GCSC Seminar: The built environment’s role in health and justice

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately harm people of color and low-income communities, it becomes increasingly clear that disease does, in fact, discriminate.

Dr. Daniel Mendoza, a visiting assistant professor in the University of Utah’s Department of City & Professor Daniel MendozaMetropolitan Planning; research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences; adjunct assistant professor in the Pulmonary Division at the School of Medicine; and senior scientist at the NEXUS Institute, has spent his career studying the underlying inequities that cause health outcomes to fall along sociodemographic lines. “These differences are real—they’ve been there the whole time,” Mendoza says. “They’ve just surfaced and become much more obvious now.”

In his upcoming Global Change & Sustainability Center talk, “The Confluence of Air Quality, Urban Development, Health, and Social Justice,” Mendoza will share his research on an important question: how does the built environment influence human health?

Mendoza, who received his Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences, originally planned to continue studying carbon dioxide emissions and climate change mitigation in urban settings. However, shortly before completing his doctorate, he had a realization that altered the path of his career: “Here in the U.S., unfortunately, about 50% of people believe in climate change,” he says. “But 100% believe in lung cancer.”

Resolved to approach his air quality and pollution research from a human health standpoint, Mendoza pursued a post-doctoral fellowship in public health. As he studied and mapped the health impacts of fine particulate matter, he noticed that differences in the built environment, combined with the sociodemographic factors that influence population distribution, caused certain communities to be more affected by pollution than others.

“That’s when I saw that there are significant differences, and really very close associations between income, race and pollution sources,” he says.

Low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to emitting sources like highways, factories, and trains, Mendoza points out, and they also tend to have reduced access to vital resources like nutritious food, public transportation and healthcare services.

“This is how I started to get into the social justice, environmental justice sides,” Mendoza says. “Because I was able to see there are geographical differences.”

In Salt Lake County, for example, low-income communities are more likely to be located in food deserts and less likely to have access to public transportation than their affluent counterparts. Mendoza explains that all the major hospitals are on the east side, and that this—combined with reduced access to public transportation—poses a real problem for low-income residents of West Salt Lake County. Even for those with insurance, healthcare can be difficult to access.

Mendoza explains that these inequities in the built environment affect every aspect of peoples’ lives, down to our most basic human needs of sleeping, breathing and eating. Nutritious eating is impeded by food deserts; breathing is disrupted by the polluting sources that border low-income communities. Mendoza goes on to explain that many of these polluting sources are accompanied by noise and inadequate or excessive lighting, which can disrupt peoples’ sleep patterns.

Inequities in the built environment pre-date the pandemic, but these problems—such as exposure to poor air quality—can result in more severe cases of COVID-19. The pandemic has only illuminated the underlying inequities that cause differential health outcomes to fall along sociodemographic lines, Mendoza says.

While the pandemic would recede more quickly if we all stayed home, Mendoza notes that not everyone has that option. Some jobs, such as stocking a grocery store and working a cash register, can’t be done remotely. “What happens here is there’s this whole set of vulnerable populations, and these are the lower income populations that are forced to work and to go and be exposed to the virus,” he says. As a result, low-income communities have experienced COVID-19 at ten times the rate of their more affluent counterparts.

He objects to the euphemism of “essential” workers. “I think we should be really honest, because the rest of us are actually benefiting from their work. We really are treating them as expendable workers.”

Mendoza acknowledges that these problems have always been there and that they’re here to stay—until we find solutions to them. He encourages the university community to take advantage of the intellectual resources available to uncover solutions.

“What we all need to do, is we need to really strive toward developing equitable societies,” Mendoza says. “Every research branch, every field of study has elements of equity. Everything can really be shaped, or at least have a component of ‘how can this make the world a better place for everyone?” Join Mendoza online October 13 at 4pm at https://utah.zoom.us/j/95107442894?pwd=b0NNNE1rUnI5WmRiMGpMVHBMSGViQT09 to learn more about the intersection between urban environments and health disparities, and how we can all play a role creating more equitable societies.

The U reaches 71% renewable energy

By University of Utah Communications
Originally published in @theU

University of Utah Facilities Management has taken another important step forward as a leader in energy and sustainability by signing a 25-year solar energy contract with the Castle Solar Project near Huntington, Utah. The contract will deliver 20 MW of solar energy to campus over its lifespan, powering the university toward its commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050.

