Building a sustainable food culture on campus

by Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

Nearly half of the earth’s usable land is designated for human agriculture which means food consumption significantly impacts our planet. According to a comprehensive study published in Science last year, our current relationship to consuming and producing food is not sustainable for the health of the land, water, or global climate. The current food supply chain is responsible for 26% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention other direct impacts to the natural ecosystems of our earth, its water systems, and its wildlife. The study suggests that moving to a non-animal diet could reduce land use by 76% and greenhouse gas emissions by 49%. The study also notes that the United States consumes meat at three times the global average, making our impacts and potential for affecting change even greater as food consumers with choices. But as a study published this year points out, not all consumers impact the environment equally, suggesting that broad shifts in food consumption will also have to include an understanding of the socioecological barriers some face in improving our cuisine consequences on the climate. In any case, all data points to a need for significant changes to our food systems.

Fortunately, there are multiple opportunities to get involved with shifting to a more sustainable food culture on campus. One example is the Hydroponics Club which officially formed last year as a spin-off of Engineers Without Borders. The club’s president, Ian Lavin, is an engineering student who is passionate about growing fresh produce in new and innovative ways. The club is currently utilizing two hydroponic systems, a deep-water system and a Dutch bucket system, to grow leafy greens and tomatoes, each system lending different benefits for different plants. The water use of the systems is relatively low (10-15 gallons per 5-week growing cycle, in comparison modern toilets require about 1.6 gallons per flush), no land is required to grow the produce, and because the growing environment is controlled (indoors) there are no pesticides required and the production is more dependable. According to Lavin, food in a hydroponic system also grows 25-30% faster than conventional growing methods. Hydroponic growing systems have great potential for addressing some of the world’s food production problems. “By staggering the growing cycles, you can achieve a steady stream of fresh produce year-round,” he says. In addition to exploring hydroponics as a sustainable food production method, the club also recognizes the lack of access to fresh, nutritious foods that some populations face and chooses to donate much of the produce grown to the food pantry on campus.

Last year, the Hydroponics Club applied for a SCIF grant and a space in the Lassonde building to build four hydroponic drip walls that utilize vertical space to grow greens, called the Aqua Project. The first wall will be finished by October and installed in the Lassonde lobby in the coming months. If you’re interested in joining, Lavin says anyone with a passion for produce or growing systems is welcome.

The Hydroponics Club isn’t the only option to engage with sustainable food systems on campus, the Sustainability Office works closely with 5 other food clubs that are building a new food culture in our community:

Edible Campus Gardens
Click the link above to be added to the weekly newsletter detailing upcoming events and volunteer activities.

Slow Food U of U
The Slow Food Student Chapter addresses issues of food justice, access, local food systems and more. E-mail Slowfoodatuofu@gmail.com to request to be added to their e-mail list.

Real Food Challenge
The Real Food Challenge student group works with University Dining Services and administration to build relationships with local producers and shift our institution’s food purchases toward more real food. Fill out a Volunteer Interest Form through the Bennion Center.

Food Recovery Network
The Food Recovery Network is the largest student movement fighting food waste and hunger in America. Click the link above to see how you can get involved with the U’s chapter.

Feed U Pantry
The University of Utah’s food pantry aims to minimize hunger among students, their families, and faculty and staff by providing free, accessible, and nutritious food. Click here to fill out a volunteer form.

Hydroponics Club
E-mail uofuhydroponics@gmail.com to get involved.

When Green isn’t Green

Kate Whitbeck, communications manager, Sustainability Office
Wes Mangum, communications specialist, Facilities

Our landscape has slowly been changing around us. Those who have been on campus for more than 10 years remember when much of it was a vast expanse of lush green turf. As awareness of water conservation became more prevalent, the University of Utah began slowly adapting the landscaping.

Since then, the university’s Landscape Maintenance team has primarily focused on turfgrass replacement, water-wise landscape design and modern irrigation systems. By using “Slow the Flow” guidelines designed by our state water conservation experts, following the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED standards for planting and expanding the use of well water for irrigation, the team has created a dramatic transformation saving the university millions of gallons of water and hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. In 2018 alone, 3,093 centum cubic feet of water (CCF), which equals 2.3 million gallons, were conserved through the efforts of the landscaping team.

