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.

collaborative Conservation

Photo: Buck Island Ranch by Carlton Ward

By Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

For many of us, it is hard to envision a role for cows in land conservation. Out here in the West, cattle ranging has completely reorganized ecosystems over the last couple hundred years, and there are strong and complex opinions regarding the practice. The reality is that here in the United States we do range cattle, and we can never go back to exactly the way things were before cattle arrived on this continent. We may also never know every last impact of this past, but we can use what we learn from the past to guide and shape future practices. 

This is the focus of Dr. Hilary Swain’s work, although not out West, but rather in Florida. On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, she will deliver her talk, “The confluence of biodiversity, ecosystem processes, and socio-economic factors in Florida ranchlands,” from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline B. Skaggs Biology Building as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Dr. Swain has been the Executive Director of the Archbold Biological Station, sitting in the headwaters of the Everglades in south-central Florida, for 25 years.  \The lands of Florida have been evolving with cattle for even longer than our Western plains have, and Dr. Swain’s work, overseeing the operations, research, and education at the Station, looks at reorienting practices of cattle ranching to a more ecologically productive, healthy, and meaningful relationship with the land. Land and cattle have shaped each other over the years but the relationship doesn’t have to stay unhealthy. Learning best practices for our current moment is a step forward in adapting and rehabilitating rangelands.

Archbold is a world-renowned field station connected to the University of Florida. “[It] represents everything I believe in: great science, active conservation and education,” says Swain.[1] Biological field stations provide wonderful opportunities for science to collaborate across disciplines, with private landowners, and with agencies ranging from local to global, informing conservation in powerful ways. The subtropical Buck Island Ranch that operates with around 3,000 head of cattle on Archbold’s 20,000-acre property is recognized by the Audubon Society as an “Important Bird Area,” and ranges land with a mix of native, semi-native, and improved (aka fertilized) pastures. This provides an opportunity to study best ranging practices in a collaborative way where overlapping goals can be taken into account quickly, with the ultimate goal of increasing the area’s biodiversity. 

Buck Island Ranch has been collecting data as part of the field station since 1988, providing an environment to effectively study current land use in relation to historical uses, and to evaluate tradeoffs. “Archbold’s mission is to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect the life, lands, and waters in the heart of Florida,” says Swain.[2] Field stations provide the ability to study ecosystems and ecological relationships in unprecedented ways, providing insight into how we might adjust our methods to live more synergistically. As one of 18 nationwide USDA Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network sites, Buck Island Ranch is also helping to link the local ecological data of the ranch to larger ecological networks across the United States. Archbold Biological Station shines as an example of what it looks like to study the intersection of ecological concerns with economic ones, both words rooted in the Greek oikos, meaning home. The land we live on is a part of our home and learning how to coexist with the ecosystem processes of the land is perhaps the most essential adaptive quality of our times. 

Come learn more from Dr. Swain about life on a large field station and the research being conducted at Archbold on Tuesday, February 11, 2020. Her talk “The confluence of biodiversity, ecosystem processes, and socio-economic factors in Florida ranchlands,” will be from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline B. Skaggs Biology Building. As always, there will be coffee and treats, so bring your mug and enjoy!

[1] https://news.wgcu.org/post/hilary-swain-phd

[2] https://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/fee.2023

Homelessness Across the Urban-Wildland Interface

By Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

There are myriad ways that natural spaces are used. Some of us run or bike, walk our dogs, read books, have picnics or camp in these spaces. Many of us try to care for these spaces, to be stewards of the land. But what about those of us with no homes, who pitch tents in parks and natural spaces for shelter? Are those of us without homes considered sustainable practitioners of land stewardship?  Professor Jeff Rose’s research explores the sustainability impacts of homeless populations living in natural spaces (spaces where we don’t build), and the environmental justice issues affecting these populations. “When we talk about sustainability,” he says, “sometimes we have to ask what is being sustained and who are we sustaining it for?”

