10 YEARS OF SUSTAINABILITY

Originally posted in @theU on Sept. 22, 2017.

By Amy Brunvand, Sustainability Librarian.

The University of Utah Sustainability Office turns 10 years old this year, and it is truly amazing to look around campus and realize how much has changed for the better in the past decade. Nowadays, there are campus vegetable gardens with ripe tomatoes and hives of buzzing bees, solar parking canopies that provide both power and shade, electric vehicles plugged into charging stations, crowds of students arriving on TRAX light-rail trains, tasty vegetarian and vegan options on offer at the cafeteria, water bottle refilling stations in most buildings, and plenty of recycling bins to divert waste from the landfill.

The curriculum has changed, too. Undergraduates can earn a number of sustainability-focused degrees and minors, while graduate students in any field can add an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability to their credentials.

Over the years, students, staff and faculty have all contributed to a vision of making the University of Utah a better place. In September, the Sustainability Office will celebrate these milestones and achievements with a Sustainability Showcase highlighting current programs and resources, and a special presentation by Dr. Vandana Shiva who advocates for traditional agriculture, and environmental and social justice issues worldwide.

Join us at the Sustainability Showcase on Friday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Marriott Library Plaza for food, live music and fun activities. Later this fall, Dr. Vandana Shiva will present a public lecture at Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Saturday, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m., as part of UtahPresents 2017-18 season. Tickets are available now.

1991-2006: Early Beginnings of Sustainability

Ten years ago, the transition to campus sustainability had barely begun, although a few major milestones laid the foundation. The first big sustainable change was a side effect of trying to cope with limited parking; in 1991, Commuter Services launched the Ed Pass program to give a UTA transit pass to every student and employee on campus. Not only did this encourage people to leave their cars at home, it helped expand Salt Lake City’s light rail network when enthusiastic transit riders from the U showed up at City Council meetings to press for construction of the Red Line TRAX, which opened in 2001.

In 1996, a biology professor named Fred Montague started an “unofficial” campus vegetable garden to teach students about his ideas for ecological gardening. That unofficial garden became the foundation of today’s Edible Campus Gardens, which teaches volunteers how to grow food, supports organic gardening curriculum and sells produce at the University of Utah Farmers Market. By 2006, the university had also constructed the Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Health Sciences Education Building, the first LEED-certified building which incorporated efficient use of energy and water, waste reduction and consideration of human health in the building’s design, construction, operations and maintenance.

These efforts were significant, but they weren’t yet part of a unified drive to implement sustainability on campus.

2007-2014: The Sustainability Office Forms

Divergent efforts began to coalesce in 2007, with the formation of the Sustainability Office (then called the Sustainability Resource Center), underneath Facilities Management.

Something like the Sustainability Office doesn’t happen without visionaries. The idea was originally proposed by students, but it was City & Metropolitan Planning faculty member Craig B. Forster who led the effort to make the idea work. Forster, who became the first director, was a natural fit with sustainability. He was interested in facilitating interdisciplinary research and bridging the gaps between science and public policy. He also had a talent for bringing people together and was deeply involved with the local community. In the summertime, he was often seen at the Pioneer Park farmers’ market playing cimbalom (a kind of hammered dulcimer) with his Hungarian Táncház band.

With only one full-time staff member and some volunteers, the Sustainability Office got to work organizing recycling at football games, installing the first solar panels on campus, setting up a campus farmers’ market, making sure that sustainability was included in the Campus Master Plan and developing a student fee to support student-led sustainability projects through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. On Earth Day 2008, University of Utah President Michael K. Young signed the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment, dedicating the university to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The year ended in tragedy, though, when Forster died in a hiking accident.

Despite the loss of Forster, the university persevered with a vision for making sustainability integral to its operations. In 2009, after a competitive nationwide search, architect and planner Myron Willson was appointed the next director of the office.

2014-2017: Sustainability is Integrated into Academic Affairs

In 2014, the Sustainability Office made another big change to adapt to the growing campus. Originally, the office was on the organizational chart under Facilities Management with the idea that university employees would take care of recycling, xeriscaping, transit passes and such.

But then an interesting thing happened. Students were getting more and more interested in sustainable change. They wanted to try out their ideas, and the campus was the most natural place for them to do so. With the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) now up and running, grants were available for student-led sustainability projects. The university had become a living laboratory for sustainable change, and sustainability-focused courses had popped up in academic departments all over campus. With so much involvement in interdisciplinary research and learning, the Sustainability Office moved into Academic Affairs, and Associate Vice President for Faculty and law professor Amy Wildermuth was named Chief Sustainability Officer in 2014. Wildermuth added Adrienne Cachelin, Environmental & Sustainability Studies faculty to the team as the director of sustainability education to guide burgeoning sustainability education efforts across campus.

Under Wildermuth, the Sustainability Office also joined forces with the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC), founded in 2010 by biology professor Jim Ehleringer to foster interdisciplinary sustainability research. Nowadays, under Director Brenda Bowen, Geology & Geophysics faculty, the 129 faculty affiliates of the GCSC represent nine colleges. The center supports graduate students through grants and fellowships, offers an interdisciplinary research seminar series, faculty networking opportunities, assistance for large interdisciplinary grants and core courses in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability curriculum.

Sustainability is You: The Next 10 Years

Today, the Sustainability Office team includes fourteen faculty and staff members as well as numerous student interns and volunteers and continues to expands its scope. Though much progress has been made, sustainability is an ongoing effort, and there is still a lot of work to do.

This year, the Sustainability Office celebrates 10 years of dedicated efforts of faculty, staff and students from across campus. The next 10 years of sustainability at the university will be guided by those in our community who get and remain involved. We invite you to be part of this important work. Join us at one of our fall events to learn about ways you can help make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.

