Pedaling through ’til spring

By Ginger Canon, active transportation manager, Sustainability Office

Utah’s climate is fantastic for year-round bicycling. Don’t let the colder weather stop you from riding to stay happy, healthy and upright while triumphing over the elements. Research shows you’re less likely to succumb to the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) when you exercise regularly outdoors, and you’ll be ready to log those hard-earned miles during February’s Clear the Air Challenge!

Some tips for your winter bike commute:

1)      Start with what you’ve got and find what works for you. There are two big misconceptions about winter bike commuting – one, you need a bunch of expensive gear and two, that you’ll freeze out there (actually, you’ll probably overheat!). You just need a few basics and a little time spent on trial and error to see what works for you. Fenders make a huge difference in keeping you dry, and wider, knobby tires can help keep you upright in the rain and snow.

2)      Master the layers. Remember your face, feet and hands need the most protection, as those parts of your body get cold faster. You should always be slightly cold before you start your commute – you’ll warm up fast! Experiment with building layers to understand what works at different temperatures and keeps you warm and dry on your bike.

3)      Light up.  Be seen, be safe. Winter days are short and front and rear lights are required (by Utah law) for a safe commute in the morning or evening darkness.

4)      Protect your lungs. On bad air days, wear an air pollution mask to filter the toxic emissions coming from vehicles sharing the road with you.

5)      Park your bike in a covered, secure bike room. The U offers a number of secure bicycle parking spaces. Check out the map of secure bicycle parking for locations and contacts to access each area.

6)      You arrived. Now what? If you don’t have a shower at your destination, pack some wet wipes and deodorant – a little time in front of the bathroom mirror will do wonders, and you’ll find yourself humble bragging for braving the elements while others forsake their winter fitness.

 

Homelessness Across the Urban-Wildland Interface

By Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

There are myriad ways that natural spaces are used. Some of us run or bike, walk our dogs, read books, have picnics or camp in these spaces. Many of us try to care for these spaces, to be stewards of the land. But what about those of us with no homes, who pitch tents in parks and natural spaces for shelter? Are those of us without homes considered sustainable practitioners of land stewardship?  Professor Jeff Rose’s research explores the sustainability impacts of homeless populations living in natural spaces (spaces where we don’t build), and the environmental justice issues affecting these populations. “When we talk about sustainability,” he says, “sometimes we have to ask what is being sustained and who are we sustaining it for?”

Dr. Rose, an assistant professor in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism in the College of Health at the University of Utah will present his lecture, “Homelessness, political ecology, and critical sustainability,” on Tuesday, November 5th, from 4 – 5 p.m. in room 210 of the Aline Skaggs Biology Building.  Rose will explore issues of homelessness and sustainability in his lecture, as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s (GCSC) Seminar Series.

Professor Rose earned his Ph.D at the University of Utah, an M.A. in Geography from San Diego State University, and his B.S. in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He says he initially entered into research on homelessness through ethnographic field methods, living with a homeless community in park spaces that edge the urban center of Salt Lake City.  This close, intimate, shared experience infuses meaning into the data of his research.  

Many people experiencing unsheltered homelessness live in natural spaces.  For some, this would be narrowly defined as public parks, foothills, or riparian corridors, but Dr. Rose invites us to broaden the ways we think about nature. “When we step outside of private spaces, shared public space is what becomes nature,” he says. This extends the definition of nature to include an alleyway or side street in a city, for instance. If you’ve ever looked around for nesting birds in the city, this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch of the imagination. Nature can include a lot of spaces, and those who find themselves without permanent places to reside are often caught up in a conundrum of where they can be without their presence being deemed at best a nuisance, or at worst, criminal. 

Looking at homelessness as an environmental relationship is particularly meaningful here in Salt Lake City where we have a plethora of natural recreation spaces and a growing homeless population.  Are those of us who live camped on the land not all intimately connected to the environment? What does justice look like if a person has no place to exist other than the public sphere? What does it mean to live sustainably?

To explore these questions and others surrounding homelessness and the environment come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, November 5 for Dr. Jeff Rose’s lecture, “Homelessness, Political Ecology, and Critical Sustainability” as part of the GCSC seminar series.  As always, there will be coffee and treats so bring your mug and enjoy!