A geothermal energy contract signed in 2018 made the U the first public college in the state to receive more than half of its electricity through renewable sources. The new solar contract will bring the university to 71% of all electrical energy coming from renewable sources.

Upon delivery, this new contract would rank total renewables of the University of Utah at number five among all colleges and universities (behind University of California, Arizona State University, Columbia University, and University at Buffalo SUNY) as reported by the EPA’s Green Power Partnership. The U’s current geothermal contract is currently ranked as the number one largest long-term contract of any college or university under the Green Power Partnership.

This commitment to clean energy and sustainable investments persists even amidst current budget concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Cost projections show this significant move toward renewable energy will come without increased costs. This will allow the U to be responsible stewards of resources without creating an unnecessary burden. Leadership teams in Facilities Management spent years working to balance those considerations.

Even the most perfect buildings and transportation systems, operated flawlessly, still need energy to run,” said Chris Benson, associate director of Sustainability and Energy in Facilities Management at the U. “We simply can’t be carbon neutral without sourcing our energy from clean and renewable sources. Off-site production is a great way to build and leverage economies of scale. With a combination of geothermal (our baseload) and solar (for peaking), loads are well-matched and costs remain well-managed.”

To operate nearly 300 buildings that support healthcare, research, education and housing, the university requires about 1% of all electricity and natural gas in the state of Utah. With long-term commitments to increase use of new, renewable energy, the U is significantly reducing the environmental impact of the electrical grid. This makes a measurable reduction to local emissions and improves air quality.

“We want to demonstrate what is possible by leading with sustainable choices in our operations,” said Kerry Case, chief sustainability officer at the University of Utah. “We recently launched an effort to identify additional strategies that will reduce the U’s greenhouse gas emissions and increase our community’s resilience to climate change. While we complete this important planning work, we must also take actions like this solar contract that have measurable impact.”

The solar energy contract has additional ties to the local environment and economy. It will utilize School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) land in Utah, which has been set aside to support public schools and institutions. The use of SITLA land will return some funds to the state of Utah through the lease agreement.

A new precedence has been set through the use of Rocky Mountain Power’s Schedule 32 rate tariff for the power purchase agreements between the U, Rocky Mountain Power, and each renewable energy supplier. This innovative approach allows large energy customers in Utah to choose their energy source; with the U leading the way, other large energy users in the community are now preparing to utilize this same structure.

“Rocky Mountain Power is proud to help the University of Utah meet its renewable energy goals with a project that will create jobs and tax revenue for rural Utah,” said Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power. “This project is a great example of innovative partnership with our customers to deliver a great result for both the university and communities supporting the renewable energy transition.”

The solar contract was originally awarded to Enyo Renewable Energy (ERE), a Utah-based wind and solar development company. ERE sold the project to D. E. Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI), a leading national renewable energy developer-owner-operator. The solar energy project will be built by DESRI in Emery County and is expected to start delivering power mid-2022.

“Our team is pleased to partner with the University of Utah as it becomes a leader among universities across the country in providing cost-effective renewable power to its campuses,” said Hy Martin, chief development officer of DESRI. “With this solar power project, the university is driving the clean energy economy in Utah forward through investment in local communities.”

“MAP and Enyo formed Enyo Renewable Energy to create renewable energy projects that will lead the transformation of the Utah energy landscape by providing consumers with the local renewable energy sources they increasingly demand while providing substantial economic benefits to communities throughout the region,” said Christine Mikell, founder and CEO of Enyo. “We are delighted to have worked closely with Emery County, the state of Utah and regional stakeholders to ensure that the Castle Solar Project would be a success for all involved.”

This innovative contract was made possible with the legal expertise and hard work of the University of Utah General Counsel, the law firm of Gary, Dodge, Russell & Stephens, P.C. and Rocky Mountain Power’s renewable energy team.

