UNCOVERING SUSTAINABILITY

Originally posted April 2, 2018 in @theU.

By Bianca Greeff, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office.

Sustainability is much more than just environment.

In 2011, the University of Utah began incorporating sustainability more broadly into its curriculum. Today, faculty across campus are enhancing education by implementing the big ideas of sustainability—equity, economy, and environment into their courses and departments.

Over 200 courses with a new sustainability attribute and 10 departments with a sustainability learning outcome illuminate the wide reach of sustainability initiatives. Students can locate courses with the new SUSC/SUSL sustainability attribute in the course catalog when signing up for classes.

“We don’t want to limit this large, integrated, conceptual issue of sustainability to a single discipline, set of behaviors, or required course,” said Adrienne Cachelin, director of sustainability education and associate professor in Environmental & Sustainability Studies. “We want to illuminate how and where faculty members are integrating studies of ecological limits with understandings of equity and economic systems. These learning outcomes and course attributes demonstrate the diverse approaches to sustainability education at the U.”

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are formal statements of the knowledge and skills a student is expected to master by the time they finish their program of study. Sustainability learning outcomes enable departments to explain their discipline’s unique contributions to the University’s larger commitment to sustainability education.

10 departments have already articulated how their discipline contributes to sustainability education, and more are working on the process.

Course attributes

Even if a department doesn’t yet have a sustainability learning outcome, individual courses from that program can earn a sustainability attribute. There are two tiers in the course attributes:

  • Limited (SUSL) – awarded to courses that incorporate a unit or module on sustainability or a sustainability challenge.
  • Complete (SUSC) – awarded to courses whose content identifies and describes the relationship between the course topic, equity, economy, and environmental dimensions.

“A course attribute doesn’t mean the course has to cover every bit of sustainability,” explained Cachelin. “They might be studying one or two of the three big ideas, or it might be the entire course is about something else but they are using a case study that is sustainability-related. These courses are still incredibly valuable for student understanding.”

Faculty wishing to obtain the attribute may submit their course for review by the Sustainability Education Advisory Committee.

Other resources

For faculty wanting to get involved in sustainability education, the Wasatch Experience Faculty Workshop provides an opportunity for interdisciplinary faculty cohorts to work together to design impactful educational programming.

For students eager to apply their learning from these courses with on-campus projects, the Sustainability Scholars program offers a year-long cohort to explore these ideas. This learning community is open to undergraduate students from across campus, and fulfills the Social and Behavioral Sciences requirement for graduation, with a new cohort beginning in Fall 2018.

From learning cohorts to course attributes to learning outcomes, the U’s recent efforts uncover the breadth of sustainability, while supporting those who wish to integrate it into their teaching and learning.

Melding Perspectives, Finding Solutions

In Utah, the second driest state in the country, water is a critical issue. Our water systems are interconnected with human systems, and as our population expands and the climate changes, protecting and sharing this resource equitably will require collaboration between researchers, practitioners and decision makers.

When it comes to collaborative water research, the U’s Society, Water, and Climate Research Group (SWC) is leading the way. With the addition of five new faculty members, the group has undertaken an ambitious mandate – to meld multiple scientific perspectives toward finding sustainable water solutions for a changing world.

Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and incoming president, addresses faculty at the forum.

Many U faculty already had significant expertise related to water, society and climate, but there were areas that could be strengthened. A group of U researchers, led by the chair of the U’s Geography Department Andrea Brunelle, formed the SWC in 2013.

The team’s first task was to articulate gaps in the society, water and climate perspectives already at the U. Then they proposed new faculty positions to fill those gaps through the university’s Transformative Excellence Program. The Transformative Excellence Program is an ongoing hiring initiative seeking new faculty focused around interdisciplinary themes rather than discipline.

“If we are to truly address Utah’s – and the nation’s – societal issues, we must think beyond our traditional approaches,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Ruth Watkins, who is also the incoming present of the U. “The Transformative Excellence Program was designed to identify areas within the university where focusing on strategic additions to our faculty could enhance our preeminence and allow us to better serve the citizens of this state and country.”