So, why do we still have so much turf on campus? Unfortunately, this isn’t a process that can happen overnight both due to the enormous scope of the project and budgetary constraints. The university covers over 1,500 acres and manages 1,000 acres while about 439 acres have been set aside to remain in their wild state under the Heritage Preserve Program. Each year, the landscaping team reduces the amount of turf on campus and replaces it with water-wise landscaping. Where that happens is often a result of where the opportunity presents itself. The ideal opportunity to remove turf is often when a new building is erected or a large-scale remodel is occurring.  In 2018, 12 acres of turf were removed.

While replacing turf with water-wise landscaping is immediately noticeable, a lot of water conservation related to landscaping happens behind the scenes. The irrigation team is completing a substantial upgrade to the central irrigation systems that involves installing equipment that improves the U’s ability to manage irrigation, fine-tune water delivery and report outcomes. This project will conserve roughly 117,000 CCF (87.5 million gallons) water per year and provide better data for researchers. Because of the vast amount of water conserved through this project the return on investment is under four years.  The project was jointly funded through the Sustainable Energy Fund ($150K) and Facilities’ Sustainability & Energy Program ($400K).

What is significant about this new system is that it allows each zone to be calibrated by the water delivery technology and associated flow rate, from the giant, high-flow spray nozzles used on big turf areas to slow drip used for xeriscape. Lisa McCarrel, the current landscape supervisor is responsible for overseeing the irrigation upgrade.

“The ability to monitor water used for irrigation purposes at the level that this equipment and program gives us is remarkable. It allows each irrigator or horticulturist access to the program to make changes based on root zones, soil type, slope and other landscape data while in the field,” said McCarrel. “The system provides reports indicating water flow issues, which are received each morning. It provides information that helps the technician determine which problem should be addressed first, based on water loss or possible plant material loss. The calculated water cost savings could reach $10 million in seven to 10 years. In addition to water savings, the reporting will result in a significant reduction in labor and maintenance costs.”

The irrigation overhaul and changes in planting practices are producing good results. When looking at the five-year average for total water usage (both irrigation and culinary) on campus, the numbers indicate that water efficiency has outpaced growth. Water use intensity (CCF/sq. ft) is continuing to trend down. This is a direct result of water-efficient appliances, well-managed central plants and growing utilization of well water (secondary water) for irrigation.

And yes, we have all walked by that rogue sprinkler that is going off in the hottest part of the day or leaking all over the sidewalk. Our landscaping teams get stretched thin at the height of the irrigation season, and they need our help to let them know when something is malfunctioning or broken. Any malfunctioning irrigation issues can be reported by tweeting @UofUFM or calling 801 581-7221.

As climate change alters our weather patterns and our summers become longer and hotter, we will all have to be ever more diligent about water conservation. We are grateful that the landscaping team is doing their part to adapt our landscape to the changing conditions providing a model for us all.

This article was featured in @theu July 26, 2019

Humans of the U: Myron Willson

Janelle Hanson, managing editor, University of Utah Communications June 14, 2019

“I’m retiring as the deputy chief sustainability officer after being on campus for 10 years. I’ve seen a lot of change over the past decade. There’s a lot more support for sustainability efforts across campus.

In my former career as an architect and planner—plus trained in California in the 70s—the environment was always a component of my work. Realizing that the people in the buildings had far more of an impact over the building’s life than the building itself, I started getting interested in human behavior, which turned to looking at how those people got to the building and their commute patterns.

I was also an adjunct in the College of Architecture teaching design. I started volunteering and helped a student who wanted to add LEED requirements to all university buildings. And then I ended up leaving architecture to be more involved in the broader picture for campus.

In my mind sustainability is the poster child for One U. It cuts across all aspects of the university—from health care to Research Park and Commuter Services to Student Affairs. One thing I’ve really enjoyed being a part of was helping to rework the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, which had some barriers. It took us four or five years working with administration on a structure that would make it a truly revolving loan fund. Now, it’s approaching $500,000 to be invested in sustainability efforts and will continue to grow long after we’re all gone.

Sustainability is a collaborative effort. I’ve loved working with people to create solutions. There is a need and always a place for everybody at the table to get involved because some of our poor and more vulnerable communities are the ones most impacted by the decisions that the rest of us make.

After retirement, I’m going to travel a bit, but I will still be involved locally with sustainability efforts through a nonprofit called Heal Utah and get more involved with pedestrian and bicycle safety.”

—Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer, Sustainability Office

Campus is abuzz with innovation

Imagine a smoldering late-August day on campus. The pavement radiates heat and you struggle to find a place to take cover from the sun. The walk from the Union to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts seems unbearable and you wonder what will come first: The museum doors or your body in a puddle on the walkway. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see an oasis: a tree, shrubs, greenery. The space is alive with color and movement. And behold—a rock to sit on. You take the scene in.

It does not take long for you to realize that you are not the only creature taking refuge in this assemblage of habitats. Bees buzz around you, busy transferring pollen from flower to flower. Birds and insects swoop in and out. There are even a few other humans enjoying the space.  A growing community of plants, pollinators and Utahns.

This unique space is the result of an innovative student-led project funded through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF). SCIF is the university’s green grants program managed by the Sustainability Office that provides an opportunity for students, faculty and staff from all disciplines and departments to propose projects that enhance the sustainability of our campus and community. The College of Architecture + Planning and Facilities Management also contributed funds to the $11,850 project.

In spring 2018, a joint team of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students from multiple departments on campus including planning, engineering and biology submitted a proposal to replace turf adjacent to the architecture building with green infrastructure and a pollinator garden. There had been flooding issues in heavy rainstorms as runoff came off the sidewalk, down the slope and into the basement level of the architecture building. So, the team proposed constructing a form of stormwater green infrastructure called a bioswale to better manage this runoff. Green infrastructure is an approach to stormwater management that imitates the natural water system on the landscape; it captures runoff from impervious surfaces like roads and rooftops and directs it into the ground where it is filtered by soil and plant roots that take up some of the water and pollutants. Under the surface of the garden now is an 8-foot-deep trench filled with sand that allows water to soak quickly into the ground while filtering pollutants. On the surface is a rock-lined swale that slows the flow of water and directs it into the ground and away from the building.

In addition to mitigating flooding and improving water quality, a primary goal of this project was to transform the irrigation-intensive turf grass lawn in front of the architecture building into an ecologically and socially functional and attractive outdoor space by reducing water use, increasing biodiversity, creating habitat for wild pollinators and a beautiful retreat for humans. Water-wise native plants reduce irrigation needs while still providing benefit to humans and other species alike. This type of landscaping helps the university meet its goals of achieving water neutrality by 2020 and reducing stormwater runoff by 75% in the next 10 years.

A central component of the garden is its role in attracting and supporting a wide diversity of pollinators. Pollinators play a critical role in our ecosystem. They are an important part of plant reproduction with over 80% of flowering plants requiring a pollinator. This has direct impacts both on natural ecosystems and on agricultural production. One-third of all the food we eat, including some of the most delicious and healthy items like most fruits, nuts and vegetables, are the result of successful pollination. Unsurprisingly, pollinators are also responsible for the reproduction of many plants that provide food and habitat for wildlife. Yet, pollinator populations are in rapid decline as a result of multiple factors–especially habitat destruction. This garden counters that trend by providing a habitat haven for these important ecosystem players. Bees are the most common pollinator, and Utah is home to over 1500 native species.

The garden will also attract the three hummingbird species that commonly live in or migrate through Utah: broad-tailed, black-chinned and rufous hummingbirds. As a result, garden visitors will be able to partake in the enriching and connective experience of hummingbird viewing.

Together, the Green Infrastructure and Pollinator Garden will be a step toward the university’s master plan vision of smart open space, intelligent landscaping and water neutrality. It also provides a point of reference and education for students to see how sustainable systems like this work, it will serve as a living lab helping students convert sustainability principles learned in class into practice.

In honor of Pollinator Week (June 17-23), treat yourself to a walk in the Green Infrastructure and Pollinator Garden to relax, unwind and appreciate the buzzing life around you.


This article was originally published in @theu. The content was condensed from the original SCIF proposal submitted by: Sarah Hinners, Faculty (City + Metropolitan Planning), Amy Sibul, Faculty (Biology), Quaid Harding (Undergraduate Biology), Nick Kiahtipes (Undergraduate Urban Ecology), Amanda Dillon (Masters City + Metropolitan Planning, Real Estate Development), Nannette Larsen (Masters City + Metropolitan Planning), Debolina Banerjee (PhD Candidate City + Metropolitan Planning), Sue Pope (Campus Facilities) and Mason Kriedler (PhD Civil + Environmental Engineering).

