence of students and locals — both who could benefit from exposure to, and training in, the workings of these technologies. In addition to their practical applications on a regional scale, these operational improvements bring sustainable outcomes to a U of U remote campus.

These three projects reflect the power of the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund to approach sustainability from multiple perspectives. SCIF truly allows students to experiment on the living, learning, laboratory that is campus through whichever lens they study. This ability is unique to SCIF and benefits everyone on campus.

For more information regarding SCIF, check out the website and please contact the SCIF Coordinator: Emerson.andrews@utah.edu

Sustainable Sanitary Pads

Originally posted on May 29, 2017.

By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, University of Utah College of Engineering

Each year, nearly 20 billion sanitary pads, tampons and applicators are dumped into North American landfills every year, and it takes centuries for them to biodegrade inside plastic bags, according to a 2016 Harvard Business School report. Additionally, it requires high amounts of fossil fuel energy to produce the plastic for these products, resulting in a large carbon footprint.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ashlea Patterson

The SHERO Pad, developed by a team of University of Utah materials science and engineering students, is a new feminine hygiene pad that is 100 percent biodegradable and made from all natural materials. It consists of four layers and can break down in as little as 45 days.

But a team of students led by University of Utah materials science and engineering assistant professor (lecturer) Jeff Bates has developed a new, 100-percent biodegradable feminine maxi pad that is made of all natural materials and is much thinner and more comfortable than other similar products.

The SHERO Pad uses a processed form of algae as its super-absorbent ingredient, which is then covered with cotton and the same material that makes up tea bags. The result is a maxi pad that is effective, comfortable to wear and can break down anywhere from 45 days to six months.

“This is novel in comparison to other biodegradable options out there for pads,” said Amber Barron, a University of Utah junior in materials science and engineering who is on the team of four students. “Most are really bulky because they don’t have a superabsorbent layer.”

The need for something like the SHERO Pad originally came from SHEVA, a nonprofit advocacy group for women and girls in Guatemala, which turned to Bates because it was looking for a sustainable solution for feminine hygiene waste. One of Bates’ area of research is in hydrogels, which are water-absorbing polymers.

“In Guatemala, there’s no public sanitation system. All the rivers are black because they are so polluted,” Bates says. “So there really is a genuine need for people in Guatemala to have biodegradable options.”

Part of Bates’ solution came one night while feeding his 5-year-old daughter.

“One day we were eating dinner with white rice, and my daughter spilled it all over the floor,” he says about that night two years ago. “The next morning, when I was cleaning it up, it was all dry and crusted. I drove to work and thought, ‘What was it about rice that does that?’”

That question of how rice hydrates and dehydrates began a two-year process of searching for the right natural materials for the feminine pad, which included testing with different leaves, such as banana leaves, and forms of cotton.

Bates, Barron and the rest of the team — which includes sophomore students, Sarai Patterson, Ashlea Patterson and Ali Dibble — ultimately developed the SHERO Pad, which is made up of four layers: An outer layer of raw cotton similar to a tea bag to repel liquid, a transfer layer of organic cotton to absorb the liquid and pull it from the outer layer, the super-absorbent layer made of agarose gel (a polymer from brown algae), and a final layer made of a corn-based material that keeps the moisture inside and prevents leakage.

While there are other similar sustainable feminine pads on the market today, they either use a hydrogel that is not 100 percent biodegradable or they use thicker layers of natural cotton that are uncomfortable to wear, Barron says. Another advantage to the SHERO Pad is that it can easily be manufactured in smaller villages using locally sourced materials and without sophisticated tools, just common presses and grinding stones, Bates says.

While the team originally developed the SHERO Pad for users in developing countries such as Guatemala, Bates and the students also will start selling the product in the U.S. for environmentally conscious women. A working prototype has been produced, and they have launched a startup company based in Bountiful, Utah. They hope to have products in Guatemala and on U.S. store shelves within a year.

Crunching Numbers

 

Steve Burian at the Sustainability Faculty Learning Community. Photo: Jonathan Duncan.

By Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Steven Burian is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Utah. He is also the Project Director of the USAID funded U.S.-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Water at the University of Utah. His research is focused on the planning and engineering of sustainable and resilient urban water resource systems.