Confronting Climate Change

By Kate Whitbeck, communications and relationship manager, Sustainability Office

What if climate change wasn’t a terrifying specter threatening our future? What if it were an opportunity—an opportunity for research, investment and growth? An opportunity to right wrongs and restore balance? An opportunity to build stronger partnerships and collaboration and, through them, healthier robust communities able to withstand change?

As a tier-one research institution with a world-class health center, the University of Utah is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this opportunity and develop new approaches to cross-cutting interdisciplinary research addressing climate change.

This has been a year of bold action for the university in establishing its position as a leader in the climate change movement and embracing the opportunity.

In April 2019, U President Ruth V. Watkins signed the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments renewing the university’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050 and placing the institution on a path toward resilience and adaptation. That same month the university joined the University Climate Change Coalition, a group of 20 leading North American research universities—including University of California; University of Colorado, Boulder; University of Michigan; and others—that have committed to mobilizing their resources and expertise to accelerate local and regional climate action in partnership with businesses, cities and states, foundations and other organizations.

“We understand the important role higher education plays in building a sustainable society. As a public research university, we are committed to generating new knowledge in areas relating to sustainability, and to implementing best practices in university operations,” Watkins said. “This work highlights the interconnections between humans and the environment and allows us to address the urgent sustainability challenges of our time. We look forward to working with other leading institutions across North America to build critical momentum to affect change on a national and global level.”

A combination of factors spurred these actions. In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report urging institutions and countries around the world to reduce their carbon emissions by at least 45% of the 2010 level by 2030 and to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by no later than 2050 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. The report’s findings indicated that the immediate consequences of climate change would be “far more dire” than previously thought and acknowledged that avoiding these consequences will require “transforming the world economy at an unprecedented speed and scale.”

Our graduating class of 2020 will reach the mid-career point by the time the impacts of climate change begin to take devastating effect. Recognizing the need for urgency, U students issued a resolution to the Academic Senate calling for a reaffirmation of the university’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions. The resolution cites the IPCC report and references “the intergenerational impact of climate change wherein the consequences of each generation’s action affect successive generations’ environmental and physical health and their access to resources.”

The resolution called for the university to use its vast resources and collective brain power to explore bold and innovative solutions, serve as a living lab to address climate change, work in collaboration with community partners and establish a Presidential Task Force on Carbon Neutrality to evaluate and recommend options to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. Among other topics, the students asked that the task force reevaluate the appropriateness of the university’s 2050 deadline given the urgency detailed in the IPCC report. The resolution passed the Academic Senate with unanimous support.

In mid-August, Watkins and Dan Reed, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, addressed members of the newly formed Climate Commitment Task Force at its first meeting. The task force was called upon to do the following:

  • Lead and complete an initial campus community resilience assessment, including initial indicators and current vulnerability building up to a Community-Campus Climate Resilience Action Plan in 2022
  • Set an updated target date for achieving carbon neutrality
  • Define actions to make carbon neutrality and resilience a part of the curriculum
  • Define actions to expand research in carbon neutrality and resilience

Keith Diaz Moore, in his role as interim chief sustainability officer, and Brenda Bowen, director of the Global Change & Sustainability Center, serve as co-chairs of the task force. While the task force contains key players from across campus, it will be calling for input from additional groups and forming sub-committees to collect, gather and analyze information as it develops a plan for the future.

“Let us use this challenge to accelerate achievement and contribute to healthier communities and a healthier world,” Reed said. “Our university doesn’t operate in isolation, it is part of a greater ecosystem and partnerships are key. Our approach must be based on the integration of social equity, ecological integrity and economic security.”

New leadership will be driving these dramatic changes across campus. A search is currently underway for a new chief sustainability officer, who will take over as co-chair of the task force and be responsible for strategic planning and implementation of the institutional sustainability efforts at the U.

All these efforts are transforming our campus and helping us prepare for the future. Our goal as an institution of higher education is to prepare our students to thrive in an everchanging world. We need to prepare them for the planet they will inhabit in 2050, which will be vastly different from the planet we inhabit today. Our success and their success depend on the engagement of the entire community and benefit the entire community. It will take one U to build resilient communities where we can grow, thrive and enjoy the same quality of life that we enjoy today.

