A More Sustainable Responsible, Resilient Campus

Our Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson will be retiring in early July. As our sustainability leader for the past 10 years Myron has enabled us to make great strides toward a more ethical, resilient and inclusive campus, boosting our ability to be exemplary community members. He has allowed us to model what sustainability can and should look like, collaborating not only across campus but also with other universities, as well as our city, county and even state government. He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

Perhaps his most visible achievements on campus include developing a 50-percent renewable energy portfolio (a first in the country for a university of our size), a healthy revolving loan fund to support green initiatives and institutionalizing a place-based approach to energy efficiency. He has played an important role in greening athletics and advocating for air quality and climate solutions, and in the context of our community, he has engaged thousands of residents in renewable energy and more responsible transportation. While Myron has excelled in program and project development, his true legacy lies in mentorship and service.

The Sustainability Office will be hosting an open house to celebrate Myron’s legacy on June 18th. An invitation will be sent out to all newsletter recipients shortly. Please contact kate.whitbeck@utah.edu to be added to the invitation list.

Sustainability Programming:
Revolving Loan Fund
Working at the forefront of the sustainability movement can be challenging, taking both dogged persistence and patience to convince others to invest in new systems and practices. It was with unfaltering dedication that Myron was able to create a successful revolving loan fund on campus despite years of roadblocks. Once the revolving loan program was established, Myron worked behind the scenes to put processes and infrastructure in place to ensure successful programming. This grant fund is now a competitive program that has already invested a quarter million dollars in sustainable infrastructure. These projects currently return more than $25,000 a year in energy savings, which accounts for almost 20 percent of funding available for new sustainability projects.
 
Creating a Place-Based Standard For Efficiency in Campus Buildings
As a trained architect, Myron’s particular area of expertise in emissions relates to buildings and energy efficiency. Gathering colleagues from facilities, health sciences, administration, and housing, Myron initiated conversations about creating a standard more prescriptive and aggressive than LEED standards, while also attending to our specific geographical health-related concerns. At the time, the state required public buildings to achieve LEED silver. Myron advocated for the creation of a university-specific standard that would mandate inclusion of three key areas—air quality, water conservation and responsible transportation. While LEED silver required energy efficiency to be approximately 10 percent better than code, the U standard required 40 percent better than code. With intensive lobbying efforts and the support of local non-profit Utah Clean Energy, the standard was accepted for all new buildings on campus.
 
Sustainability in Athletics
With similar persistence and collaborative spirit, Myron initiated and led sustainability initiatives in partnership with our athletics department. He worked with senior administration to join the Green Sports Alliance, making the Pac-12 the first conference where all institutions were members. Recognized as an early leader of Pac-12 sustainability work, Myron was organizing ad hoc sustainability initiatives at sports events prior to joining the Alliance. He has always recognized that through sport, the U could mainstream a culture of sustainability. Dave Newport, director of the Environmental Center at CU-Boulder, described Myron as always bringing levity and an all-encompassing vision of sustainability to the earliest conversations between the conference’s institutions.
 
Air Quality Road Map
Air quality in the Salt Lake Valley is recognized as among the worst in the nation. As a result, Myron has worked tirelessly on campus, in the community and with state and local government to clear the air. He serves as a key member of the University’s Air Quality Task Force. He lobbied the head of Facilities and the vice president of Administrative Services to focus on commuter emissions, point source emissions and area sources within buildings and in exterior spaces (grounds equipment, emergency generators, construction-site and road dust, etc.) to contribute to healthier air in the valley. His efforts eventually won the support of Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety. Bringing together faculty, staff, students and representatives from city and state government, the task force was able to take a critical look at operations and create a road map for emissions reductions. At this point in time, over half of the tasks on that road map have been completed. From 2008-2011 alone, the University of Utah cut air emissions by over 69 tons per year. These reductions were achieved despite the addition of several hundreds of thousands of square feet of classroom, research, and clinical space. The university is currently conducting a feasibility study to eliminate future combustion on campus, a concept for which Myron has been consistently advocating.
 