Ten departments – Anthropology, Atmospheric Sciences, Biology, Economics, Environmental & Sustainability Studies, Geography, Geology & Geophysics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology – invested in this unique hiring process, an unprecedented level of interdepartmental collaboration.

“This hiring process was very inspiring and rewarding,” said Brunelle. “Working with a group of faculty who obviously care so much about these topics and this research that they would invest an absolutely tremendous amount of time working on these searches even without a guarantee of a departmental hire was incredible. Even after the hires were completed, all the departments are represented on the SWC executive committee, showing continued investment in this collaborative endeavor.”

As the Chronicle of Higher Education points out, this kind of cluster-hiring can be a fraught endeavor. It is challenging to ensure the process doesn’t unravel in the context of disciplinary hiring needs.

At the U, the SWC hiring process fit in with the university’s ethos of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Several years earlier, in 2011, the U underwent a similar hiring process for a small group of faculty who would work at the fringes of their discipline on climate- and environmental change-related research. This initial search ultimately brought Diane Pataki (Biology), Gabe Bowen (Geology & Geophysics) and John Lin (Atmospheric Sciences) to the U. This first group hire, which laid the groundwork for the Transformative Excellence Program, happened through the dedicated efforts of faculty in the Global Change & Sustainability Center (GCSC), which was led at the time by director emeritus Jim Ehleringer.

Audience members at the forum gather for panel presentation from (L to R) Amy Wildermuth, chief sustainability officer; Steve Burian, director of the U Water Center; Andrea Brunelle, co-chair of the Society, Water, & Climate Research Group; and Brenda Bowen, director of the Global Change & Sustainability Center.

The GCSC is a web of 140 faculty members in 10 colleges who all work within environmental and sustainability themes. The center facilitates faculty connections and interdisciplinary grants, offers graduate fellowships and research funds and manages a sustainability-related graduate certificate. In addition, the GCSC also has a series of ongoing and one-time events aimed at bringing the interdisciplinary community together in meaningful ways. All of these endeavors work to catalyze relevant research on global change and sustainability at the U.

“The investment the administration put into the GCSC really set a tone for the value that collaborative work has on this campus and that translated beautifully to the SWC project,” Brunelle said. “A great example of this is the generous contributions of time, resources and support that my Dean, Cindy Berg, provided throughout the multi-year hiring process.”

To build the SWC research group, broad descriptions of new faculty positions were posted online. The response was immediate and overwhelming. In the first year of the search, 13 candidates were brought to campus, offering fascinating talks about climate change and impacts on water and society.

After several years of intensive searches and interviews, the group is now complete with five new faculty in four departments. These five faculty bring nationally renowned research to the university while seamlessly integrating into their departmental homes.

“The Society, Water and Climate initiative has really helped to integrate GCSC scholars from across campus around a common set of questions and problems that require scholars to come together in new ways,” said Brenda Bowen, director of the GCSC. “The SWC focus has helped us to recognize and identify common research interests between seemingly separate fields and is creating opportunities for faculty and students to advance their work in new directions. The incoming SWC faculty are interdisciplinary leaders and are already catalyzing and supporting projects and grant proposals that move all of us forward as we work towards a future where humans and ecosystems thrive.”

Meet SWC hires. These members will join existing faculty who are part of the group.

William Anderegg, Biology, 2016

William Anderegg is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Utah. His lab studies how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, including tree physiology, species interactions, carbon cycling and biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks. This research spans a broad array of spatial scales, from cells to ecosystems, and seeks to gain a better mechanistic understanding of how climate change will affect forests and societies around the world.