Dr. Rose, an assistant professor in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism in the College of Health at the University of Utah will present his lecture, “Homelessness, political ecology, and critical sustainability,” on Tuesday, November 5th, from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline Skaggs Biology Building.  Rose will explore issues of homelessness and sustainability in his lecture, as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s (GCSC) Seminar Series.

Professor Rose earned his Ph.D at the University of Utah, an M.A. in Geography from San Diego State University, and his B.S. in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He says he initially entered into research on homelessness through ethnographic field methods, living with a homeless community in park spaces that edge the urban center of Salt Lake City.  This close, intimate, shared experience infuses meaning into the data of his research.  

Many people experiencing unsheltered homelessness live in natural spaces.  For some, this would be narrowly defined as public parks, foothills, or riparian corridors, but Dr. Rose invites us to broaden the ways we think about nature. “When we step outside of private spaces, shared public space is what becomes nature,” he says. This extends the definition of nature to include an alleyway or side street in a city, for instance. If you’ve ever looked around for nesting birds in the city, this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch of the imagination. Nature can include a lot of spaces, and those who find themselves without permanent places to reside are often caught up in a conundrum of where they can be without their presence being deemed at best a nuisance, or at worst, criminal. 

Looking at homelessness as an environmental relationship is particularly meaningful here in Salt Lake City where we have a plethora of natural recreation spaces and a growing homeless population.  Are those of us who live camped on the land not all intimately connected to the environment? What does justice look like if a person has no place to exist other than the public sphere? What does it mean to live sustainably?

To explore these questions and others surrounding homelessness and the environment come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, November 5 for Dr. Jeff Rose’s lecture, “Homelessness, Political Ecology, and Critical Sustainability” as part of the GCSC seminar series.  As always, there will be coffee and treats so bring your mug and enjoy!

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.”

INVESTING IN A CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE

Originally post on @theU on April 1, 2019.

By Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund program manager

Did you know that every semester U students are investing in a clean energy future? In the past 15 years, students have come together on two occasions to pass self-imposed fees to create a fund for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on campus. Both of these initiatives defined a more concrete pathway toward carbon neutrality while providing a mechanism to achieve the dream of a renewably powered future.

The resulting Sustainable Energy Fund (SEF) is a revolving loan fund (RLF) dedicated to large-scale sustainability projects at the University of Utah. To date, the SEF has invested $235,000 in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on campus.

Now faculty and staff have an opportunity to contribute to this same fund. Sustainable investment on campus doesn’t have to rely solely on student fees.  This April, in honor of Earth Month, we encourage our faculty and staff to join our students to take direct, tangible action to address climate change and realize our students’ vision of a clean energy future.

Due to the nature of the projects that are funded, the SEF reduces greenhouse gas emissions, water use, fuel use and waste. Because of these benefits, it helps the University meet its goals of carbon, waste and water neutrality.

Sustainability-oriented RLFs exist across campuses nationwide. These funds provide up-front capital to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that result in cost savings. As the projects pay back the loan, the money coming in from these cost savings is used to fund other projects. Quite simply, revolving funds are renewable sources of money for renewable projects.

Creating an RLF addresses a major roadblock in campus sustainability: High initial costs make many sustainability measures difficult for colleges and universities to finance, despite the fact that these projects often have long-term cost savings. These funds capitalize on the long-term profitability of sustainability projects by covering these initial costs while securing the return they produce for future initiatives, making such projects much more feasible.

Additionally, RLFs internalize the benefits of cost savings and energy production. Because the university’s fund uses existing resources to pay for projects, rather than seeking external funding, it allows the university to capture the full financial benefits of renewable energy and efficiency projects.

Just in the past few years, our students’ efforts have resulted in the following:

  • Mounted solar arrays on the S.J. Quinney College of Law parking canopy, Kennecott Mechanical Engineering building and Taft Nicholson Center.
  • Replaced old heaters at Red Butte Garden greenhouses with new high-efficiency and low-polluting models.
  • Installed motion- and daylight-sensitive LED lighting in the Special Collections area of Marriott Library to reduce energy and preserve collections.