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.

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.

SAVING BIRDS

Funded by SCIF

The Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund, created through an ASUU initiative in 2008, collects about $180,000 yearly from a $2.50 per student fee. Since 2009, it has awarded more than $900,000 to projects aimed at enhancing sustainability on the U campus.

The fund receives about 30 to 45 proposals each year and approves grants for 20 to 25 requests, which typically range from $200 to $40,000, according to Emerson Andrews, SCIF coordinator.

Projects funded have included the edible campus gardens, a beekeeping initiative, installation of screech owl habitat boxes, Bike to the U Day, several solar energy initiatives, and the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. Learn more by clicking here.

Originally posted on @theU on November 19, 2018

By Brooke Adams, senior writer, University of Utah Communications

Last November Professor Barbara Brown and some colleagues were in the middle of interviewing a candidate for a position in the Department of Family & Consumer Studies when there was a smack on the window — a noise so loud and violent it startled and instantly silenced the candidate.

A bird in full flight had flown into the second-story window on the northeast side of the Alfred Emory Building.

Forty minutes later, interview over, Brown ventured outside and there on the ground was the still-stunned bird — a Cedar Waxwing.

Years earlier she had found a dead Bohemian Waxwing near the building, but thought it was an isolated incident. But now, as Brown surveyed the area, she found seven more carcasses under the mirrored glass entryway that perfectly reflects the sky and trees on Presidents Circle.

“It was discouraging to realize I may have been working here for years and not known I needed to take action to prevent these bird strikes,” said Brown, an environmental psychologist who studies links between physical environments and human behavior. She considers herself a “sort of birder” but Cedar Waxwings “have always been one of my favorite birds. They are the finest, cutest birds you’ve ever seen.”

Between November 2017 and March 2018, Brown counted a total of 20 dead birds near her building; most were Cedar Waxwings.

“The birds think they are flying right into an open area, smack the mirrored glass and die,” said Brown, who deduced that the birds are attracted to the fruiting crabapples on the lawn at Presidents Circle.

Brown enlisted three students to work on the project: Angelo Antonopoulos, a senior from Greece majoring in environmental and sustainability studies; Sarah Siddoway, a senior from Farmington majoring in biology; and Erika Kusakabe, a senior from West Jordan also majoring in environmental and sustainability studies.

Left to right: Angelo Antonopoulos, Erika Kusakabe, Sarah Siddoway and Barbara Brown. PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

The team also connected with Sarah Bush, an associate professor of biology who is collecting the bird carcasses to use in a parasite research project, and Lisa Thompson, exhibit developer and interpretive planner at the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU). Some birds, if in good structural condition, may also be prepared to use as museum specimens.

The team researched Cedar Waxwings; bird deaths; bird strikes and contributing building design factors; bird migration patterns; and mitigation measures.

They concluded that the 20 dead birds at AEB appeared significant. In comparison, the 2017 Salt Lake Avian Collision Survey of downtown Salt Lake City found only 44 dead birds in a 20-block area. In addition, the birds found downtown represented a variety of species.

They also determined that unique features of the northeast end of AEB — tunnel-like openings to multiple reflective windows that make it appear to be a passageway — were contributing to the problem.

The only way to deal with this “hotspot of death” was to mitigate the danger by somehow altering the windows, the team concluded.

The best solution was something called “Feather Friendly Bird Deterrent” — a film that is placed on windows and then removed, leaving behind little dots even spaced over the surface. Birds see the dots and recognize an obstacle, while people are still able to see through the window.

“The problem is that the site is three stories tall and to get to the upper windows you need a lift or scaffolding, which is expensive,” she said. The team learned the cost of doing all the north-end windows would be about $27,000.

The concrete structure and mirrored glass at the northeast entrance to the Alfred Emery Building make it appear to be a passageway. PHOTO CREDIT: University of Utah

Doing something, they decided, was better than nothing, so in September they applied for a $10,000 SCIF grant from the U’s Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) — enough money to cover a third of the windows.

“Our goals are to mitigate an existing hotspot of bird deaths from window strikes, to evaluate the effectiveness of the mitigation, and to develop a citizen science outreach component to raise awareness and identify whether other hotspots exist,” the team wrote in its grant proposal. “In this way, we are consistent with the SCIF mission statement that funds projects that ‘reduce the University of Utah’s negative impact on the environment.’”