Juliet Carlisle, Political Science, arriving in 2018                                                                         

Juliet Carlisle is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science. Her research substantively deals with political behavior and public opinion with an emphasis on environmental politics and policy. In particular, Carlisle has investigated issues surrounding environmental concern, including what people know about the environment, where that knowledge originates and how that knowledge influences their opinions and behaviors. Her co-authored book, “The Politics of Energy Crises” (2017), applies policy theories to energy crises and explores energy policy during energy crises with specific attention on the role of public opinion, business interests and environmental activists.

Gannet Hallar, Atmospheric Sciences, 2016

Gannet Hallar is an associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Utah and the director of Storm Peak Laboratory in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, operated by the Desert Research Institute. Her research focuses on using high-quality measurements of trace gases, aerosol physical and chemical properties and cloud microphysics to understand connections between the biosphere, atmosphere and climate, along with the impact of anthropogenic emissions on these connections.

Summer Rupper, Geography, 2015

Summer Rupper is an associate professor in the Geography Department at the University of Utah. Her research focuses on glaciers and ice sheets as recorders and indicators of climate change and as freshwater resources. Recent and ongoing projects include quantifying glacier contributions to water resources and sea-level rise, assessing glacier sensitivity to climate change and reconstructing past climate using ice core snow accumulation data and geomorphic evidence of past glacier extents. These projects are all part of a larger effort to characterize climate variability and change and the impacts of these on society.

S. McKenzie Skiles, Geography, 2017

McKenzie Skiles is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Utah. She is an alpine and snow hydrologist whose research interests center on snow energy balance, remote sensing of mountain snow and ice and cryosphere-climate interaction. Her research methods combine numerical modeling, laboratory analysis, and field, in situ, and remotely sensed observations to better constrain the timing and magnitude of mountain snowmelt and to improve our understanding of how accelerated mountain snowmelt is impacting this critical natural reservoir over time.

The SWC is one of 10 Transformative Excellence cluster hiring initiatives currently in place at the U. Current projects include families and health research; society, water and climate; statistical science and big data; digital humanities; biophysics; sustaining biodiversity; health economics and health policy; resilient spaces (aging); science and math education; and neuroscience.

Banner image: Members of the SWC chat at the November 2017 Water Forum, the inaugural event for the Society, Water & Climate Research Group, organized by the SWC, the Global Change & Sustainability Center, and U Water Center. 

Exploring the Politics of Space

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Sarah Kanouse was aware of the ways Los Angeles transformed from a desert community to a bustling city by building water and power structure. Later, when Kanouse found herself in “small college communities surrounded by cornfields,” she began to realize that rural landscapes are not as bucolic as they are portrayed.

“Being a person curious about where I am and what is surrounding me made me realize that the idealized landscape of rural America was heavily industrialized and engineered,” said Kanouse. “It is just as engineered as the city of Los Angeles.”

Landscapes, both urban and rural, are actively produced. Sarah Kanouse, Department of Art + Design at Northeastern University, works towards uncovering the historical, material, and social processes that have shaped a landscape through a range of artistic mediums.

Kanouse will present several of her recent works that address the ways in which environment and society influence one another at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Kanouse identifies with an emerging area of creative work known as artistic research or practice-based research. A single medium does not define this artistic practice, rather it is defined by ones’ inquiry.

“For artistic research, the media you select needs to align with the set of ideas you are working with,” explained Kanouse. “Artistic design realizes that mediums are not neutral carriers of meaning. They have legacies that can be used productively, critically, or skeptically in your work.”

Kanouse’s artistic research is focused on the social production of landscape. The social production of a landscape recognizes the social and cultural processes that have shaped our ecological surroundings—sometimes in overlapping and conflicting ways. Kanouse researches these social landscapes by looking both at the way we create pictures of the land, but also the social practices that shape how we and perceive it. 

“Both the art genre [of landscape painting] and social expectations tend to make landscapes seem monumental and eternal. They generally conceal the ways [landscapes] are the product of historical, material, and ecological processes that have been going on for a long time,” said Kanouse.

