Global Change & Sustainability Center Seminars: Fall Preview

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

The Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC) Seminar Series returns on Tuesday, Aug. 31. The series features a different speaker on alternate Tuesdays of the fall semester. All seminars are free and will take place on Zoom.

Dr. Brenda Bowen, director of the GCSC and associate professor of Geology & Geophysics, will kick off the fall series with her talk on “Transdisciplinary Explorations of Sustainability in a Time of Change at the Bonneville Salt Flats.” She encourages everyone—students, staff, faculty, and community members—to tune in.

“I’ll be talking about work that I’ve been doing for eight or nine years, really focused on the Bonneville Salt Flats and the changes that are currently happening in this landscape,” Bowen says. “We’ve been studying how this environment is changing from a biophysical standpoint—so looking at the sediments in the groundwater and environmental fluxes of how the landscape is changing—but then also have been working really closely with social scientists, and communication scholars, and engineers, and artists, and stakeholders from a huge range of different perspectives to try to do science that will help aid in data-driven decision making.”

While Bowen specializes in geology, she explains that the interdisciplinary and social science elements of her work are just as essential. “We got to advance the work on the science, and across the sciences, but then also really bridged into these other areas around how perceptions of environmental change are framed based on your position in the stakeholder ecosystem,” Bowen says. “Who talks to who, and who’s at the table, and how [are] decisions made about land management, and resource use, and extraction, and mitigation, and restoration? Who’s making those decisions?”

Interdisciplinary sustainability research like Bowen’s will reappear throughout this semester’s GCSC seminars, which feature faculty members from all different disciplines across the University of Utah campus, ranging from law to philosophy to engineering. The fall series takes on questions such as, “How do we bridge across these disciplinary silos that are so entrenched in academia?” Bowen explains. “How do we see this from all…different disciplinary lenses and approaches?”

Dr. Stacy Harwood, professor and chair in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning, will give the second seminar on “Everyday Racism in Integrated Spaces,” which examines the experiences of students of color at the University of Utah, a predominantly white institution. “We talk a lot about campus as a living lab,” says Bowen. “But it’s not just the physical spaces where we do that—it can be in our social spaces, too.”

Dr. Carlos Santana, professor of Philosophy, will wrap up September with a discussion of the Anthropocene and possibilities for collaboration between natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities in a new geologic era.

In October and November Dr. Heather Tanana, research assistant professor in the College of Law, will discuss the intersection of Indigenous resource needs, climate change, and environmental policies; Dr. Taylor Sparks, professor of Materials Science and Engineering, will discuss the materials needed to achieve a just energy transition; and Dr. Lynne Zummo, professor of Educational Psychology and curator of learning sciences at the Natural History Museum of Utah, will explore the cognitive process related to learning and making decisions about climate change.

Bowen encourages students, staff, faculty, and the broader community to tune in at no cost for this semester’s bi-weekly seminars. Interested graduate students can still add the online section of the one-credit GCSC Seminar course, which can be found under SUST 6800-002 in the course catalog.

Join us for Bowen’s seminar on ecological change at the Salt Flats on Tuesday, Aug. 31 at 4 p.m., and learn more about the upcoming seminar speakers and topics.

 

GCSC Seminar: Awakening an Audience with Environmental Theater

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

Thinking about climate change can be so overwhelming that we might, at times, wish to look away. Some aren’t willing to look at all. Phantom Limb Company invites us to consider our relationship to the natural world through a different lens—one that is mesmerizing, emotional, and beautiful.

On Tuesday, April 20 at 4 p.m., co-founder and artistic director of Phantom Limb Company Jessica Grindstaff will give her GCSC seminar, “Storytelling, Imagism and Empathy: Awakening an Audience,” which explores puppetry and performing arts as methods of generating emotion and action around environmental issues and climate change. Three virtual performances by Phantom Limb are also offered through UtahPresents, with the final screening on April 22. Ticket holders will be able to view all three performances through April 30.

Jessica Grindstaff began her career as a visual artist, and arrived in the theater industry through an unexpected twist of events. “I can’t really explain how we ended up where we have,” she says of her journey with co-founder, Erik Sanko. “We had a visual art show together, and then the gallerist wanted him to do a little performance with the puppets that he was exhibiting.”

“We just accidentally ended up making this play,” Grindstaff says. “It was supposed to run for a couple of weeks in downtown New York, and then the New York Times wrote it up and it ended up running for three months.”

The show was a huge success. After it closed, a producer approached Grindstaff and Sanko and asked what they hoped to do next. “We both had been big fans of the Shackleton story, so we said let’s make a play about that,” Grindstaff reflects. They received a grant to fund their idea, and soon found themselves in Antarctica researching Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition. “I would say that it was actually there where it started to become real for me,” Grindstaff says. “I started to understand what I wanted to do”

In Antarctica, Grindstaff and Sanko met and worked with scientists whose research centered on climate change and melting ice. “The majority of their work [was]… in one way or another cataloging the effects of climate change on the ice, on the land, on the animals that live there,” Grindstaff explains. “So, rather than the play just being about Ernest Shackleton, we introduced a component to the piece that was about the future of Antarctica and climate change.”

It became important to Grindstaff and Sanko that their work include a social and environmental message. “And so, we decided to make a trilogy,” Grindstaff says. “We would spend the next 10 years making a trilogy that was related to people’s relationships to the environment and nature, and how that was changing,”

The second piece in the trilogy, Memory Rings, is about the Methuselah—the world’s oldest living tree. “We were looking at the timeline of that tree’s life and everything that happened from germination until now, and looking for stories of people’s relationship to the forest or wood over that time,” Grindstaff says. The final piece in the trilogy, Falling Out, takes place in Fukushima and examines the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown—a natural disaster paired with a manmade disaster.

Phantom Limb’s plays rarely have words, focusing instead on movement and imagery. “On stage, we’re placing images near one another and then ask an audience to make their own connections,” Grindstaff says. “Especially when you’re talking about things like climate—issues that are overly described to us in society in very specific ways that are often around fear, or guilt, or what we should personally be doing—I think leaving space for people in that conversation to find out who they are, and what their role and what their thoughts are in it and their emotions are in it, is really important and it’s really powerful.”

Grindstaff and Sanko use puppets, in part because they are an effective medium for generating emotion. “For a puppet to work, someone has to empathize,” Grindstaff explains. “The puppet is nothing. It’s a piece of wood or a papier-mache. An audience member has to engage in the work on an empathetic level, they have to put themselves inside of it. And I think around the topics of climate and climate change and our roles in our communities, that that is a great thing to do.”

The results of their art are hard to measure, Grindstaff says, but audience members often tell her that they feel moved and leave the theater thinking about their own roles within these complex issues. “They walked out looking at themselves, which is a goal, I think, in our work.”

Register for Grindstaff’s talk on Tuesday, April 20 at 4 p.m. to learn more about Phantom Limb Company’s work, and how environmental art moves hearts and minds.

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.