These projects now return more than $25,000 a year to the fund in energy savings, which accounts for almost 20 percent of funding available for new projects. Within a few years, the growing fund will outpace student fees and staff donations demonstrating the power of an RLF.

Despite all of these benefits, the majority of the SEF projects have been funded only through student fees. Of the 80 plus funds like this at campuses around the nation, the university’s is one of five that relies almost entirely on student funding.

Now, University of Utah’s faculty and staff have an opportunity to match the efforts of the students to build a sustainable campus.  A simple $20 per month donation (just $10 per paycheck for U employees) will offset a single person’s portion of all carbon emissions coming from campus operations. Our students have put their dollars to work for the greater good. Now it is your turn. Join us in making an investment in sustainability this year. With your help, we will continue to make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.

Click here to learn more about the Sustainable Energy Fund and how you can make it grow.

HEALTHIER CAMPUS INITIATIVE

Originally posted on @theU on March 8, 2019.

By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University of Utah Communications

The University of Utah has adopted guidelines to promote better health on campus through nutrition, physical activity and programming over the next three years through the Healthier Campus Initiative sponsored by the Partnership for a Healthier America.

President Ruth V. Watkins signing the Healthier Campus Initiative.

L-R Jerry Basfor, Robin Marcus, President Watkins and Alexis Pearl Lee.

“I’m impressed with the work being done on campus,” said President Ruth V. Watkins, who signed the initiative on March 7, 2019. “I fully support doing whatever we can to encourage and educate our students, staff and faculty about the importance of engaging in healthy habits and the difference eating well, exercising regularly and taking care of their overall wellness will make throughout their lives.”

The Healthier Campus Initiative partners with 73 colleges and universities across the nation to advance healthy living. Each partner commits to meeting a majority of the guidelines developed by Partnership for a Healthier America in collaboration with some of the nation’s leading nutrition, physical activity and campus wellness experts.

By joining the initiative, the U has agreed to meet at least 23 separate guidelines in three categories: food and nutrition, physical activity and overall wellness programming.

A new campus wellness committee will guide the U’s work over the next three years. Members are charged with identifying and organizing campus activities that promote living well for students, staff, faculty and visitors. Supporting a One U approach, the broad-based committee will develop recommendations and direction of campus wellness initiatives and promote healthy living on campus and in the community.

The leaders on campus are Robin Marcus, chief wellness officer, U of U Health, and Jerry Basford, associate vice president, Student Affairs. They will steer the committee to support innovative projects led by students, staff and faculty across campus, ranging from sustainable gardens to food-focused courses and cooking workshops, to outdoor recreation trips and active transportation.

“We are thrilled to partner across our campus to continue our move toward the healthiest campus,” said Marcus. “The habits formed in college—including what they eat and how much physical activity they get—can last a lifetime.”

Committee members will include representatives from:

COMMIT TO BETTER AIR YEAR-ROUND

Originally posted on @theU on February 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

It’s the final week of the Clear the Air Challenge. As we approach the end of the competition, the University of Utah is a contender to take the top spot. That means you should log your trips now so we can triumph over both Fidelity Investments and UTA. If you walked to get lunch, log that walking trip. If you drove to a movie with a friend, log your carpool activity. If you worked from home on a snow day or brought lunch, enter a skipped trip. You can log trips all the way back to Feb. 1.

But in all seriousness, with cleaner air, we all win. The efforts of participants in the Clear the Air Challenge contribute to better air for all. Transportation choices do matter, particularly when considering the type of pollutants that collect here in the Salt Lake Valley: wintertime fine particulate matter and summer ozone. Our cars contribute to both.