This inquiry inspired Kanouse to create a film titled Around Crab Orchard—which she will share clips from in her presentation. Kanouse, along with many others, enjoyed spending time in Crab Orchard as a place of recreation. Crab Orchard is the only wildlife refuge in the United States who hosts active industry. What began as defense contracting site in WWII has evolved over time to address the economic needs the community and the state’s desire to open a maximum-security prison, said Kanouse.

The Monsanto Hearings by Sarah Kanouse. Used with permission.

“The film weaves together all these different stories of Crab Orchard that are usually told separately, or not at all,” said Kanouse. “It does so in a way that unpacks how the visual manifestation of recreation, hiking, and camping conceals all of the other aspects of this space.”

Kanouse’s work often alternates between solo projects and collaborative socially engaged projects. In the collaborative projects, Kanouse takes on the role of a facilitator who enables the creative expression and participation of people who may not identify as artists. One socially engaged project Kanouse has facilitated is The Monsanto Hearings. In this performative series, the courtroom became a stage for small communities dependent on agriculture to share their stories.

“We created this space for people to present evidence about how the decade-long practices of Monsanto had negatively impacted their community,” said Kanouse.

To learn more, attend Sarah Kanouse’s lecture, “Entanglements: artistic strategies for complex ecologies” on Tuesday, Feb. 20 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo: Around Crab Orchard by Sarah Kanouse. Used with permission. 

Using Time as Our Guide

By Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Both urban and rural areas around the world rely heavily on groundwater to support agriculture, energy, residential, and industrial use. This demand for groundwater—from a global population of over seven and a half billion—combined with impacts of climate change places more stress on these systems. In order to sustainably manage these resources, we first need to quantify it.

Kip Solomon, department of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah, will show how understanding the age and recharge of aquifers can lead to more sustainable use at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

“While we have a hint that we are overexploiting a number of these large regional systems,” said Solomon, “the amount of data we have to make these assessments is rather limited. Part of my pitch is that we need to make more measurements in these kinds of systems.”

Groundwater recharge is a hydrologic process where water moves from surface water to groundwater—like an aquifer—by draining through the soil. Recharge can be a slow process, especially when the body of water is deep underground. The longer it takes water to reach the aquifer, the lower the rate of recharge. This makes measuring the rate of recharge a challenging process. For Solomon, the most promising tool is dating the groundwater.

“By getting the mean age of water we can calculate the recharge,” explained Solomon. “By dating the groundwater and using the geologic information to determine the volume, we can infer the rates of replenishment to the aquifer.”

There are a few tools that can be used to date water—namely isotopes and trace atmospheric gasses. Elements can have several isotopes depending on what the element has come in contact with. In aquifers, isotopes are often generated in the subsurface. Their concentrations build up the longer the water is in contact with the subsurface rock. A higher concentration of an isotope, like Carbon-14, thus signifies older water.

For younger water, atmospheric gasses can be used to date it. Over the past few decades, gasses produced in the industrial processes—like sulfur hexafluoride—have been increasing. When exposed to the air, water absorbs concentrations of these gasses. The longer the water interacted with the gas, the greater the concentration will be. Once the water moves below the surface those concentrations of gas are essentially “locked in.” Measuring the traces of these gasses in groundwater can show how old that water might be.

Determining the recharge rate is important for both hydrologic understanding of subsurface bodies of water and for natural resource management. The recharge is a vital component of understanding the amount of water that can be extracted without overexploiting or compromising the integrity of the groundwater body.

“99 percent of unfrozen freshwater is in the ground,” explained Solomon. “As our world approaches eight billion, it is a growing question of whether or not these big regional aquifers can be sustainably exploited to support agriculture in arid and semi-arid regions.”

To learn more, attend Solomon’s lecture, “Can Groundwater Feed the World? It’s All About Time” on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

 

Cover photo via USGS public domain. 

Re-Imagining Relationships

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Climate change threatens everything about our social organization. But that shouldn’t immobilize us. Instead, Kari Norgaard, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oregon, encourages us to view climate change as an opportunity to re-envision our social, political, and economic systems.