Burian was one of the folks who developed and initiated the Wasatch Experience at the University of Utah. In April 2017, Burian shared how he integrates sustainability into his courses at the interdisciplinary Sustainability Faculty Learning Community, a joint initiative of the Sustainability Office and the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.

I sat down with Burian after his presentation to discuss current projects, teaching strategies, and what the Wasatch Experience has to do with it. 

You were a part of the group effort to bring the Wasatch Experience to the University of Utah. What inspired that initiative?

The short answer: Myron Willson. [Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer].

Dan McCool, a professor of political science, and myself were working as co-directors of sustainability curriculum development. As part of that charge, we were developing sustainability programs on campus that would be broadly applicable to any student. The programs had to be for any student, sustainable, and would last—which is very difficult to do at a university. Each year we did something different; develop the undergraduate certificate one year, the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability another year, and then we did the Wasatch Experience.

About 6-7 years ago, Myron was telling Dan and I about two programs. He kept pointing us to the Piedmont Project at Emory University, a teaching workshop for faculty. The content was taught through active learning to develop curriculum teaching materials with the help of experts in sustainability. Some universities were using that approach, but not really any other universities of our size at the time. But Myron urged us to consider what the Piedmont Project was doing. So, we did, and the first Wasatch Experience was born.

What impacts have you seen the Wasatch Experience having on campus?

I think it gets instructors focused on how they bring sustainability into the classroom in a meaningful way, which is not easy to do. It has moved past just talking or reading about sustainability in an assignment to a more pedagogical approach to incorporating sustainability.  Faculty are already teaching. The Wasatch Experience is a way to amplify what they are already doing. It’s not really about adding more sustainability courses, rather about adding better sustainability instruction to campus.

I enjoyed your discussion of using an ethics approach to incorporate sustainability in the classroom during your presentation. Could you speak a little bit to how you personally incorporate sustainability into your civil engineering courses?

I do it in a cyclical way. I provide the students motivation to act on the issue, set the structure, have them do quantitative work, and then come back and discuss.

I try to get students motivated with some fundamentally ethical responsibility either environmental, social, economic, or all three. That is the entry point. After I provide the ethical motivation, I contextualize it. I say: “Okay, this is why we are doing it, but this now is how we are going to do this.”

Integrating the sustainability issue into the concepts you are covering in class is critical. When you don’t, the majority of students will say, “oh well, that was a waste of my time because he is just teaching me something from the humanities or social sciences, and I already had that class.” So, I move quickly into what the sustainability topic means from the civil engineering perspective, and get them crunching numbers, because crunching numbers is what they want to do in almost all cases.

After they crunch those numbers, they want to come back and talk about it. That is when I bring out the discussion about sustainability and ethics. I rarely ever just talk about the ethical issues or things without having gone through this cycle. I found if I do then it becomes an opinionated discussion, and not as effective as it could be. After contextualizing an ethical or sustainable issue in civil engineering design, and doing some quantitative work, the students are armed with a better perspective of how it fits in civil engineering practice.

Have you found any surprising connections or other notable connections to sustainability through this process?

The part that is always the most surprising to me is the social sphere of sustainability. The economic and environmental spheres I know pretty well, and I get a feeling for what’s needed in practice, from a personal standpoint, and a philosophical worldview standpoint. But the social part is where I always struggle, because I don’t know it. When I prepare for a lesson I try to learn a little bit more about the social side of some issues or topics.

How do you know when you have successfully incorporated sustainability into your courses?

While there are many sustainability literacy assessments, none really fit into what we are covering in civil engineering, so I created my own quiz that measures student’s sustainability learning; a Civil Engineering Sustainability Literacy Assessment. The assessment is very quantitative. I measure student learning of sustainability, their attitude change towards sustainability, and their affinity for sustainability.

If or how has the Wasatch Experience impacted your teaching?

It hasn’t changed the topics I cover, but it has made me much more intentional about the things I am doing and reflective on what has worked in my teaching, and what hasn’t. It has made me be more reflective and think at a more cognitive level. I have become more of a technician for pedagogical methods following some of the things that were included in the Wasatch Experience. If I am training others on the best instructional strategies for helping people integrate and effectively teach sustainability, I need to make sure I have all those concepts down. This process may just have been my maturation as an educator, but I do think the Wasatch Experience had a lot to do with it.

Do you have any advice for faculty members or teaching assistants who want to start incorporating sustainability into their courses?