We need cleaner air all year—not just in the month of February. Consider making alternative transportation part of your everyday life. Here are some ideas for all transportation methods:

Use your commute to stay in shape

Your daily commute can improve your health. Getting exercise by biking or walking can help to increase blood flow, release endorphins and reduce overall stress. Even logging 30 minutes of walking a day can help to improve mental health and energy. Join the STRAVA University of Utah Commuters club and challenge others to the longest ride, the biggest climb and more.

Make use of your UCard transit pass

Our UCards can be used to ride UTA buses, TRAX and FrontRunner. This generous benefit, managed by our Commuter Services department, is an incredible deal. Consider this: A monthly UTA pass costs $83.75 and that doesn’t even include access to FrontRunner. Use our transit access to commute to campus, go out on the town, or ride to Salt Lake’s sports venues, many of which are located within about half a mile of a TRAX line.

Ride Campus Shuttles

Our university has approximately 30 shuttle buses, 15 of which run on natural gas. According to Commuter Services, the campus shuttles help reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles driving around campus. These shuttles service thousands of members of the U community every week, so join them for the ride.

Drive smarter

Using our own vehicles can be convenient and there are some parts of our metro area that are public transit deserts. However, even those that need access to their vehicles can reduce their contribution to air pollution. Drivers can carpool, combine trips to reduce miles traveled and avoid idling while waiting in parking lots or at stoplights. Those looking to purchase a new car can also look into electric vehicles as a way to cut emissions.

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.

THE U’S IMPACT ON AIR QUALITY

Orginally posted on @theU on February 19, 2019.

By Myron Willson, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer

The inversion season is upon us. This can be a time to point fingers at other polluters, but it should also be a time to recognize our own contributions to the murky haze and examine what steps we are taking to reduce emissions, including those emissions created by our actions at work and school.

So, what is our own university doing to reduce emissions? The university (health sciences and lower campus) is often likened to a small city with the total population of faculty, staff and students exceeding 60,000. This means that we have a fairly significant potential for creating emissions.

Fortunately, in addition to supporting faculty who are conducting research on various aspects of air quality and its impacts, the university is also proactively identifying areas for emissions reductions. In 2014, leadership authorized the first universitywide emissions review resulting in a report that provided recommendations for infrastructure and operational changes. Some areas identified:

  • Efficiency improvements and controls for large natural gas-powered boilers for building heat and hot water
  • Emergency diesel generator replacement
  • Phasing out dirty gas-powered landscaping equipment and replacing with electric options
  • Reducing and controlling chemicals and solvents used in laboratories, shops, etc.
  • Increasing sustainable commuting (including bicycles, public transit and car sharing)

As resources have allowed, many of these recommendations have already been implemented. Numerous changes have been driven by the dedicated staff in facilities’ Sustainability and Energy Management OfficePlanning Design and ConstructionCommuter Services, as well as the Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety Office.  At this point, nearly 50 percent of the recommendations have been or are being addressed.

  • Many equipment upgrades have been completed at the central heating plant and operation has been optimized for efficient fuel use.
  • The landscaping team is investing in the electrification of equipment and has implemented a moratorium on gas-fired equipment on yellow and red AQ days.
  • The “Better-Buildings Challenge” has been fully funded and will result in a 20 percent reduction of energy use per square foot by 2020.
  • Based on feedback from the Sustainability Office, the Clear the Air Challenge has shifted from July to February to include students among other campus commuters.
  • A full-time active transportation manager position has been established along with funding for infrastructure changes to support non-vehicular transport.

These actions are netting results. Even as the campus has grown (both in numbers of students and building square footage) total emissions have nearly leveled out or decreased. Close to 50 percent of our faculty, staff and students come to campus each day in something other than a single-occupant vehicle (making us very competitive with other Pac-12 institutions according to the latest reports).

Recent building projects on campus, such as Gardner Commons, have been designed to produce minimal emissions as the systems for heating and cooling are electric. Almost no on-site emissions are created. In addition, as the university continues to increase its purchase of renewable electricity (geothermal and solar), emissions due to the operations of buildings like Gardner Commons will be nearly zero.