The AEB Bird Strike Mitigation proposal received approval in October. Last week, Blake Parrish of Scottish Window Tinting installed the protective coating on a section of reflective windows.

The fact that funding allowed only a portion of the windows to be covered has created a controlled research design to test the effectiveness of the film. If additional dead birds are found, the team will be able to determine which section they struck.

The team’s grant proposal also included an educational outreach component aimed at raising awareness of the diversity of birds on campus and cataloguing other hot spots in need of mitigation.

“We hope that students start to appreciate the connections between bird life and campus life and realize it’s not like birds are ‘over there somewhere’ but that birds are all around us,” Brown said.

Siddoway worked with the NHMU’s Thompson to develop the “University of Utah Bird Window Collision Project,” a site on iNaturalist that encourages citizen engagement in science. People can upload photos of dead birds and information about the site and circumstances where the bird was found. Posters around campus advertise and encourage participation in the project.

“I am really interested in conservation,” Siddoway said. “I graduate in December and want to pursue a career in conservation and research, so this seemed up my alley. We had ups and downs and there were points we didn’t know if we would get any bird mitigation windows, but I am glad we got at least part of them.

“It is amazing, actually, that things are happening,” she said.

Bird friendly buildings

Several other buildings at the U — the S.J. Quinney College of Law and Gardner Commons — have bird-friendly windows; the features are primarily intended to reduce heat, but that also deter bird strikes. Feather Friendly films such as that used in this project are a good option for older buildings.

If you’d like to contribute to or track the University of Utah Bird Window Collision Project, click here or email the team at UUbirdstrike@gmail.com. You also can text your sightings and photos to 385-200-0813.

WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE CAN HURT YOU

 

 

Originally published on @theU on October 15, 2018.
 
By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, College of Engineering
 

What if you could see nasty microscopic air pollutants in your home?

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering

PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering
University of Utah School of Computing assistant professor Jason Wiese (left) and computing doctoral student Jimmy Moore conducted a study to determine if homeowners change the way they live if they could visualize the air quality in their house. They provided participants with air pollution sensors, a Google Home speaker and a tablet to measure and chart the air quality in their homes.

Engineers from the University of Utah’s School of Computing conducted a study to determine if homeowners change the way they live if they could visualize the air quality in their house. It turns out, their behavior changes a lot.

Their study was published this month in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. The paper was also presented Oct. 9 in Singapore during the “ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing.” The paper can be viewed and downloaded here.

“The idea behind this study was to help people understand something about this invisible air quality in their home,” says University of Utah School of Computing assistant professor Jason Wiese, who was a lead author of the paper along with U School of Computing doctoral student Jimmy Moore and School of Computing associate professor Miriah Meyer.

During the day, the air pollution inside your home can be worse than outside due to activities such as vacuuming, cooking, dusting or running the clothes dryer. The results can cause health problems, especially for the young and elderly with asthma.

University of Utah engineers from both the School of Computing and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering built a series of portable air quality monitors with Wi-Fi and connected them to a university server. Three sensors were placed in each of six homes in Salt Lake and Utah counties from four to 11 months in 2017 and 2018. Two were placed in different, high-traffic areas of the house such as the kitchen or a bedroom and one outside on or near the porch. Each minute, each sensor automatically measured the air for PM 2.5 (a measurement of tiny particles or droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in width) and sent the data to the server. The data could then be viewed by the homeowner on an Amazon tablet that displayed the air pollution measurements in each room as a line graph over a 24-hour period. Participants in the study could see up to 30 days of air pollution data. To help identify when there might be spikes in the air pollution, homeowners were given a voice-activated Google Home speaker so they could tell the server to label a particular moment in time when the air quality was being measured, such as when a person was cooking or vacuuming. Participants also were sent an SMS text message warning them whenever the indoor air quality changed rapidly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Wiese
Participants were given an Amazon table that displayed the air pollution data in an easy-to-understand line chart so they could see when and why the air quality worsened. Homeowners also could label points in time when the pollution would spike, such as when they were cooking or vacuuming.

During the study, researchers discovered some interesting trends from their system of sensors, which they called MAAV (Measure Air quality, Annotate data streams and Visualize real-time PM2.5 levels). One homeowner discovered that the air pollution in her home spiked when she cooked with olive oil. So that motivated her to find other oils that produced less smoke at the same cooking temperature.

