What’s waste got to do with climate change?

This article, originally published in @theu, November 13, 2019, was written by Kate Whitbeck, communications, sustainability department.

Did you know that one of the easiest low cost and most effective ways to impact climate change is to change our consumption habits? An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded study indicates that more than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food. There is an energy and emissions cost to manufacturing, transporting, using goods and then eventually disposing of them. Simply reusing, reducing, recycling and buying used or recycled goods conserves energy and reduces emissions.

More than 40% of our climate impact in the U.S. comes from our stuff and our food.

Environmental Protection Agency

Millie Heiner, sustainability ambassador, presents a zero waste kit to President Ruth Watkins.

 

In an effort to promote a culture of waste reduction on campus, the Sustainability Office has launched the #UBYO campaign to encourage the U community to bring their own reusable bottles, mugs, containers, utensils and more to reduce plastic waste. We handed out thousands of reusable utensil kits at new student orientation events and the farmers market and gave away 12 zero-waste kits through an opportunity drawing. We even presented U President Ruth Watkins with a zero waste kit. Each kit contains a reusable hot/cold bottle, reusable silicone bag (plastic bag alternative), handkerchief (reusable napkin), reusable grocery bag, utensils and reusable silicone food container. Many of the items are available at the Campus Store or can be assembled from items you already have at home or can pick up at your favorite thrift store.

In order to start a conversation around waste reduction on campus and in honor of America Recycles Day, which takes place in November, the Sustainability Office is organizing a Hinckley Institute Panel entitled The End of Recycling? Life After National Sword on Wednesday, Nov. 20, from 12-1 p.m. The panel will explore how policy changes in China have affected our local recycling practices and what we can expect for the future. Panel participants include Beau Peck, director of sales and marketing from the Pro Recycling Group, Jennifer Farrell from Salt Lake City Waste and Recycling Division and Joshua James, University of Utah recycling manager.

It is important to understand the link between climate change and waste reduction, and the energy and emissions savings we can gain from reducing and recycling. According to the EPA, recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy needed to make new cans from raw materials. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 60-74%; paper about 60%, and plastic and glass about 33% compared to making those from raw materials. While these energy savings are significant, we also need to recognize that recycling has its own carbon footprint related to collection, transportation and processing. Reducing, reusing and sharing should always come before recycling.

An environmentally friendly kit made for U. Available now at the Campus Store.

Some people are intimidated by the concept of zero waste. While zero waste is generally defined as diverting 90% or above from the landfill, it can still feel like an unachievable goal. Fortunately, the reality is that many people making a concerted but imperfect effort has a much greater effect than one person reaching zero. Zero doesn’t have to be everyone’s goal. Making good choices when possible can be the goal.

The other good thing about changing consumption habits is that it’s within everyone’s reach and can save you money. Not everyone can afford an electric car or has the ability to make major changes to our power grid or transportation system. The movement isn’t about buying. Choosing to borrow, reuse and share keeps money in your wallet and keeps your carbon footprint low.

The University is taking a close look at its waste habits and focusing on some new strategies to divert more from the landfill.  See the text box below for some highlights and take action by joining the #UBYO Campaign or get your office certified through our Green Office Program.

Waste wins at the U

  • The U has identified some new priorities for managing its waste based on a recently completed study. These include an overhaul of signage, a food waste collection pilot program and the development of a more effective system to incentivize waste reduction and recycling.
  • Since the launch of the Green Office Certification program in 2017, ecofriendly purchasing of general office supplies has increased from 35% to 53% and ecofriendly paper purchasing has increased from 38% to 79%.
  • Each year, the Sustainability Office coordinates U Recycle Day, an electronic waste drive which diverts tons of waste from the landfill.
  • The annual housing moveout donation drive (aka WAGACA – What Goes Around Comes Around) diverts food, clothing, blankets, and more from the residence halls each May.
  • The University Carpenter Shop is committed to creative reuse. They reclaim materials from buildings that are being demolished or remodeled and repurpose them. The desks below are made of marble from OSH and wood from basketball courts and harvested from trees (sycamores) displaced by new construction.
    wooden table made from reclaimed wood with U logo on the top in a conference room

Print & mail recognized

This article, originally published in @theu on August 9, 2019, was written by Corinne Smart,
University Print & Mail Services.

In an industry based on using paper, sustainable practices are an ongoing challenge for organizations like University Print & Mail Services. But taking that challenge on has proved successful for the department, which has just been awarded bronze certification in the Sustainability Office’s Green Office Program.

Conscious of the resources that it uses daily, Print & Mail felt compelled to follow best practices for sustainability and help support the university’s mission and goals. This commitment started the department down the path toward achieving the Green Office Certification and completing the requirements was the next step. ­

The Sustainability Office observes how campus work environments negatively impact our natural environment. To instigate change, they created the Green Office Certification, a program to teach campus ways to integrate sustainability practices into the workplace through sustainable choices. The Green Office Program has three tiers of certification: bronze, silver and gold. Once departments register, they receive a Green Office Checklist as a guide for success. To celebrate certifications, the Sustainability Office advertises the newly certified department’s achievements on their social media outlets.