A Sustainable U

Over the past several years, the U has made significant progress in becoming a more sustainable institution. Here’s how:

  • In 2018, the U achieved its lowest total energy consumption and lowest total energy cost since 2010—despite a 23% growth in total building area over the same time span.
  • From 2017 to 2018, the U reduced local emissions by 3.2%.
  • The U will be investing $2 million to improve energy efficiency in existing buildings over the next year.
  • The U has crafted a seven-year plan to invest $22 million in strategically replacing assets and other efforts designed to reduce the university’s carbon footprint, which is expected to result in net savings over a 21-year period.
  • Gardner Commons is the U’s first net-zero ready (all electric) building and the U is exploring ways to electrify all future buildings. By 2021, the U expects two-thirds of its electricity will come from renewable sources.
  • Investments in active and sustainable transportation have led to a 25% expansion of dedicated bikeways on campus.
  • Currently, 48% of commuters choose a mode of transportation other than driving alone to campus. These transportation choices significantly reduce noxious tailpipe emissions and help clear our air.
  • The U is implementing plans to divert all food waste from the landfill, which will dramatically improve our diversion rate.
  • A major upgrade to the campus irrigation system is projected to save more than 87 million gallons of water per year.

What prehistoric societies can teach us about climate change

By Nicholas Apodaca, Graduate Assistant, Sustainability Office

The common rhetoric surrounding the contemporary climate crisis often frames the dramatic manifestations of climate change as unprecedented in their intensity. The scorching heat and record-level dryness that has plagued the Western US in recent years clearly indicates an ominous shift to a “new normal.” However, while there is no denying the evidence of climate change, archaeological data also suggests that this is not the first time the Western US has experienced similar events. To aid our contemporary fight for sustainability and adaptation, could we look into the past and learn from how ancient peoples survived through climate change?

Doug Kennett, professor of Environmental Archaeology and Human Behavioral Ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, believes the past can help us understand the present crisis. On Tuesday, October 22nd, from 4 – 5 PM in room 210 of the Alice B. Skaggs Biology Building, Kennett will explore how climate change in the West affected ancient peoples in his lecture, “Drought and Long-Term Sociopolitical Dynamics West of the Hundredth Meridian,” as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Kennett earned his Ph.D in archaeology from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1998. During his student years, he experienced first-hand the effects of climate change as the Western US was hit by intense periods of drought. Kennett recalls thinking that “the prehistoric record probably has something to say about what these droughts have looked like in the past, and how people responded under different types of social and political conditions.”

Kennett’s initial research focused on early peoples of the Yucatan, but as his interest in historical drought grew he also began to study indigenous cultures of coastal California. Working with climate scientists, they used reconstructed climate records alongside archaeological evidence to decipher how these cultures responded to climate change. As Kennett explains, “we [now] know that in the climate system in the West, from the climate record and the archaeological record, that conditions can be much more severe with much more extended droughts.” 

His work has since driven him to dive deeper into the climate history of the West, from California’s Channel Islands to Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. “I’m interested in the persistence of prehistoric societies in the face of environmental and climate change,” Kennett says. “So, in other words: what worked? But I’m also interested in when things go badly and we see the disintegration of social and political connectivity and what we colloquially call ‘collapse.'”

Kennett’s research has also led to collaborations with geneticists, in particular David Reich at Harvard University. Through genomics, Kennett has been able to analyze the genetic population structure of prehistoric peoples. This has provided insight in his research on the environmental factors that contributed to the collapse of these ancient cultures, and has been significant in his research on drought in Mayan civilization in the Yucatan.  “You may say that the Maya were in a tropical forest. How could you have trouble with water in that kind of context? In fact, there were times when there were droughts that had significant impacts on the population.”

There are far-reaching implications for this cutting-edge research in developing strategies for combating climate change in the 21st century. “From a sustainability perspective, I’m arguing that the archaeological record has great value for what’s happening today,” Kennett explained. This is especially evident in his work in the Yucatan. According to Kennett, “In the case of the Maya, with [regards to] sustainability, there were also major transformations of the landscape because they were large-scale agriculturalists. There were very well-documented geological or geomorphic changes made to the landscape associated with deforestation.” Understanding the changes that occurred in the landscape during the time of the Maya can provide insight into how the landscape has become what it is today, and how these changes affect contemporary populations.