Photo: DESRI’s Hunter Solar site in Emery County, Utah. By Jacqueline Flores/Swinerton Renewable Energy

UTA on Demand by Via

This article, originally published in @theu, February 11, 2020, was written by Claudia TrochezCommuter Services

Thanks to UTA’s Ed-Pass, students, faculty and staff can ride the bus, TRAX and FrontRunner for no additional fee, making public transit the obvious choice for commuting to campus. Depending on where you live exactly, UTA service can either be an invaluable resource or a not-so-convenient option that doesn’t work well with your schedule.

For residents in southern Salt Lake County where UTA service is less abundant, accessing public transit is more challenging. To help bridge the gap, UTA launched its microtransit pilot program, UTA on Demand by Viawhich intends to enhance connectivity to TRAX and FrontRunner lines for commuters in the southern part of the valley by providing on demand rides to and from TRAX stations.

What is UTA on Demand by Via? 

UTA’s microtransit pilot program serves about 65 square miles in southern Salt Lake County, serving the cities of Bluffdale, Draper, Herriman, Riverton and South Jordan. The service area includes seven TRAX and FrontRunner stations with designated pickup and drop off locations, making connections to campus more accessible than ever.

Via’s technology matches multiple riders headed in a similar direction into a single van, with quick and efficient routing, avoiding lengthy detours. After requesting a ride, the app will display the pickup location where the vehicle will meet you. Via is a corner-to-corner service, meaning riders will be picked up and dropped off close to their destination.

How does it work? 

Riders may hail a van by using the Via app, available on the App Store and Google Play. The microtransit service operates Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is available to students, faculty and staff at no additional fee. University affiliates with a valid uNID should use their Ed-Pass, in lieu of paying fare, by hitting the ‘UTA Pass/Ticket/Transfer’ when signing up.

ADA riders may request an accessible van by selecting ‘wheelchair accessibility’ in their profile.

For example, if you live in Draper and work on campus, you can get a lift to the Draper Town Center or Kimball Lane TRAX stations by requesting a UTA on Demand ride through the Via app. At the end of the day, you can be picked up at the TRAX station and return to where you started near your home, the grocery store or anywhere within the service area (see map below) for no charge. The service will also be useful for patients traveling to and from the South Jordan Health Center.

Why should I ride UTA? 

A perk of the U community, all current students, faculty and staff members may ride UTA services, including the microtransit program, without paying fare. Choosing UTA over driving allows you to save money on car-related expenses including gas, maintenance and parking permits.

In addition to saving some green, you can also be green by choosing UTA over driving. Salt Lake City’s poor air quality is undeniable during inversion season. According to a recent study, “at least 85% of harmful emissions come from fossil fuel,” meaning the CO2 produced by cars is the lead contributor to the air quality problem Utahans face. Riding UTA will continually help reduce emissions and help keep our air clean.

Driving to the university campus from southern Salt Lake County may take anywhere from 30 to 80 minutes or more, depending on traffic and weather. While riding UTA will not likely decrease your commute time, it will certainly ease its difficulties and be safer, too. You’ll be able to start your workday sooner, catch up on emails, read or watch Netflix, instead of sitting behind the wheel in traffic or on icy, dangerous roads.

Share your thoughts

UTA on Demand by Via is a pilot program and UTA wants to hear from you. Take this survey to share your thoughts and help UTA study effective ‘first-and-last mile’ connections to our bus and rail services.

For more information on UTA on Demand by Via and all other services, visit call 801-RIDE-UTA.

Are you a space heater user?

This article, originally published in @theu, February 5, 2020, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications manager, Sustainability Office

Take part in our space heater exchange program to help reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while keeping you comfortable. For every personal space heater brought in as part of this program, University faculty, staff and interns can choose between an energy-efficient electric blanket or plush non-electric blanket. Blankets are also available for purchase without trade-in.

Personal space heaters are energy drains and greenhouse gas emitters that affect the air we breathe. By switching to an electric throw, you’ll make an immediate difference.

These electric throws use 90% less energy than a typical portable electric space heater! Energy savings also result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Using a typical portable electric space heater for 8 hours produces carbon dioxide equivalent to driving 20.7 miles in an average passenger vehicle. To put this in perspective, by switching from a space heater to an electric throw, you’ll save the emissions equivalent of a trip from the University campus to the border of Idaho – every week!