Going forward, new federal and state requirements for business and institutions related to air quality are likely to become more restrictive. University leadership has asked staff to review the 2015 Air Quality Task Force Report, provide recommendations for further reductions and lead the way in reducing emissions. Stay tuned for an update.

These are all reasons for optimism. So, on days when our air isn’t fit to breathe and we make a conscious choice to reduce our own emissions, we can rest assured that the university is doing its part too.

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.

Sustainability Leadership Awards Honor Campus Leaders

University honors seven campus leaders with Sustainability Leadership Awards at the Environment and Sustainability Research Symposium.

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”6″ display=”basic_slideshow” gallery_width=”1000″ gallery_height=”800″]Each year, the Global Change & Sustainability Center’s Environment and Sustainability Research Symposium provides an opportunity for students to share their interdisciplinary research with the U community. On February 13, the Union ballroom was abuzz with the sounds of 71 graduate and undergraduate students from 14 departments and 7 colleges presenting research posters showcasing an array of topics ranging from climate change to human behavior to the built environment. 

During the event, the Sustainability Office and Alta Ski Area presented five Sustainability Leadership Awards to members of the campus community.

“Alta Ski Area is proud to be a part of the Sustainability Leadership Awards,” said Maura Olivos, the sustainability coordinator at the Alta Environmental Center “for the honorees are not just being recognized for their innovation, but for their courage to stand out from the crowd. In our eyes it takes more than smarts to identify good projects that tackle the hard-hitting issues in sustainability or the environment, it takes perseverance and passion. We are happy to honor these leaders who bring these qualities to their work.” 

These annual awards honor sustainability leadership in the four areas of research, education integration, community partnership, and campus as a living lab. They include recognition as well as an honorarium. The campus as a living lab award is also supported by the Craig B. Forster fund, a fund established in honor of Dr. Forster, the Sustainability Office’s founding director.

The 2019 award recipients are:

Sustainability Research Award: Daniel Mendoza, research assistant professor in Atmospheric Sciences and the School of Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary Medicine.

Daniel Mendoza was recognized for his commitment to equity in sustainability though rigorous research and community-centric outreach. His research focuses on air quality and urban pollution exposure. What is unique about Dr. Mendoza’s work is the breadth and transdisciplinary nature of his research, his ability to engage the legislature, and capacity to translate policy into practice.

Dr. Mendoza regularly organizes and participates in outreach events to support west side residents in actionable education.  Having observed that many on-campus events urge middle-class, white, well-educated participants interested in sustainability to ‘get solar panels and buy electric cars,’ Dr. Mendoza approaches his outreach events as opportunities to make immediate differences by offering free air masks and educating people about particulate pollution and ozone in ways that no-cost decision making can positively impact their family’s health.

“Now more than ever, sustainability is no longer a choice, but a necessity. However, those most affected, in both the short- and long-term are often the ones who are least heard: the sick, the young, the elderly, and the socioeconomically challenged,” says Mendoza. “My work focuses on understanding issues relevant to these vulnerable groups and find enactable solutions.”

Education Integration: Edward Barbanell, professor (lecturer) in Philosophy

The strength of Barbanell’s work lies in his ability to develop the ‘big ideas’ in how we ought to be approaching sustainability education, which ultimately impacts student attitudes towards sustainability and environmental responsibility. Barbanell’s trans-disciplinary, multi-institutional, integrative, and imaginative approach to bringing sustainability thinking into the classroom sets him apart.

Such a profound shift in attitudes is evidenced by his own students. One study revealed that the number who were motivated to “take action in their personal and professional lives to create a more environmentally sustainable society” increased from 48% to more than 90%, and almost a quarter of the students became more interested in pursuing a career in earth or environmental sciences by the end of the course.”