Community Renewable Energy Programs
When new technology is introduced there is often a lag before it becomes accepted by consumers and before the price point reaches an accessible level. Myron initiated energy-related community programs in an effort to normalize and make accessible new renewable technologies that result in local impact. In the past, the focus had been to support off-site renewable energy production by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from wind energy to offset the carbon inventory. Myron orchestrated a partnership with Utah Clean Energy to offer solar systems at a discounted rate to community members with an option to donate their RECs to the university. This resulted in over 598 residents participating and generating more than 3 MW of energy. This program had a significantly greater economic impact than off-site purchases based on the fact that the 300 homes donating RECs will continue to generate clean energy for at least 25 years. They also have a greater impact on the local airshed by decreasing the demand for coal-fired electricity.

Similarly, the U Drive Electric and U Bike electric programs have made new technologies more accessible and helped normalize purchasing behavior. These programs put over 200 electric vehicles and 150 e-bikes on Utah’s roads.

Service and Mentorship
The impact of many programs and projects can be measured in metric tons of carbon offset, KW generated, or gallons conserved. Some impact is harder to quantify. This is especially true when we measure impact on individuals. Beyond the myriad of programs and projects that Myron has shepherded over the course of his 10 years at the university, it is the impact that he has had on individual faculty, staff, and students that will define his true legacy on campus. These contributions were only feasible given his vision for how sustainability could function at the University of Utah.
 
Under Myron’s leadership, the Sustainability Office grew from two full-time and one part-time position to 10 full-time staff and moved from Facilities to Academic Affairs. This move allowed for expanded and integrated functionality, working across education, curriculum, research and operations. The increased visibility, elevation of status and expansion of scope can all be traced to Myron’s vision and dedication and set the path for his most profound contributions.

One of the greatest gifts Myron has given to the University of Utah is the time he spent mentoring students and ensuring that their voices were heard. The most recent example is the support he provided to students this spring in developing a resolution to re-examine the university’s 2050 carbon neutrality commitment. He spent countless hours advising and providing feedback to help them craft an effective statement. The resolution passed the Academic Senate with unanimous support. In working with students, Myron is adept at providing feedback and support without imposing his views and opinions.

Myron’s willingness to give his time and energy, and work alongside the team regardless of the activity, is perhaps one of his most admirable characteristics. When he is not advocating for sustainability at the highest levels of the university’s administration, Myron can be seen weeding in the campus gardens, riding the RecyBikes to collect recyclables during tailgating events and directing traffic at the community e-waste collection event. He serves on countless boards and committees on and off campus to build relationships and support needed to make our campus and community more sustainable. Beyond the work and volunteer hours, Myron donates to Sustainability Office activities from every paycheck.

We are so grateful for the contributions Myron has made to the University of Utah, the local and regional community.   He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy with his dedication to making the university and the world a more sustainable, responsible, and resilient place.

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.

RECYCLE RIGHT

Originally posted on @theU on March 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

“You think you know…but you have no idea.”

Sure, this is the lead-in for a celebrity exposé series on MTV, but in reality, it’s probably the best line to describe the state of recycling. Recycling isn’t a particularly new concept, even in the United States—Depression-era families couldn’t afford to throw things away and wartime conservation pushed for reduce, reuse, recycle before it was a “thing.” But the system we know today came out of the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Chances are, the majority of people who recycle have been doing it wrong for decades. Recycling bins have long been the receptacle of hope—“aspirational recyclers” toss everything in the bin because they want it to be recyclable. That’s not how it works. Now, with China and other countries banning the import of a number of waste materials, including post-consumer plastic and mixed paper, as well as reducing the contamination threshold for other materials, learning to recycle right is more important than ever.

In January, the Sustainability Office, in partnership with Athletics and Stadium & Arena Event Services, launched the “Recycle Right” campaign at the Huntsman Center. We installed recycling and trash bins that follow best practices in waste management and added eye-catching posters designed to remind people to think before they throw. Then, on March 2, we decided to test how well the bins were working as part of the Pac-12 Team Green push to promote sustainability in conference sports facilities. After the gymnastics meet (in which our Red Rocksachieved a season-best score and beat Michigan!), employees and students in Sustainability and Facilities opened up the bins.