Our exchange program is open to all faculty, staff and interns who wish to trade in the portable electric space heaters they use on campus. Throws are free with trade-in of space heater, or can be purchased: $20 for non-electric and $30 for electric. To participate in this exchange program, please submit the form below.

 

Are you up for the challenge?

The inversions that occur annually in many of Utah’s valleys are a natural outcome of our topography. However, the pollutants emitted into the air aren’t natural. In fact, they are dictated by our decisions and actions.

No one wants bad air, but unfortunately our lifestyles and transportation choices add particulate matter to the inversion, resulting in poor air quality and contributing to worsening health. Let’s do something about it.

Throughout February, the University of Utah will compete in the statewide Clear the Air Challenge, which pushes for a reduction in single-occupant vehicles to reduce automobile emissions. If you’re wondering whether driving less can make a difference, the answer is absolutely, especially if we all make a commitment. Roughly half of the particulate matter that dirties our winter air comes from mobile sources like our personal vehicles.

Together, we can help clear the air. Here’s how:

  1. Sign up now for the University of Utah team, which is always among the top teams in the competition.
  2. Log all your trips from riding transit, biking, walking, scooting or carpooling into the challenge tracker to see your saved emissions, dollars and even calories.
  3. Win some cool prizes. Those who participate will be eligible for prizes provided by Commuter Services.

Technology is here to help

Two apps can help you be an all-star in the Clear the Air Challenge:

  • If you are trying out public transportation for the first time, download Transit to help with trip planning. This app can help plan trips on FrontRunner, TRAX and buses in the UTA system, and even sends you alerts if something changes. It also connects with other transportation modes, including GREENbike and popular rideshare services. Plus, it can be used in more than 200 cities worldwide.
  • To automate your trip logging in the challenge, we also recommend downloading Commute Tracker. The app will use your mobile phone to determine your transportation mode choices and log it in the challenge. Learn how to connect the app to your challenge profile here.

Find a commute companion

A picture is worth a thousand words. As part of the Clear the Air Challenge, the Sustainability Office and Commuter Services are sponsoring an Instagram Challenge. Taking public transit for the first time can be intimidating. If you are a regular transit user and have a friend who hasn’t made the leap, help them plan out their new commute and ride along. Post photos with your new commute companion (you know, your bus buddy, your carpool comrade, your train mate) to be entered to win prizes. Use #CommuteCompanion and tag @SustainableUofU in Instagram to be eligible to win. Winners will be selected each week in February.

Love your bike commute

Bicycling is an emissions-free way to commute (OK, except for exhaled CO2), plus it provides great exercise. On Thursday, Feb. 13, look for tents on your ride home with special biker giveaways. Not sure about your route? If your commute starts on the west side of campus, check out the new University to Downtown Bikeway, a mix of painted bike lanes, downhill shared lanes (also called sharrows) and special markings for crossing intersections. If your commute begins east, north, or south of campus, the Salt Lake City/County Bikeways Map is an excellent guide. Got a flat? Visit the Campus Bike Shop for all your repair needs.

Don’t forget your university services

The University of Utah has many tools to help you get out of your personal vehicle. Your UCard is your pass to ride public transit—make sure to tap on and off. Tapping off helps UTA determine how frequently buses need to run. Already on campus and trying to get around? Commuter Services’ shuttles can get you there. Go to uofubus.com for the live shuttle tracker. On nice days use the U Campus Map to find walking directions.

Taking action to improve air quality

This article, originally published in @theu, January 7, 2020, was written by Nick Thiriot, communications director, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute has released a breakthrough report designed to inform Utah’s efforts to improve air quality and address a changing climate. The report, called “The Utah Roadmap,” was requested by the Utah Legislature and includes seven priority strategies to reduce air emissions in Utah. If followed, these strategies will protect Utahns’ health, encourage economic development (particularly in Utah’s growing tech sector), advance Utah’s Olympic bid and support Utah energy economies in transition.

“Utahns feel a sense of urgency to improve air quality,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. “The strategies in this report build from the Utah Legislature’s House Concurrent Resolution 7 in the 2018 General Legislative Session to recognize the dual benefit to Utah’s air shed and the climate as we reduce air emissions in Utah, all in a way that protects our health and strengthens our economy.”