Your Utah Your Future

Sustainability Office receives “Your Utah Your Future” award.

On May 31 at the State Capitol, the University of Utah Sustainability Office was honored to receive a Your Utah Your Future award from Envision Utah for our U Drive Electric program—a community discount program for electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles.

Envision Utah is a nonprofit community partnership that includes both public and private sectors, with the goal of maintaining a high quality of life for current and future generations of Utahns. Envision Utah recognized the combined success of two electric vehicle programs – U Drive Electric, which was managed by University of Utah in coordination with Salt Lake City, and Drive Electric Northern Utah with Utah State University and Weber State University. Both electric programs were administered by Utah Clean Energy with support from UCAIR.

“We are thrilled to be honored and to share this recognition with our great partners and all those who participated in the program,” said Amy Wildermuth, the university’s chief sustainability officer. “The university strives to serve as a model for what is possible in sustainability. Only 22% of the people who enrolled in U Drive Electric had planned to buy an electric vehicle. But what they saw and heard about electric vehicles inspired them. With over 200 zero to low emission vehicles now on the roads, we know that programs like these play an important role in our shared goal of improving our air quality and community.”

CERTIFY YOUR GREEN OFFICE

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

14 departments across the University of Utah are currently participating in the Sustainability Office’s Green Office Certification, with six already certified.

Green Office Certification helps the University achieve its sustainability goals through inviting broad participation. The program is managed by Karren Nichols, Administrative Officer in the Sustainability Office.

Karren Nichols reviewing office initiatives.

“Green Office Certification helps colleges and departments foster and adopt more sustainable practices within the workplace,” Nichols explained.

Any college or department on campus can participate in Green Office Certification. The process begins with a certification form. After completing the form, it is submitted to Nichols, at karren.nichols@utah.edu. Upon receipt of the form, Nichols coordinates a green-office specialist to walk through the space.

The benefit of having a specialist walk through your space is that they might notice something you overlooked on your form. The specialist can identify further cost or resource saving changes that can be made, as well as noticing what eco-friendly behavior may already be in place for the office.

“Sustainability has been growing over the last eight years on campus,” Nichols explained. “A lot of people are already engaging in eco-friendly behavior, and they just don’t realize that is what it is.”

Depending on the score, offices are awarded a bronze, silver, or gold certification. The green-office specialists works with each office to make sure they meet at least the bronze level. After initial certification, the specialists will continue to help offices until obtain gold.

Myron Willson, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer, and Karren Nichols presenting the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center their Gold certification.

The College of Humanities Dean’s Office and the Second Language Teaching & Research Center are certified bronze. City & Metropolitan Planning is certified silver. Gold certifications include the College of Architecture + Planning Dean’s Office, the Lowell Bennion Community Service Center, and the Office of Sponsored Projects.

By helping offices meet specific minimum requirements around, and related to, recycling, green purchasing practices, transportation, energy, and other common office activities, the program is also helping the University of Utah meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

“By shifting daily behaviors, we can work together to make a big impact on campus as well as in the community,” Nichols said.

By collectively leveraging our individual office habits, together we can become more sustainable.

Certify your office today.

CLEAN AIR FOR YOU

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt and Nate Bramhall, Sustainability Office. Originally posted on Jan. 23 2017.

Drive less to help clean the air. Mobile sources, including personal vehicles, are responsible for nearly half of the emissions that cause elevated PM 2.5 levels — emissions so small that they easily embed in our bodies, creating lung and heart issues. Walk, bike, take TRAX, carpool, ride buses and shuttles — do whatever you can to not drive alone to improve the quality of the air we breathe here in Salt Lake City.

Collectively, we can make a difference, so sign up for February’s 2nd Annual Clean Air for U: A TravelWise Challenge and log your non-single-occupant-vehicle trips. Consider this: Up to 65,000 people travel to the University of Utah during a given week when counting students, faculty and full- and part-time staff. By not driving alone, we can make a huge difference in our air quality. Plus, Clean Air for U participants are eligible for prizes, including memberships for GREENbike and Enterprise CarShare and day-use state park passes. Additionally, the top five individuals will dine with Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth and Senior Vice President Ruth Watkins. Learn more about the Clean Air for U Challenge and other air quality solutions at the U Clean Air Expo on Tuesday, Jan. 24 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Union Lobby near the services desk.

While we at the Sustainability Office think air quality is the most important reason to get out of your car, here are five more benefits:

  1. Skip the Slip ‘N Slide. Living among the mountains is breathtaking (when you can see the mountains), but it also means we occupy a hilly and potentially icy community. Why risk your own personal property? Hop on a UTA bus or TRAX, which you can ride for free with your UCard.
  2. Avoid road rage. Anyone who’s done the morning commute to the University of Utah knows that there’s nothing more infuriating than shuffling through stop-and-go traffic. We know road congestion causes elevated stress, but research also suggests it is negatively impacting your heart health. Spare yourself the drama: Ride UTA and enjoy your coffee.
  3. Save time by not digging out your car. Here’s something you never hear: “Hey, would you mind using this flimsy piece of plastic to clear all the ice and snow off this bus?” That’s because UTA takes care of its fleet, so even on snowy days, the buses are ice-free and warm when we board. UTA’s got your back when the icy mornings don’t.
  4. Make a bus or train buddy. It’s a familiar scene: You hop on the train, find an open seat, steal a glance upwards to find that everyone else is staring intently at their smartphone. Contrary to expectations, conversing with strangers on public transit actually affects your mood positively. So, curb the stuffy silence and strike up a friendly conversation with your neighbor.
  5. Keep your money. Because your UCard doubles as a UTA pass, it doesn’t cost you anything extra to take public transportation. Plus, athletics tickets also serve as fare when traveling to and from games, so use UTA to travel to sporting events with your family and friends.