Norgaard will show how climate change provides the opportunity to rethink our relationships to the human and other-than-human world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

In her seminar, Norgaard will discuss the phenomenon of socially organized denial. Norgaard suggests that it isn’t the lack of information that leads people to inaction, but rather the emotions that climate change invokes.

“Denial is a form of environmental privilege,” explained Norgaard. “People who have benefited more from the current system find it harder to grapple with the idea of very large system change and experience a lot of guilt, helplessness, fear of future and present.”

Norgaard suggests the normalization of climate change is an avoidance mechanism. While we can make daily changes in our lives to help reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, individuals alone will not be able to slow or stop climate change. There is also an urgent need to rethink many larger aspects of our current systems—like reducing our use of fossil fuels or changing cultural norms of over-consumption.

In her seminar, Norgaard will bridge her work on the social organization of climate denial with her recent work with the Karuk Tribe. The Karuk are an indigenous community in Northern California and are highly mobilized around climate change. The biggest problem they face is the increasing forest fires. Climate change has been producing warmer, dryer conditions in the region—the ideal environment for larger, hotter, and more destructive wildfires. Future mega-fires threaten local ecosystems and cultural practices.

The Karuk have used controlled burns to manage wildfire threats and cultivate traditional plants for generations, but their use of fire has continually been suppressed by management agencies. Recently, wildfire research has begun showing the importance of controlled burns for fire risk management and indigenous practices. Thus, creating an opportunity for cultural and ecological revitalization.

Re-introducing controlled burns is one example of how climate change has created a new possibility for cooperation across worldviews and communities. By incorporating elements of Norgaard’s subtitle—imagination, responsibility, and community—we can start a discourse that inspires action and moves our society to become a more socially and ecologically equitable place.

The “imagination” in Norgaard’s subtitle is defined by the idea of the sociological imagination, which generates awareness between the individual experience and society. It shows how the society we live in shapes what we understand, what we don’t understand, and influences what we think is possible. Norgaard sees that we all have a “responsibility” to be engaged in the world. Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or guilty doesn’t mean we should give up or disengage from climate change action. Despite these feelings, we still have a responsibility to act. Closely related is Norgaard’s third term, “community”. No one can tackle climate change on their own. Rather, we need one another. We need to know how to work together and understand each other to create a community of action.

To learn more about the opportunities to re-imagine our relationships to one another and the natural world, attend Norgaard’s seminar, “Climate Change as Strategic Opportunity: Imagination, Responsibility, and Community” on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo: “Wildfire” by NPS via flickr. Public Domain Mark 1.0.

 

USING NATURE AS OUR GUIDE: FIVE PLANTS THAT IMPROVE INDOOR AIR QUALITY

Katie Stevens, Sustainable Utah Blog Writing Intern.

Living in Salt Lake City, we are no strangers to air pollution and its harmful effects.  Breathing in toxic air can cause a range of health concerns including increased asthmatic symptoms, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and more.

It is no surprise that we often retreat into our homes to catch a breath of fresh air; however, sometimes our indoor air quality could be improved. Common indoor air pollutants include benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, and ammonia. There are certain plants that can combat these indoor air pollutants, according to a study done by NASA.

Here are five plants that can improve your indoor air quality: 