“The Utah Roadmap” includes the findings of a six-month expert assessment involving input from representatives of Utah’s research universities; federal, state and local government; industry; health care; and the nonprofit sector.

Some major findings

  • Success stories: Utah is making significant progress in curtailing emissions. Of particular note is the conversion to Tier 3 fuels; investments in renewable natural gas, wind and solar; conversion to electric-hybrid buses; and investment statewide in electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
  • Air quality/climate link: There is a link between improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing auto dependency, improving energy efficiency, and advancing innovative energy solutions, Utah can address both challenges simultaneously.
  • Utah’s CO2 footprint: Utah’s per-person CO2 emissions, at 19.3 metric tons, are higher than the national average of 16.0 metric tons and are higher than Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and California. Utah’s reliance occurs because of the state’s coal-fired power plants, which are all set to convert to natural gas, hydrogen or close within the study’s timeframe. Utah’s overall CO2 emissions are small on a national and global scale, representing 1.1% of the national footprint and 0.2% of the global footprint.

The institute selected seven priority actions for gubernatorial, legislative and individual action. At the top of the list is a recommendation that the state adopts—by resolution or statute—a goal to reduce criteria pollutant air emissions by 50% and CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050.

“These goals will inform our individual as well as collective actions,” said Tom Holst, senior energy analyst for the institute. “Much like a map provides direction, ‘The Utah Roadmap’ provides a guide to Utahns and state decision-makers as we travel along the path to cleaner air and responsible global citizenship.”

Taking action

“The Utah Roadmap” encourages the following actions, many of which are already underway:

  • Lead by example: State government to convert to an all-electric/compressed natural/renewable natural gas fleet where practical, adopt energy efficiency goals in state buildings and establish telework targets.
  • Create premier air quality/changing climate solutions laboratory: State government to establish and fund a premier state-level air quality/changing climate research solutions laboratory to improve the monitoring network, advance new technologies and convene entrepreneurs and experts to innovate.
  • Accelerate quality growth efforts: Utah to redouble quality growth efforts, including investment in transit, critical land preservation and the linking of economic development with transportation and housing decisions.
  • Position Utah as the market-based electric vehicle state: Utah to expand the state’s network of EV charging stations and incentivize EV/CNG/RNG use (particularly for older vehicles and large fleets).
  • Provide significant economic transition assistance to rural communities: The state to prioritize economic development assistance in energy-transition areas such as Carbon and Emery counties.
  • Participate in the national dialogue about market-based approaches to reduce carbon emissions: The state to become a leader in national discussions about how to harness the power of market forces and new technologies to reduce carbon emissions in a way that protects health, sustains economic development and offers other benefits to Utahns.

These priority actions are accompanied in “The Utah Roadmap” by 55 other high-impact, low-cost options to reduce emissions.

In addition to convening technical experts in a collaborative process, the institute conducted roundtable discussions and focus groups with public interest groups, legislators, businesses and college students to garner feedback. Two focus groups were hosted in rural Utah (Richfield and Duchesne).

The current draft of “The Utah Roadmap” is publicly available through Jan. 27, 2020, at gardner.utah.edu/utahroadmap. A final version will be submitted to the Utah Legislature by the end of January 2020.

“The Gardner Institute was given a challenging assignment by the Utah Legislature to prepare a roadmap on this complex issue, in a short time frame, on an emotionally charged topic,” said Gochnour. “Utahns have a long and proud history of leading on challenging topics, whether it be refugee resettlement, immigration reform, anti-discrimination statutes, quality growth or religious freedom. ‘The Utah Roadmap’ presents another opportunity for Utah to lead.”