The best thing to do is to get a mentor. Not to have someone assigned to you, but to take the initiative and seek someone out. Look for someone who is good at teaching, and has a behind-the-scenes understanding of what they are doing in the classroom. Find someone who has been in it and done it for a while and then just ask them questions. You will learn so much from that mentoring experience.

Taking the Lead

Originally posted on May 15, 2017.

By the Sustainability Office.

Ginger Cannon is no stranger to working in complex systems like the University of Utah. An experienced city planner, Cannon is the University of Utah’s first active transportation manager. Brought here through a unique partnership between Facilities Management, Administrative Services, Health Sciences, Student Affairs, Research Park and Land Administration and the Sustainability Office, Cannon will work to integrate active transportation into campus life.

Active transportation is self-propelled, human-powered transportation, such as walking, biking and skateboarding. Improving infrastructure for active transportation modes of travel to and on campus has the benefit of improving physical health, reducing road congestion and positively impacting air quality in Salt Lake City. Cannon’s goal is to help the U achieve its sustainable transportation goals, while increasing access to safe, convenient transportation options.

Cannon sat down with the Sustainability Office to talk about her new role and the ways in which she hopes to improve the active transportation experience for the U community.

Congratulations on your new position.

Thank you. Since my arrival, I’ve been impressed with how welcoming and helpful people have been. I look forward to meeting more students, staff and faculty and learning more about the university.

The active transportation manager is an innovative role involving partnership between multiple departments on campus. Which units have helped to make this position possible?

After hearing from students about the need for biking and walking improvements, a number of departments worked together on a strategy and funding mechanism for institutionalizing this work. These departments are Facilities Management, Administrative Services, Health Sciences, Student Affairs, Research Park Administration, and the Sustainability Office.

In creating the position, they agreed that there is wide consensus and support for a university-level manager charged with coordinating the U’s active transportation efforts. I happen to be that fortunate person and hope to exceed expectations in this new role.

It is exciting that so many departments are invested in sustainable and active transportation on campus. What are your future plans to improve campus mobility?

Active transportation is not new to the university; there are components in the Campus Master Plan, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, and the new Parking and Transportation Master Plan that are specific about goals, priority projects and related implementation phases. The university also supports innovative programs to increase student, faculty and staff transportation choices to and from campus.

When you look at these plans and the transition to more on-campus housing, there will be increased demand for a robust active transportation network that serves to attract and retain high-performing students who call this campus their home. I envision a campus that has leveraged transit, strategic redevelopment and the arts to become a connected and vibrant place that’s a magnet for future generations. I realize it will take years to achieve that vision, but every physical change is an opportunity to improve mobility and move the U toward its sustainability goals.

You recently moved to Utah from Minneapolis. What drew you to the University of Utah?

I was born and raised in Salt Lake and spent most of my teenage summers on campus at basketball camp (I can still hear Elaine Elliot’s voice yelling ‘run faster!’ when I enter the Huntsman Center).  I wanted to work at the University of Utah for many reasons – the learning environment, the diverse culture and workstyles and a myriad of challenges for active transportation on and around campus.

It is an added bonus to live near my parents and siblings again (all U of U alumni) while enjoying an active commute to campus every day.

Your resume also includes an impressive array of experience developing long-range strategic plans and maintaining and building new public infrastructure. How will these experiences inform your approach to this new role?

Like many people, I have a diverse work history involving multiple professions – most of that work is related to urban design and planning, or what I like to call ‘the art of creating great spaces.’ I’m trained as a designer and horticulturist and most recently worked as a planner for the award-winning Minneapolis park system. It’s the people and placemaking of that city that taught me how connected active transportation is to my personal values regarding health, community and environmental sustainability.

Working out of the Sustainability Office is a great fit as I have led past projects that align with the department’s many functions, whether the topic is urban agriculture, energy efficiency, green building, waste management or public engagement. There are too many projects to list, but I am happy to have been involved in all of them, as each has contributed to a depth of experience that led me to this work opportunity.

When you’ve worked for a large city like Minneapolis, you really get a feel for how complex systems function and what you can do to best effect change in your role. I see the university campus as its own city with distinct boroughs. I am motivated by helping a project or initiative come to fruition, and then quantifying the positive impact of that effort on people’s lives. I can’t think of a better place to do that work than here at the U, where physical and programmatic transformations are shaping the campus experience now and into the future.