  1. FLORIST’S CHRYSANTHEMUM (Chrysanthemum morifolium)
  • Helps to rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Keep the plant in cooler temperatures and keep the soil moist at all times. Requires bright light.
  • Toxic? Chrysanthemum leaves are toxic so keep this in a safe spot away from any furry friends and youngsters.
  1. PEACE LILY (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Average room temperature is good for this plant. Keep the soil evenly moist and be sure to have a pot with a drainage hole. Bright light is recommended, but not direct sunlight.
  • Toxic? Yes
  1. ENGLISH IVY (Hedera helix)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene, and benzene.
  • Care: Keep under bright light, preferably fluorescent. Soil should be kept moist spring through fall and a bit drier in winter. Ivy likes cool to average room temperatures.
  • Toxic? English Ivy leaves are toxic if eaten and can irritate the skin; it is always a good idea to wear gloves while handling this plant.
  1. BARBERTON DAISY (Gerbera jamesonii)
  • Helps rid the air of: Trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, and xylene.
  • Care: This plant requires bright light to full sun and thorough watering. Prefers cool to average temperatures.
  • Toxic? Non-toxic.
  1. BROADLEAF LADY PALM (Rhapis excelsa)
  • Helps rid the air of: Formaldehyde, xylene, and ammonia.
  • Care: Keep this plant in bright, but indirect light. Soil should be kept evenly moist in the spring and summer and should be dried out between watering in the winter.
  • Toxic? Non-toxic.

I invite you to create your indoor air sanctuary with these plants and test out your green thumb this winter!

 

Cover Photo Via Pixabay CC0

 

curating global ecology through big data

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Ecologists seek to answer the big questions about how the world is changing, and how species and ecosystems are responding to those changes. To answer these questions, a new network of analysis is needed. Community-curated data sources can provide new insight on how systems are have changed in the past and how they are changing now.

Jack Williams, professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will show how two community curated data sources are bringing reliable, big data to bear on the challenges of a changing world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Jack Williams, used with permission.

According to Williams, four V’s (volume, variety, velocity, and veracity) characterize ecological big data. Volume refers to the size of data, variety is the heterogeneity – diverse nature – of data types and measurements, velocity is the rate data needs to be generated or analyzed at, and veracity is the potential uncertainties.

Community-curated data sources have been developed to enable global-scale science. These data networks are also changing the way data is analyzed.

“The standard has been to run ecosystem models and analyze data somewhat independently of each other,” Williams said. “But now we have the opportunity to do more simulations where the data doesn’t constrain the simulations and improve the parameterization and forecast.”

Multiple groups have begun building databases that bring the data and paleoecological records from multiple networks to larger scales. These data sets can be applied to testing and improving the predictability of ecosystem models.

Williams will structure his talk around two different data networks—Neotoma and PalEON. Neotoma gathers large amounts of records from around the world and assembles it into one common resource that is publically available. PalEON is an example of one type of research that can be done with this kind of global platform for ecological and paleoecological research.

“Neotoma and PalEON are part of a broader set of efforts to gather many different kinds of ecological data into extended observational networks,” Williams explained. “We can now look at ecological dynamics at long timescales and at large spatial scales.”

Williams studies species’ responses to climate change. By using the last 2,000 years as a model, he can look at how species have migrated or changed in past climate. His work with PalEON is interested in using ecosystem models to forecast and predict species responses to climate change at decadal and centennial time scales.

“An interesting initial finding is that, as a result of climate change and human land use over the last century, the climatic niches of trees have changed,” explained Williams. “A lot of our predictive models use modern climates and modern tree species distribution as the basis of our predictions of forest responses to current and future climate change. Seeing how niches have changed suggests there is perhaps there is some disequilibrium with current climate change.”

To learn more about ecological big data, attend William’s seminar, “Achieving global ecology via dispersed community-curated data resources: Neotoma and PalEON” on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo by geralt via pixabay. CC0.

Intentional Change

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Designers are agents of change. They research how our everyday actions and behaviors are conceived, planned, and acted on. By making these intangible aspects of society tangible, designers have the ability to communicate about or change these societal features. In the past, design has been leveraged as a way to create social change. But, these attempts have not always articulated ways to catalyze change.

Transition Design is a nascent idea that acknowledges we are living in transitional times, and recognizes the need to change at all levels of society.

Dr. Terry Irwin, Director of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design will explain how Transition Design can address the wicked problems of the 21st century at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

“Transition Design is a new area of design practice, study, and research focused on systems-level change,” Irwin explained. “It addresses the need for entire societies to transition towards a sustainable future.”