Another homeowner would vacuum and clean the house just before a friend with allergies dropped by, to try to clean the air of dust. But what she found out through the MAAV system is that she actually made the air much worse because she kicked up more pollutants with her vacuuming and dusting. Realizing this, she started cleaning the house much earlier before the friend would visit.

Participants would open windows more when the air was bad or compare measurements between rooms and avoid those rooms with more pollution.

“Without this kind of system, you have no idea about how bad the air is in your home,” Wiese says. “There are a whole range of things you can’t see and can’t detect. That means you have to collect the data with the sensor and show it to the individual in an accessible, useful way.”

Researchers also learned that circumstances that made the air pollution worse differed in each home. Vacuuming in the home, for example, would have different effects on the air quality. They also learned that if homeowners could visualize the air quality in their home, they always stayed on top of labeling and looking at the data.

Wiese says no known manufacturers make air quality systems for the home that allow residents to visualize and label the air quality in this way, but he hopes their research can spur more innovation.

The study involved engineering in collaboration with other University of Utah scientists, including biomedical informatics and clinical asthma researchers. It was funded as part of a larger National Institutes of Health program known as Pediatric Research using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS), launched in 2015 to develop sensor-based health monitoring systems for measuring environmental, physiological and behavioral factors in pediatric studies of asthma and other chronic diseases.

Research reported in this publication was funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54EB021973. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

 

 

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.

Another Year in SCIF

Another Year in SCIF

By: Emerson Andrews, SCIF Coordinator.

One more academic year has passed us by, and as people get ready for their summer adventures, now is a good time to reflect on some of the wonderful work that students did this year through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF). Since the creation of SCIF, the money available for projects has never been fully spent, however, 2017-18 marks a big change as all SCIF funding for this year was allocated to some awesome projects.

The following three projects are a small cross section of all the wonderful work that has happened through student energy and SCIF support this year. For detailed information about all SCIF projects, please stay tuned for the 2017-2018 SCIF Annual Report, which summarizes every project that was funded.

Burned Out – $262.14

  • This grant funded the construction of an interactive sculpture installation that lit up when viewers interacted with it on the second floor of the Marriott Library. This sculpture encouraged people to discuss energy usage, indirectly bringing awareness to carbon dioxide emissions created by power plants which generate electricity by burning fossil fuels. The piece consisted of black structures – evoking industrial facilities – and had handles placed at varying points, which viewers were encouraged to touch. Cranking the handle hard enough caused a certain portion of the sculpture to light up. All four handles must be turned by different people at the same time in order to see the entire piece light up. This piece encouraged people to engage with energy production, and both physically and mentally reflect our current global crisis.

Food Recovery Network Operations Coordinator – $4,953.05  

  • This grant funded the pay and equipment necessary for a Food Recovery Network Coordinator. The coordinator recorded food waste data and gave it to Dining Services so that Dining Services could adjust their production scheduling and eliminate unnecessary waste at pre-production. This data included up-to-date records of inventory and preferred foods for delivery based on student/client preference and acquisition. Additionally, this process provided a larger variety of foods while giving students and clients healthier alternatives to existing dry and canned food options. All of these objectives helped to reduce the amount of edible food waste in the university’s waste stream; recorded hard data with respect to specific aspects of the campus food systems, and provided hungry students with healthy food options.

Sustainable Tech for Design Build Bluff – $35,535.00

  • This grant funded the purchase and acquisition of appropriate sustainable technologies to be used on the Bluff Campus. These technologies increased energy and operations efficiency, specifically through the use of a solar PV array – arrangement of solar panels – on an existing building, and an earth block press and non-toxic insulation machine for future university building projects on the Bluff campus and throughout the region. These are all demonstrable technologies in an area that is a confluence of students and locals — both who could benefit from exposure to, and training in, the workings of these technologies. In addition to their practical applications on a regional scale, these operational improvements bring sustainable outcomes to a U of U remote campus.

These three projects reflect the power of the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund to approach sustainability from multiple perspectives. SCIF truly allows students to experiment on the living, learning, laboratory that is campus through whichever lens they study. This ability is unique to SCIF and benefits everyone on campus.

For more information regarding SCIF, check out the website and please contact the SCIF Coordinator: Emerson.andrews@utah.edu