What do you find interesting or exciting about active transportation?

I observed Minneapolis change for the better due to a coalition of people who pushed for active transportation improvements, including the funding to maintain new facilities and expand biking and walking programs. My built environment provided a safe and enjoyable way to live life without a car, and getting places on my own two feet doubled for exercise, so I started to think there was something interesting about this active transportation world. You can’t observe people committed to biking and walking in Minnesota’s subzero temperatures and not wonder what kind of magic they are experiencing during their daily commute. Through this new role, I hope to champion and improve campus mobility, safety and access for all people who move through our shared spaces. 

Move with us

After five years of blogging on WordPress, Sustainable Utah has migrated to our main website.

We will be publishing the same great mix of sustainable news, stories, and resources at our new site. We will also be sending out Sustainable U, a regular e-mail newsletter featuring our stories alongside relevant content from across the University of Utah.

Move with us! Sign up to receive the Sustainable U e-mail newsletter directly to your inbox and you won’t miss a beat.

Photo via Pete Vordenberg. Used with permission.

Making Real Progress

Originally posted on April 24, 2017.

By Katie Stevens, Sustainable Utah Blog Writing Intern

In February 2015, President David W. Pershing committed the University of Utah to the Real Food Challenge — a goal to have 20 percent of the university’s food categorized as “real” by 2020. “Real food” is a newer term used to describe food that is local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane.

This semester “real food” labels have arrived in some campus stores, and the local New Roots Farm, which employs refugee farmers, has begun sourcing organic produce to the Peterson Heritage Center dining hall.

The new labels highlight the elements of “real food,” and are now on food items at Mom’s Café and Mom’s Pantry at the Marriott Library and the Counsel Café in the S.J. Quinney College of Law.

“These labels increase transparency about the food students are consuming,” said Emily Paul co-chair of the U’s Real Food Challenge student group. “This will give students the opportunity to make more sustainable and ethical food choices now and moving forward.”

In fall 2016, New Roots Farm provided 500-1,000 pounds of organic produce to Dining Services, according to Chris Natalie, farm incubator specialist at New Roots Farm. The farm operates under the International Rescue Committee, equipping people from refugee communities with garden beds through a community garden program and enabling them to grow food for their families. If individuals are moved into the farming program, they have the potential to make an income from farming.

“I can see reaching the goal of having 20 percent real food on campus before 2020,” said Daniel Waters*, assistant to the executive head chef for University Dining Services and food sustainability coordinator.

GET INVOLVED: Use the Real Food guide to put your food to the real food test. If you are interested in the progress of the Real Food Challenge on the University of Utah campus or want to get involved, email realfoodutah@gmail.com.

*Editor’s Note: Since the time of publishing, Daniel Waters has moved on from the U. 

Animating Sustainability

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant

Lien Fan Shen is an Associate Professor in the Film & Media Arts Department at the University of Utah. She has published five manga (Japanese-styled graphic novels) in Taiwan, was awarded The Best Romantic Comic in Taiwan, and has won several international awards for her animation. Shen participated in the Wasatch Experience in 2015, and last month shared how she integrates sustainability into her courses at the interdisciplinary Sustainability Faculty Learning Community, a joint initiative of the Sustainability Office and the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.

I sat down with Lien after her presentation to discuss current projects, teaching strategies, and what the Wasatch Experience has to do with it.

The Ukiyo-e landscape print “The Great Wave” by Katsushika Hokusai is considered an icon of world art. What inspired your current project of using 3D technology to create Ukiyo-e style prints of Utah’s polluted landscapes?

I am interested in Japanese prints. But, I am not a printmaking artist. I have a very limited knowledge in terms of producing printmaking artworks. I’m a 3D animator, therefore I am wondering about new ways to utilize 3D printing technology actually connecting to the form of art.

Historically Japanese woodblock prints were more like popular art than high art, such as comic books and movie posters today. They were produced for the general public. One major subject matter in Japanese woodblock prints are landscapes. At the time, people weren’t able to travel around. So, if they wanted to see something from somewhere else, they would look at prints, just like we look at landscape photos today.