Technical Advisory Committee

Tom Adams, Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation
Scott Baird, Utah Department of Environmental Quality
Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability
Kip Billings, Wasatch Front Regional Council
Bryce Bird, Utah Division of Air Quality
Josh Brown, Rio Tinto
Andrea Brunelle, University of Utah’s Department of Geography
Thom Carter, UCAIR
Becky Close, Utah Division of Air Quality
Jon Cox, Rocky Mountain Power
Brett Crable, Dominion Energy
Josh Craft, Utah Clean Energy
Royal DeLegge, Salt Lake County
Jenny Esker, Rio Tinto
Robert Gillies, Utah State University
Andrew Gruber, Wasatch Front Regional Council
Thomas Holst, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Benjamin Horne, lntermountain Healthcare
Ben Huot, Utah Department of Transportation
Liza Kasavana, University of Utah Health’s College of Nursing
Kerry Kelly, University of Utah’s Department of Chemical Engineering
Michelle Larsen, Utah Transit Authority
GJ LaBonty, Utah Transit Authority
Brian McInerney, National Weather Service
Shauna Mecham, Mountainland Association of Governments
Daniel Mendoza, University of Utah’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences and Pulmonary Division
Logan Mitchell, University of Utah’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences
James Owen, Rocky Mountain Power
Cheryl Pirozzi, University of Utah Health’s Pulmonary Division
Binod Pokharel, Utah State University
Tyler Poulson, Salt Lake City Department of Sustainability
Michael Shea, Salt Lake County
Brian Shiozawa, University of Utah Health
Glade Sowards, Utah Division of Air Quality
Juliette Tennert, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Brooke Tucker, Governor’s Office of Energy Development
Sarah Wright, Utah Clean Energy

Consultants and staff

Samantha Ball, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Kirsten Dodge, Wilkinson Ferrari & Co.
Natalie Gochnour, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Meredith King, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Siobhan Locke, The Langdon Group
Dianne Meppen, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Dianne Olson, The Langdon Group
Jennifer Robinson, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Paul Springer, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute
Brian Wilkinson, Wilkinson Ferrari & Co.

Media Contacts

Nicholas Thiriot | communications specialist, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute

What’s waste got to do with climate change?

This article, originally published in @theu, November 13, 2019, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications, sustainability department.

Did you know that one of the easiest low cost and most effective ways to impact climate change is to change our consumption habits? An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded study indicates that more than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food. There is an energy and emissions cost to manufacturing, transporting, using goods and then eventually disposing of them. Simply reusing, reducing, recycling and buying used or recycled goods conserves energy and reduces emissions.

More than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food.

Environmental Protection Agency

Millie Heiner, sustainability ambassador, presents a zero waste kit to President Ruth Watkins.

 

In an effort to promote a culture of waste reduction on campus, the Sustainability Office has launched the #UBYO campaign to encourage the U community to bring their own reusable bottles, mugs, containers, utensils and more to reduce plastic waste. We handed out thousands of reusable utensil kits at new student orientation events and the farmers market and gave away 12 zero-waste kits through an opportunity drawing. We even presented U President Ruth Watkins with a zero waste kit. Each kit contains a reusable hot/cold bottle, reusable silicone bag (plastic bag alternative), handkerchief (reusable napkin), reusable grocery bag, utensils and reusable silicone food container. Many of the items are available at the Campus Store or can be assembled from items you already have at home or can pick up at your favorite thrift store.

In order to start a conversation around waste reduction on campus and in honor of America Recycles Day, which takes place in November, the Sustainability Office is organizing a Hinckley Institute Panel entitled The End of Recycling? Life After National Sword on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 12-1 p.m. The panel will explore how policy changes in China have affected our local recycling practices and what we can expect for the future. Panel participants include Beau Peck, director of sales and marketing from the Pro Recycling Group, Jennifer Farrell from Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division and Joshua James, University of Utah recycling manager.

It is important to understand the link between climate change and waste reduction, and the energy and emissions savings we can gain from reducing and recycling. According to the EPA, recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy needed to make new cans from raw materials. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 60-74%; paper about 60%, and plastic and glass about 33% compared to making those from raw materials. While these energy savings are significant, we also need to recognize that recycling has its own carbon footprint related to collection, transportation and processing. Reducing, reusing and sharing should always come before recycling.

An environmentally friendly kit made for U. Available now at the Campus Store.

Some people are intimidated by the concept of zero waste. While zero waste is generally defined as diverting 90% or above from the landfill, it can still feel like an unachievable goal. Fortunately, the reality is that many people making a concerted but imperfect effort has a much greater effect than one person reaching zero. Zero doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal. Making good choices when possible can be the goal.