LANDFILL: Drink cups, lids, straws, condiment packets, chip bags, popcorn containers, food containers, food wrap, hotdog wraps, plastic cutlery, Styrofoam, napkins, paper towels, excess food and liquids. RECYCLING: Soda and water bottles, aluminum cans, candy cardboard boxes, paper drink trays, souvenir cups, clean food containers. No food or liquid.

 

We found recyclables—cans, plastics, perfect “10” signs—but we also found a lot of contaminants, aka trash. Contamination has long been a concern in single-stream recycling, where all recyclable materials go in one bin. The U uses single-stream recycling in the Huntsman Center to make recycling easier for fans and to reduce bin space. For the recycling bins on March 2, half the material by weight, was in the wrong bin. (By volume, an alternate way to measure, 40 percent was trash.)

We know people want to do the right thing, so we’re here to help you do the right thing right. Here are the top five contaminants we saw in the Huntsman bins:

  1. “Paper” soft drink cups
    Just like “paper” coffee cups, soft drink cups from concessions should go in the trash. While the outside of the cup is paper, the inside is a thin layer of plastic, which is what makes it able to hold liquid. It’s next to impossible to split the materials, so multi-layered cups go to the landfill.
  2. Liquid
    No liquid should go on the recycling side. So, if you have a soda bottle that is half empty that you want to recycle, empty the liquid first and then place the plastic bottle in the recycling bin. Same goes for water.
  3. Food
    Food is particularly problematic when all recycling is placed together. Large amounts of recyclable paper ended up in the trash because of food, syrup from ice cream and liquids. How clean should a container be before it goes in the recycling bin? Its contents shouldn’t spread to other materials. Also, popcorn isn’t recyclable.
  4. Food containers
    Paper popcorn bins should go in the trash, because like the cups, they are lined with plastic. Additionally, the red-checkered boat and paper need to go to the trash can.
  5. Napkins
    Yes, they are paper, but they can’t be recycled. Napkins are often soiled with food or human by-products (eww), plus the paper is such low quality that it doesn’t get recycled even when unused.

By eliminating these items from recycling bins, we can significantly reduce contamination and improve our recycling totals. It takes a community, and luckily, we’ve got a good one.

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bottle

Recycling is good, but reducing our waste generation in the first place should be the priority. The three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—are actually a hierarchy, with recycle being the last option. Fans can reduce their waste by bringing their own water bottles. From the Stadium & Arena Event Services A-Z Fan Guide:

One factory-sealed bottle of water per person (1 liter or less), is permitted in the stadium and arena. Bottled water may not be frozen. In an effort to be sustainable, empty, clear, plastic water bottles will be permitted. Bottle-filling stations can be found throughout the concourses at Rice-Eccles and the Huntsman Center.

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:

HUMANS OF THE U: LISA MCMURTREY

Originally posted on @theU on Feb. 22, 2019.

“I started taking public transit around the time of the Olympics—so since 2002. It’s a 60-minute commute and then I have a five-minute walk to the Burn Center at University of Utah Hospital.

I care about the environment. I want to be a better steward of what we have been given. I started taking public transit because I wanted to do my part and save money on gasoline. I personally don’t like to drive. I enjoy being chauffeured and taking public transit can be relaxing and is cost effective. I don’t have to deal with traffic, inclement weather or other transportation difficulties.

I encourage people to use public transportation, knowing that it does take a certain mindset. If you can find a route that is fairly efficient and you’re using the time effectively, then it can work for anyone. I’m fortunate because it does work for me. I probably only drive to work two-to-three times a year. I don’t even have a parking pass.

I work sometimes on my commute, but in actuality, I use that time for self-care. I’m reading, listening to music, podcasts, a meditation app, taking a nap or just clearing my head during that time.

I think the type of work that I do requires self-care, but in general, I like to build in a balance of work and relaxation into my daily life. Using public transportation helps me achieve that balance.”