Transitioning into sustainable futures will require the development of new tools and methods that can be used to create societal change. By understanding the interconnectedness of social, economic, political, and natural systems, Transition Design confronts multifaceted problems from different levels and different scales.

“Instead of creating one-off solutions, we are advocating for a systems approach where you are involved in the process of creating solutions over a very long period of time in ways that connects projects, but also connects to future visions of where you want to go,” said Irwin.

Transition Design is a framework that combines a range of practices and approaches from different disciplines to create a new way of addressing problems in a specific location. In other words, Transition Design advocates for creating communities that are in tune with their natural and social systems.

Transitioning to a sustainable future will require change at all levels of society. Not only are politicians, legislators, activists, academics, and other professionals needed to design change, Irwin explains how all stakeholders need a seat at the table.

“The approach we are developing calls for stakeholder engagement and co-design with stakeholders,” said Irwin. “We define stakeholders as anybody that is being affected by the problem.”

Transition Design provides the framework that gets people involved and working together. It pulls from multiple theories across several disciplines. Transition Design also embodies ideas and concepts from non-profit and community sectors. Transition Design empowers and educates a new group of designers who work together to develop solutions to the wicked problems of our time.

“Design is not something that only designers do,’ Irwin explained. “Societal transitions need to be intentional not accidental. The minute you bring intentionality into it, it becomes design. In that way, we are all designing all the time.”

To hear more about Transition Design, attend Irwin’s seminar, “Designing for Systems-Level Change” on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

TAKING THE LEED

Origninally posted in @theU on Oct. 23, 2017.

By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications

The University of Utah announces its first Athletics building to be LEED Gold certified. The Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility, home to both men’s and women’s basketball, is officially a leader in sustainable design and energy efficiency. This is the eighth building on campus to be certified Gold or higher, and represents a commitment to a sustainable future through design.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a building rating system created by the United States Green Building Council to evaluate quality and achievement based on: sustainable design; green practices during construction; and environmental performance over a year after construction is complete.

“We are thrilled that Athletics shares our vision to create a more sustainable campus,” said Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson. “They understand that our environments not only impact the ecosystems around us, but also the health and wellness of the student athletes and staff that occupy the facility every day.”

Sustainable building materials

The 102,000-square-foot facility was manufactured using over 23 percent of recycled materials and resources strategically selected from the Utah region to support local businesses and to reduce the environmental impacts associated with transportation. Over 12.5 percent of the total building materials include products that were manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of the site. During construction, the project diverted nearly 85 percent of the on-site generated construction waste away from landfills.

Eco-friendly site design

The design implements a stormwater management plan that results in a 25 percent decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from intense rain events. In addition, the hardscape and roof surfaces, including a rooftop terrace and garden, which offers a 360-degree view of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains, the university campus, downtown Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake, were designed to mitigate urban heat island — heat buildup around the facility — with lighter materials to in order to minimize the impacts of the reflected sun on surrounding wildlife habitats. The training facility is near U shuttle stops and UTA bus and TRAX routes. It also features on-site bicycle storage conveniently located near the campus bicycle masterplan’s desired routes.

Energy efficiency

The practice facility exceeds the LEED baseline energy performance rating by 38 percent thanks to numerous strategies to make the building more efficient. For example, all interior and exterior light fixtures are LED’s, the HVAC systems, building insulation and windows were selected to minimize energy waste. Exterior fixtures were positioned to minimize light pollution, improve nighttime visibility, and reduce impacts on surrounding environments. An Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) standard was also set so a system could monitor outdoor air delivery, increase ventilation, and enhance thermal comfort of occupants.

The U is also a proud member of the Green Sports Alliance. As a member, U Athletics programs commit to energy-efficient and sustainable practices for new buildings; prevent recyclable items from entering landfills after games; and other sustainable improvements. The U was the first in the state, either collegiate or professional, to join the alliance.