The other good thing about changing consumption habits is that it’s within everyone’s reach and can save you money. Not everyone can afford an electric car or has the ability to make major changes to our power grid or transportation system. The movement isn’t about buying. Choosing to borrow, reuse and share keeps money in your wallet and keeps your carbon footprint low.

The University is taking a close look at its waste habits and focusing on some new strategies to divert more from the landfill.  See the text box below for some highlights and take action by joining the #UBYO Campaign or get your office certified through our Green Office Program.

Waste wins at the U

  • The U has identified some new priorities for managing its waste based on a recently completed study. These include an overhaul of signage, a food waste collection pilot program and the development of a more effective system to incentivize waste reduction and recycling.
  • Since the launch of the Green Office Certification program in 2017, ecofriendly purchasing of general office supplies has increased from 35% to 53% and ecofriendly paper purchasing has increased from 38% to 79%.
  • Each year, the Sustainability Office coordinates U Recycle Day, an electronic waste drive which diverts tons of waste from the landfill.
  • The annual housing moveout donation drive (aka WAGACA – What Goes Around Comes Around) diverts food, clothing, blankets, and more from the residence halls each May.
  • The University Carpenter Shop is committed to creative reuse. They reclaim materials from buildings that are being demolished or remodeled and repurpose them. The desks below are made of marble from OSH and wood from basketball courts and harvested from trees (sycamores) displaced by new construction.
    wooden table made from reclaimed wood with U logo on the top in a conference room

New Directions for Environmental Justice

By Nicholas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

Many of us who care about climate change and environmental justice take action in our daily lives to do our part: we recycle, use sustainable products, use public transportation or eat locally grown food. Yet often environmental problems play out at a larger scale, and while our personal actions can help in small ways, it is important to understand the forces at work in creating environmental hazards and injustice from the start. If we know where injustice begins, we can begin to make a change for the better.

Professor David Pellow of the University of California, Santa Barbara, is exploring new directions in environmental justice in his research. On April 16 from 4 – 5 p.m. in ASB 210, join him for his lecture, “Toward a Critical Environmental Justice: Exploring State Violence & the Settler Colonial Conflicts.”

Pellow began his research in Sociology and Environmental Justice in the 1990s when he completed his Ph.D. dissertation in Sociology,  “Black workers in green industries: the hidden infrastructure of environmental racism,” at Northwestern University. He has since taught at Colorado, UC San Diego, and Minnesota, before arriving at UC Santa Barbara in 2015. There he is the Dehlsen Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Environmental Justice Project.

In his lecture, Pellow will explore new directions in the theoretical side of environmental sociology.  He breaks it down into multiple approaches. First, he is attempting to further build on existing research that focuses on the intersection between environmental hazards and class, income, race, gender, citizenship and nationality. He sees these intersections as critical for developing nuanced solutions to the complex interactions that produce injustice. “[I am] trying to ask bigger questions about the role of government or the nation-state in producing and exacerbating environmental problems and environmental justice issues in the first place,” Pellow explains. The contradiction is one of “relying on some of the same institutions that are arguably creating the problem in the first place.”

Pellow is also concerned with questions of scale in environmental justice research. He sees environmental justice as an issue that affects us  individually as well as globally. “Environmental hazards regarding academic and policy analysis must be approached as multi-scalar,” argues Pellow. “What happens at the micro scale is almost always revealed to be linked the community or national scale.” As no environmental issues exist in a vacuum, local and regional issues are just as “global” in consequence as environmental injustice outside of the United States. Often, we can find problems in our own neighborhood. Pellow’s recent research on oil refineries located in residential areas of Richmond, California illustrates this well, showing how global economic dynamics can lead to visible environmental impacts on real people.

Lastly, Pellow will explore the ethics of environmental injustice research.”The kind of environmental research I’m doing seeks to question the expendability of ecosystems, of habitats, and of marginalized human populations,” Pellow says. Pellow believes that environmental sociology shouldn’t simply seek to expose injustice, but should fight these notions of expendability. “It’s really about declaring, loudly, the indispensability (of marginalized people). It’s about saying every voice counts. Otherwise, it’s not a democracy.”

Should you too believe that every voice counts in the fight against environmental injustice, and have an interest in the cutting edge of environmental sociology research, come to ASB 210 on April 16 at 4 PM for David Pellow’s GCSC Seminar Series lecture, “Toward a Critical Environmental Justice: Exploring State Violence & the Settler Colonial Conflicts.”