—Lisa McMurtrey, Clinical Nurse Coordinator, University of Utah Hospital Burn Outpatient Clinic

COMMIT TO BETTER AIR YEAR-ROUND

Originally posted on @theU on February 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

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

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

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

Use your commute to stay in shape

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

Make use of your UCard transit pass

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

Ride Campus Shuttles

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

Drive smarter

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

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

THE U’S IMPACT ON AIR QUALITY

Orginally posted on @theU on February 19, 2019.

By Myron Willson, Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainability Leadership Awards Honor Campus Leaders

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

Each year, the Global Change & Sustainability Center’s Environment and Sustainability Research Symposium provides an opportunity for students to share their interdisciplinary research with the U community. On February 13, the Union ballroom was abuzz with the sounds of 71 graduate and undergraduate students from 14 departments and 7 colleges presenting research posters showcasing an array of topics ranging from climate change to human behavior to the built environment. 

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

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

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

The 2019 award recipients are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SHEDDING LIGHT

How the project benefited the library

Then: Lights in the Special Collections area were typically on 10-13 hours per day

Now: Lights now are only activated when there is activity and only in the area where that activity is occurring

Then: A compact fluorescent bulb is 54 watts, lasts about 10,000 hours and produces heat

Now: An LED bulb is 25 watts, lasts about 50,000 hours and doesn’t produce heat.

Originally posted on @theU on November 26, 2018.

By Brooke Adams, senior news writer, University of Utah Communications

Paper and photographs can’t take the heat. Or the light.

Both elements cause historic, fragile documents to breakdown over time, much to the dismay of curators of the Special Collections at the Marriott Library.

Enter a trio of students — Sierra Govett, Dillon Seglem and Yinhuan Huang — in search of a project for Jennifer J. Follstad Shah’s environmental and sustainability studies capstone class last spring.

Govett initially proposed they tackle excessive light use across campus, especially at times when buildings are unoccupied.

“A lot of buildings on campus have lights on more than they should and we wanted to find some place we could address lighting at a large enough scale to make a difference, said Govett.

But the students abandoned that idea after realizing vast differences in lighting systems from floor-to-floor and building-to-building would make a standardized solution impossible.

Bill Leach, sustainability project coordinator for Facilities Management, suggested the students instead look at what might be done to address lighting concerns in the Marriott Library. Ian Godfrey, director of library facilities, was “not only excited about the prospect of a lighting controls project, but had an area in mind,” Leach said.

That area? Special Collections.

Leach, Godfrey and Emerson Andrews, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) coordinator, helped the students conduct an audit of the space, come up with a plan and develop a budget.

Light and heat take a toll on fragile documents in the Marriott Library’s Special Collections area. PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

Their idea: install a new lighting system with LED bulbs that are motion and daylight sensitive. Lights above each row activate only when someone moves into the area and there is insufficient daylight.

“To take light off these resources is a huge benefit for us,” Godfrey said. “Everything in here is rare and unique. Paper is always in a state of degradation. Anytime you are lowering the temperature and reducing the heat, you are slowing the deterioration process.”

The students applied for and received a SCIF revolving loan of $40,000, which paid for installation of a new lighting system over the summer. The loan fund is specifically used for energy and money saving ideas proposed by students, faculty and staff for energy conservation, renewable energy production and water conservation projects. A Rocky Mountain Power wattsmart incentive grant helped off-set some of the project’s cost.

The library will repay the loan over 13 years, using money from utility cost savings. But the impact — both monetary and in preservation of its collections — will be ongoing.

“I am thrilled that this project, initiated by these three students in my capstone class, is coming to fruition and will help to reduce the campus carbon footprint while preserving library resources,” said Follstad Shah, an assistant professor in environmental and sustainability studies and research assistant professor in geography.

The SCIF revolving loan fund used in the project is available to all students, faculty and staff who have an idea for saving energy and money. It has paid for other energy projects, such as solar panels and heating system upgrades, but this is the first lighting project, said Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer.

“We were pretty excited to do something that made such a difference,” said Govett, who graduated last spring with degrees in environmental studies and ballet.

Govett and Seglem toured the retrofitted space for the first time in mid-November.

“It’s really cool to come in here and see it working with the motion sensors and all,” said Seglem, a senior majoring in environmental studies.