Over the course of many months, the Print & Mail team worked to identify areas of improvement and correspondingly, began to check off boxes from the sustainability certification list. Some items were as simple as posting stickers to remind colleagues to turn off office lights at the end of the day; others took more effort, requiring continuous dedication from the entire Print & Mail team to carry the effort forward.

The Green Office Program has done more than just help Print & Mail conserve energy and reduce waste, it has influenced Print & Mail’s team to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Team members have been seen bringing in office plants, making special trips to the recycle bin, using multi-use water bottles instead of disposables and taking public transit to work instead of driving.

For those considering joining the certification program, Print & Mail’s Green Office Educator Wendy Covert has some advice: “Come up with a Green Team. It is much easier to get buy-in from the department as a whole if other people are invested.”

At Print & Mail, every team member had a part to play in being more sustainable, from the department purchaser being willing to buy green supplies to printing staff remembering to put scraps in recycling bins. The support and willingness of Print & Mail’s entire team were vital to the department’s success in acquiring bronze certification.

Despite its roots in printing, Print & Mail has shown that even in the paper business, being sustainable is more attainable than you think. Beyond their commitment to helping the planet, the team is dedicated to helping the campus community by serving as an excellent resource for eco-friendly paper. Print & Mail prints university business cards on 100% PCW recycled paper and can order recycled paper for your department. Visit Print & Mail online or call 801-581-6171.

Bringing Fresh & Local to U

Have you ever experienced the perfect peach? Firm flesh with an intoxicating perfume almost as exquisite as the flavor? It is something that can’t adequately be described with words. The perfect peach is still warm from the sun because it was picked the same day you bite into it. To experience this peach you need to know the farmer who grew it who can tell you how they protected the blossoms from that late spring storm and nurtured the soil in the fall to create this peach just for you. To experience this peach, you have to come to the farmers market.

This year, the University of Utah Farmers Market celebrates its 12th season. The market, managed by the Sustainability Office, links local growers and artisans with the campus community and provides access to fresh, healthy, local produce and unique arts and crafts. Dozens of vendors attend the market each week. At our Edible Campus Gardens stand you can even purchase produce grown right here on campus. More than 5,000 people walk through the market on an average Thursday, thanks to its central location on the Tanner Plaza between the Union Building and Student Services Building.

If you haven’t been to the U Farmers Market, there are a number of features that make it unique. All students of the U are eligible for our Double Your Dollars program, which provides students with twice as much money to spend on grocery items (produce, packaged items like cheese or honey, etc.). Last season, the Double Your Dollars program helped more than 600 students access fresh, local food. This year’s Double Your Dollars funding has been expanded through the generous support of the market’s presenting sponsor, Harmons Grocery. As a family-owned and locally run grocer, Harmons has a reputation for investing in local producers and bringing fresh local flavors to your table. This year they will be sharing some recipes for easy, nutritious, affordable meals, as well as low carbon meals and hosting cooking classes for students.  With two locations close to campus serviced by public transit (Emigration Market and City Creek) Harmons Grocery is easily accessible to students and employees.  Additional market sponsors include University of Utah Health, KRCL, Ray Olpin Union, ASUU and Raclette Machine.

This year, for the first time, scholarships are available to cover booth fees for new food businesses. Only vendors that have been established in the past 24 months are eligible to apply. Priority is given to vendors from underrepresented groups. This year’s scholarship recipients are Bee-Craft & Icy Mountain. Bee-Craft produces high-quality natural honey and other beehive products. Icy Mountain is a new gourmet shaved ice truck that offers unique toppings and flavors. The market is still accepting applications from produce and packaged food vendors. Students and employees are encouraged to apply, and vendor fee discounts are available to university students and employees. Applications are only accepted online.

Regular market attendees will be pleased to learn that many of last year’s favorite vendors will be returning. New vendors will be offering a wide array of delicious food and beautiful crafts.

So, mark your calendar for Thursdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. starting August 22nd so you can meet the farmer who has grown a peach just for you.

Adopting Sustainable Practices in the Workplace

The choices we make in our work environment impact the natural environment. Departments and offices represent a large portion of energy and material use, and waste generation on campus. By making smarter choices, we can integrate sustainability principles into day-to-day activities on campus. Our Green Office program provides tools, support, and guidance to colleges and departments to help make your campus life more sustainable.

Start your certification process today by completing the “Office” section of the checklist. It’s easy and can be done in less than 1 hour.
 
First steps:

  • Identify your “Green Office Educator.” If you are filling out the checklist, that would be you.
  • Post your checklist in a visible place in your breakroom or your office community space to remind people that your office is committed to environmental sustainability and actively supporting larger campus initiatives.
  • Next, send an email to your department members letting them know that the department or college is working towards certification. Encourage them to learn more about campus sustainability initiatives and support the effort by doing any of the following:
    • Volunteering to help your team get certified!
    • Signing up for the Sustainability Office newsletter
    • Following the Sustainability Office blog
    • Following Sustainable U of U on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)

Make sure Green Office practices are part of the new hire orientation process. Explain what the program entails and let them know how they can help support the effort. It can be as simple as sharing the above information during your office tour, describing your team’s ecofriendly purchasing practices, sharing resources related to sustainable transportation options and acquainting them with the recycling program.
 
More resources and information can be found here.

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).

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.