Project designer Jeremy Krug, senior associate at Populous, also worked on the Sorenson High Performance Center, a building adjacent to the basketball training facility. Together these buildings, connected to the Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Complex, serve 17 of the U’s sports programs and accommodate the needs of each program while serving as a model for what is possible in sustainable design.

“The Jon M. and Karen Basketball Facility was designed to integrate the University’s mission of sustainability as a core principle. The whole design team is honored to have worked with this great University to deliver a facility that aligns with those initiatives. It’s arguably one of the most high-impact facilities in the Pac-12. The building embodies athletic and academic excellence, and can now proudly add sustainability to that list,” said Krug.

CLEAN ENERGY FOR ALL

Originally posted in @theU on Oct. 10, 2017

By Liz Ivkovich, University of Utah Sustainability Office

Medical equipment that helps treat and cure hospital patients, big data computer servers critical to research, hundreds of classrooms lit and climate-controlled – carrying out the mission of University of Utah requires a lot of electricity.

Soon, 50 percent of that electricity will come from carbon-free solar and geothermal energy sources, reducing the university’s total carbon emissions by 25 percent. This means that the U will have the largest long-term green power contract of any U.S. university. With this project, the University of Utah rises to the top of universities in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Green Power Partnership Long-Term Contracts.

In 2008, the university joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, dedicating the campus to carbon neutrality by 2050. This is an aggressive goal that requires a multi-layered strategy, including this off-site power purchasing agreement, as well as energy efficiency measures and on-campus energy.

The agreement between the university, Cyrq Energy, a Utah company based in Salt Lake City, and Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables, will provide 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and 10 megawatts of solar energy to the university for the next 25 years.

“This project connects the university to a diverse array of energy resources that are important to the economic health of our state,” said U President David W. Pershing. “Both our Energy and Geoscience Institute and our Department of Geology and Geophysics are known for their work on geothermal resources. We are pleased to be part of a project that so closely aligns with our research strengths and allows the university to take a dramatic step forward on its climate commitment and toward improving air quality.”

The project began last summer when, as a result of partners in the Energy and Geoscience Institute, the university became aware of geothermal projects that were coming online. Geothermal power plants access energy from the earth through drilling water or steam wells to provide a steady resource with less fluctuation in energy production than an intermittent resource like solar or wind.

The university then engaged in a series of technical reviews of renewable energy options that might work for the university’s needs. Following these reviews, the planning team drafted a request for proposals calling for 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and up to 10 megawatts of complementary solar. The final proposal accepted was a joint proposal from Cyrq and Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

“Cyrq is honored to partner with Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Rocky Mountain Power and the U on this exceptional project, and we look forward to supporting the university’s renewable energy goals,” said Nick Goodman, Cyrq CEO.

In order to be finalized, the university must enter into an agreement with Rocky Mountain Power under Schedule 32 for the transmission of the renewable power along Rocky Mountain Power’s network. All agreements are subject to review by the Public Service Commission.

With this contract and the power generated by existing on-campus solar PV projects, the university’s annual green power purchase rises to 173,328,700 kilowatt hours (kWh). This is the largest long-term contract kWh for any university on the EPA’s list of Green Power Partnership Long-Term Contracts.

“This is a big move forward for the University of Utah, and we have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many terrific partners, including the Sustainability and Energy Management Team in Facilities.,” Wildermuth said. “Their hard work to improve our energy efficiency and systems is what made an arrangement like this possible. But we are not done. There is still more we can do to reduce our energy use, our air emissions and our carbon footprint.”

The university is committed to a multi-layered carbon-neutrality strategy, including energy efficiency measures and on-site energy creation like rooftop solar and solar parking canopies. A study is underway to determine what additional percentage of the university’s energy demand could be produced on campus and where those projects might be located. In addition to working on university emissions, the U has also helped to spur the local renewable energy market through U Community Solar, an innovative group purchasing program.

Carbon-neutrality by 2050? We’re one big step closer.