“The big issues confronting us require new ways of thinking and seeing, which will only emerge from conversations that cut across traditional academic disciplinary boundaries,” Barbanell explains. “I have been fortunate over the last decade, to have fallen in with an inspired group of thinkers – engineers, biologists, earth scientists, and geographers, both here and at other Universities — who are beginning to have these conversations. It has all been quite exciting and inspiring, and I am thrilled that my efforts have been recognized and acknowledged by my colleagues, the Sustainability Office and the University.”

Community Partnerships Award: Austin Green, graduate student in Biological Sciences

Green’s work has focused on species distribution, abundance, and behavior in response to varying human impact in the Wasatch Mountains. Through his research he has provided transformative experiences for volunteers, built scientific literacy in our communities, and harnessed the power of community science to achieve research goals that would be impossible for an individual scientist.

Even more impressive is the scale of the community science project Austin launched to gather his research data. In the first year of the project, Green successfully managed 70 teams of community volunteers to deploy cameras at 205 sites across 950 km2 while coordinating the activities of five partners (federal, state, and local government entities and non-profits).  

“I think community partnership is needed in any type of project that hopes to enact real change,” says Green. “Especially in wildlife conservation, where current wildlife and wildland agency budgets are cut thin and applied conservation science is sometimes given short shrift, projects grounded in positive community partnership can make a long-lasting impact on our natural resources and our natural heritage. Support from the Alta Community Partnership Award helps solidify this notion and is further evidence that real change starts at the community level.”

Craig B. Forster Campus as a Living Lab Award: Sierra Govett, Dillon Seglem and Yinhuan Huang, undergraduate students in the Environmental & Sustainability Studies program

Sierra, Dillon and Yinhuan were awarded a Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) grant to retrofit the lighting in the Special Collections section of the Marriott Library. These three students were enrolled in  Jennifer Follstad Shah’s capstone course last spring in which students were required to design and implement projects contributing to local sustainability efforts.

Early in the semester, Sierra remarked to the class that lights in many campus buildings are illuminated when occupants are absent, a waste of energy and money that could easily be resolved by replacing CFLs with motion sensitive LED lights. With the help of Dillon and Yinhuan, this idea evolved into a project that will ultimately save the university $56,000 in energy costs and 600 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over twenty-two years, while extending the lifespan of priceless archives housed in the Marriott Library.

“We wanted to find some place we could address lighting at a large enough scale to make a difference,” said Govett. “We were pretty excited to do something that made such a difference.”

2019 Lifetime Sustainability Leadership Awards: Stephen Goldsmith, associate professor (lecturer) in City & Metropolitan Planning

Professor Goldsmith’s received three nominations with eight letters of support from colleagues in six different departments and centers, as well as from current and former students. The selection committee determined that Goldsmith’s long and varied list of contributions and innovations merited a lifetime sustainability leadership award.

Goldsmith was recognized for his role in transforming the City & Metropolitan Planning Department’s undergraduate degree program from Urban Planning to Urban Ecology, making it the first undergraduate urban ecology major in the country and the first planning program to fully embrace ecological thinking in name and content. He is known for his ability to mentor faculty, encouraging them to look beyond their own disciplines, beyond best practices and rules of thumb, toward solutions that are truly creative and innovative. On top of that, Goldsmith has seeded or catalyzed a diversity of initiatives, programs, and projects; from dark skies to food trucks; from movable tables and chairs in the quad to inspiring research “radicles” through undergraduate initiatives. The legacy that he leaves this university, the community, and the students who have been lucky enough to learn with him is truly monumental.  

“I am deeply touched and honored that my colleagues and students have found value in my work,” says Goldsmith. “In truth, this is about our shared work. I just have the privilege of being a part of it. Our community of creative, dedicated scholars, staff and students is truly something to celebrate.”

The Sustainability Leadership Awards highlight the U and Alta Ski Area’s shared commitment to sustainability. Alta’s multi-year partnership with the U on these awards advances sustainability across campus.