At the same time, I love Utah. I have traveled many places in Utah, and I think the environmental issues in Utah are huge. We have such amazing landscapes but often they present complex environmental issues. I thought about how landscapes are such a big subject in Japanese woodblock prints and thought “Why don’t I bring Utah’s landscape to that medium of art with new ways of making?”

Utah does have some magnificent landscapes. I am always disappointed when I can’t see the Oquirrh Mountains or Wasatch during the inversion. What role do you see the digital arts, or the digital artist, having in sustainability conversations?

All artists are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. I don’t think that is something specific to the digital arts. And what is not “digital” now anyway? I think it is some driving force to try something new by connecting us to, more importantly, the new idea of the human interaction with the computer.

I am not aware of any other computer animation artists trying to build a connection between computer animation and sustainability. I have seen a lot of digital photography about sustainability, but not 3D technology and computer generated arts.  Computer generated images are often built upon a virtual world. When we talk about sustainability, we are talking about a lot of real issues in reality. We often separate the two—the real and the virtual world. I think this is a direction we should work on. We should connect the virtual world with the real world.

3D technology has been used widely in the issue of sustainability—as data-driven visual representation, serving specific scientific purposes, I would like to utilize this technology to incite some kind of feelings, expressions, emotions, that raises awareness of or challenges the unsustainable norms we have in society.

That is interesting idea—blending virtual and physical reality through sustainability. How do you incorporate sustainability into your animation courses?

In my animation production course, the students must learn the skills to make animation shorts. For our midterm project, I asked them to find a place that is significant for them and create an animation about it. Their final project is to create an interactive animation about a sustainability issue. To prepare, the students look for and analyze animation examples. What is the characters’ view of the environment surrounding them? What are the different points of view presented in this particular example of animation? I want them to see the complexity of issues in sustainability.

Animation/Film/Art is always about something. I try to design a project for students to get interested in the topics related to the environment. When I teach, I don’t call it sustainability. I get them interested in the environment and connect them with their environment.

Have you found any surprising connections to sustainability in your teaching?

I told them the idea of sustainability is open to your interpretation as long as you can convince me. I have some students working on the more personal side of sustainability. One project was about an eating disorder and more about sustaining herself as an individual. Another project was about depression. They argued it is about sustainable lives. One student did a great animation of silly/funny fights among characters. They were all shouting the word “sustainability” but they  weren’t really doing anything. I don’t want to limit them, so I let them do all kinds of projects as long as they present a case of their view .

In the end, I always have something that is quite fun and interesting

What challenges have you faced incorporating sustainability into your courses?

The learning objectives of my animation courses are to learn how to make animation. I don’t have a lot of time to discuss the issues, impacts, and why these issues are complicated. I asked my students to do their own research, but during the class time, we spend the majority of our time on learning animation techniques.

The class I incorporated the topic of sustainability in is actually a freshman/fundamental technique course. It is our basic course for animation students. So, I really hope we can have a more in-depth course where students already have the skills so they don’t have to spend too much time in terms of learning how to make animation and thus we can spend more time on investigating the issues they are engaged in their animations. So that is one of the challenges I am facing.

How has your involvement with the Wasatch Experience impacted your teaching?

By going through the Wasatch Experience, workshops, and chatting with folks, I received a lot of help in designing this course project. For example, I always have an assignment of animation analyses. I ask my students to analyze the techniques, story, character design, art styles, and other elements in order to understand the medium (animation) better. But after the Wasatch Experience workshop, I ask them to focus on the topics of sustainability while analyzing animation techniques, styles, character development, and other stuff. That was the idea from one of my Wasatch Experience peers during a group discussion. Implementing this made this particular assignment more solid and I think my students’ analyses now are more focused than before.

Also, my Wasatch Experience peers gave me a lot of accessible readings that I was able to incorporate into my assignments. I am not an expert on sustainability or environmental studies. I think not only I learned a great deal from others, but also now I am backed up with the network and resources for my teaching and research projects.

What advice do you have for faculty and teaching assistants who want to incorporate sustainability into their courses?

I think if someone wants to teach sustainability, the best approach is trying to not say the word. For a lot of students, this word becomes a barrier. In a way, you want to gradually bring them into what you want them to learn. Instead of telling them this big word that, in a sense, may mean nothing to them, my idea is always to think about how I can make them aware of their environment.

Image of Lien Fan Shen via the Utah Daily Chronicle article further highlighting her creative research and art-making.