HUMANS OF THE U: NAIMA DAHIR

Originally post on @theU on March 9, 2019.

“I grew up in a family that never discussed environmental issues or sustainability. That was not something known to us. My parents have been through a lot—war and things like that—so sustainability and environmental justice hasn’t been a focus. We weren’t privileged enough to know about those issues or to have the resources or knowledge to know how our actions related to climate change.

When I first started college and learned about environmental racism, such as the water crisis in Flint, MI., I was taken aback at how these environmental injustices are happening in communities of color that don’t have the resources to fight back against things that are affecting them. It became personal to me as a person of color, who comes from a community that has a large refugee community with a low socioeconomic status.

I’m a big believer that we need to make sure we take care of our environment and our world. The earth has resources that are finite and can’t sustain us the way we have been using them.

When I found out the U offered free bus and TRAX passes I was excited. I use TRAX to get to and from school every day. I also use the bus sometimes as well when I need to get to places outside of campus. It’s easier than driving and I’m able to do homework, read and get things done.

But more important, I am reducing my carbon footprint and that was important to me. It makes me feel empowered just to be able to do something as easy as taking TRAX to help the planet. It’s the little things we do in our communities that really add up at the end of the day.”

— Naima Dahir, junior, International Studies and Environmental & Sustainability Studies

AIR QUALITY RESEARCH

Originally posted on @theU on February 11, 2019.

By Kate Whitbeck, University of Utah Sustainability Office

It should come as no surprise that the University of Utah is home to some of the world’s premier experts on air quality. As we settle deeper into the winter inversion season, researchers at the U renew their efforts to better understand who the big emitters are, who is being affected and how we can clear our air. It’s not just the folks in the atmospheric sciences who are studying air quality. We have professors in art, philosophy, geography, sociology and economics who are working to better understand the causes and identify comprehensive solutions.

Sara Grineski

Sara Grineski, professor of sociology and environmental studies, focuses on environmental health disparities, children’s health and environmental justice. She explores how social inequalities shape our exposure to air pollution as well as the health effects caused by air pollution.

The results of her research have led her to believe that “not everyone has the same opportunities to protect themselves in terms of where they live or work. It doesn’t matter if it is a red air quality day—landscapers (for example) have to be outside working. We can try our best to protect our family in our little bubble but the solution to the problem is we need to reduce emissions and make the air cleaner for everyone,” Grineski said. “We need to see solutions at a policy level. Air quality needs community solutions, state-level action and federal policy.”

 

Daniel Mendoza

Daniel Mendoza has reached similar conclusions. As a research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, his work focuses on the impact of poor air quality on health, both for individuals and for the population as a whole. “While historically, studies have looked at very elevated pollutant levels, such as those found during inversions,” he said. “Our current research shows that even small increases in PM 2.5 or ozone are responsible for outcomes ranging from increased absences in schools to a greater number of hospitalizations due to pulmonary conditions.”

One of the simplest solutions lies with changing behaviors around transit.  “Within the metropolitan planning context, we have found that the use of transit as an alternative to single-passenger vehicle use can mitigate emissions in a meaningful way,” Mendoza said.

Frequently, people place the blame on industry, without acknowledging that “refineries are there because we demand the gasoline to drive our cars and diesel for our goods to be delivered. Personal accountability is a necessary component of solving this problem,” Mendoza said. The solution can be as simple as “not idling our cars, taking transit as often as possible and being more conservative with the temperature in our homes.”

Grineski and Mendoza are only two of the many researchers engaged in examining air quality at the U. The university’s Global Change and Sustainability Center hosts an inventory of U researchers, publications, presentations, media references and awards related to air quality. As the smog settles in our valley, and we know our researchers are working hard to do their part, we need to make conscious choices to reduce our own emissions and remind our elected officials of the importance of state and federal policy to make our air cleaner for everyone.

Throughout February, take action on air quality by tracking your commute behaviors with the Clear the Air Challenge, a statewide competition that aims to reduce emissions from vehicles by promoting alternative transit options. Join the U team at travelwisetracker.com/s/university-of-utah.