“We are so grateful to Alta Ski Resort for their continued support of sustainability initiatives at the University,” said University of Utah Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson.  “This five-year partnership has brought recognition to some of the outstanding leaders who are committed to promoting sustainability on and off campus. Alta Ski resort is unique in their understanding of the importance of research and education focused on sustainability and the valuable contribution it can make to our entire community.”

 This year’s award winners come from a variety of disciplines, demonstrating that sustainability demands collaboration, creative thinking and expertise from across campus and community.

Join us in congratulating these awardees on their excellent work and look for a future call for nominations for this award in early 2020.

 

The Dynamics of Climate Change with Aradhna Tripati

“The Dynamics of Climate Change”

The Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC) seminar series presents a lecture by Aradhna Tripati, Professor in the Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences department and the Earth, Planetary, & Space Sciences department, as well as at the Institute of Geophysics & Planetary Physics and the Institute of Environment & Sustainability at UCLA.

By Nicholas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

The scientific research that constructs our understanding of how the Earth’s climate changes can seem complex and arcane to the casual observer. Yet without this specialized knowledge, it would be hard to work towards a more sustainable future. Some scientists are working hard to bring opportunities and knowledge to a greater audience and diversify STEM and sustainability efforts.

On Tuesday, February 26, come to Professor Aradhna Tripati’s lecture “Frontiers in the study of past climate and environmental change: From new tracers to piloting a new inclusive science model”. Tripati will discuss her ongoing efforts to connect complex scientific research to education, outreach and sustainability as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s (GCSC) Seminar Series from 4 – 5 PM in ASB 210.

Tripati has always had a passion for the sciences, studying geological science at California State University – Fullerton and completing her PhD in Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She currently holds joint appointments at UCLA in the Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences department and the Earth, Planetary, & Space Sciences department, as well as at the Institute of Geophysics & Planetary Physics and the Institute of Environment & Sustainability. Tripati has received several honors for her research and outreach work, including a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering from President Obama in 2016.

At UCLA, the Tripati Lab studies the carbon cycle and historical climate dynamics. Much of Tripati’s research focuses on the study of clumped isotopes. These bundles of heavy isotopes are prevalent in calcium carbonate, methane, nitrous oxide, and other elemental compounds on Earth. As these isotopes have different weights, they tend to accumulate according to environmental conditions, allowing for comparative analysis of how and where they have been deposited.

For example, Oxygen has two prevalent isotopes: 16O, which is lighter, and 18O, which has two more neutrons and is heavier. The lighter 16O tends to accumulate in the atmosphere and settle in ice during periods of glaciation, whereas the heavier 18O settles on the seafloor in sediments and the bodies of sea creatures. When ice sheets melt, they deposit massive amounts of 16O in the ocean, which settles on top of 18O. Analyzing the concentration of various isotopes in the layers of seafloor sediments can give insight into how climate has changed throughout Earth’s history. Tripati’s research into these isotopes has relevance to a huge range of scientific fields, from organic chemistry to geology and climatology, and has led to cutting-edge developments in understanding climate dynamics and in modeling climatic changes.

Tripati has done extensive outreach and educational work as the founder and director of UCLA’s Center for Diverse Leadership in Science, which, as she has explained, makes “opportunities for underrepresented people to gain education and experience that empower them to become the leaders we need now and in the future, and address problems in their communities.”

A pressing concern for diversity in science and sustainability has long been a part of Tripati’s academic work. Despite the wide-reaching consequences of her work with isotopes, the underrepresentation of minority groups in both geoscience research and STEM fields in general risks making this research seem irrelevant to the general population. The vulnerable groups that are most at risk to be affected by climate change thus frequently lack access to the opportunities for research and education that could empower them to address environmental and technical challenges. Increasing diversity in STEM and sustainability through outreach and education is essential to the future of climate change research and building a progressive society.

Should this research intrigue you or if you are interested in diversity, education and outreach in science and sustainability, come by ASB 210 from 4 – 5 PM on Tuesday, February 26, for “Dynamics of Climate Change” with Professor Aradhna Tripati as part of the GCSC’s Seminar Series.