If you’re interested in learning more about what climate change in the past can tell us about the present and future, come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, October 22nd for Professor Doug Kennett’s lecture, “Drought and Long-Term Sociopolitical Dynamics West of the Hundredth Meridian,” as part of the GCSC seminar series.

Green to Red Tailgate Challenge

It’s that time of year again, football season is upon us. Our football team has been working hard to make us proud and you have the opportunity to do the same, by joining us for our 2nd annual Green to Red Tailgate Challenge.

At the Oct. 19 home game vs. the Arizona Sun Devils, join your fellow fans in a little friendly competition to bring some green into your red-out tailgating. The Green to Red Tailgate Challenge is a contest to make your tailgate as sustainable as possible. Wear red and be green during the U’s first Green to Red Tailgate Challenge. All tailgates are automatically entered. Winners will be chosen by student athlete sustainability leaders based on how sustainable your tailgate team can be in the areas of waste and recycling, transportation, energy, food purchases, and innovation. Here are some ideas:

  1. Ditch the disposables. Bring reusable cups, dishes, and cutlery. Stay hydrated with reusable jugs of water.
  2. Don’t go Solo! Those iconic red cups are a low-quality plastic. If you need plastic cups, look for clear cups that are plastic #1.
  3. Separate your recyclables. Keep two bins—one for trash and one for recycling. Make sure to avoid food and liquid in the recycling bin.
  4. Go local. You can get all your tailgating needs—including BBQ, brats, grass-fed beef, and of course, beer! (21+)—from Utah companies.
  5. More than cars. Points for people in the group who biked, carpooled, or used public transportation.
  6. Reuse your U decor. You wouldn’t throw out your favorite University of Utah t-shirt! Show your team spirit with U decorations you can use game after game.

The tailgate crew with the most points will receive an on-field experience at your choice of 2020 football game (except BYU) and dinner in the Tower for four people.

Engineering Sustainable Cities

By Amber Aumiller, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

More and more we are recognizing that everything in our world is interconnected.  Even our cities are increasingly managed as a network of interdependent systems that can be optimized to waste fewer of our world’s valuable resources.  Considering the prediction that places 70% of the world’s population – an estimate of around 6.7 billion people[1] –  in urban areas by 2050, making our cities more efficient and thus environmentally sustainable has never been more crucial.

Dr. Masood Parvania has spent much of his career researching electricity innovation, using mathematical optimization, calculus of variations, and scientific computing to create and enhance smart grid integrations. On Tuesday, September 17 at 4-5 p.m. in ASB 210, join him for a talk on “Sustainability at the Intersection of Power and Water Infrastructure: An Engineering Perspective” as part of the GCSC seminar lecture series where he will be exploring these themes. 

His lecture will examine how cities are moving away from designing and operating water and power infrastructure as separate systems and are acknowledging that electricity is a critical component of water treatment and distribution. Cities are recognizing that the power grid relies on water for things like mining, fuel production, hydropower and power-plant cooling, so it makes sense to begin connecting the infrastructure in order to conserve water and use energy efficiently.  By connecting cyber-technology to the infrastructure we are able to gather and translate data from these integrated systems for real-time adjustments in dispatching just the right amount of whatever resource is needed at any given moment in time. Eventually the algorithms can begin to learn and self-adjust through feedback loops, which is the basis for designing what we now call “smart cities.” 

Creating and testing these cyber-physical models of unified power systems for their hardiness to cyber-attack and physical failures, as well as their overall efficacy, is at the heart of Dr. Parvania’s work.  His current research, funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research, and power industry, looks at enhancing sustainability and cyber-physical resilience of power, water and electrified transportation infrastructure. The idea ultimately is that a more efficiently running city is a more sustainable city, and mathematical algorithms and cyber-technology can help get us there.

Assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, Dr. Parvania is also director of the Utah Smart Energy Lab (U-Smart) here at the University of Utah.  He received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran and was a postdoctoral scholar at both the University of California Davis and Arizona State University. He serves as Associate Editor for the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers’ (IEEE) Transactions on Smart Grid, the IEEE Power Engineering Letters, the Institute of Engineering and Technology’s Renewable Power Generation, and is the Chair of the IEEE Utah Power and Energy Society Chapter. In 2018, he received the Engineering Educator of the Year Award from the Utah Engineers Council, and in 2019 the Faculty Recognition Award from the University of Utah.

If you are interested in learning how we can enhance our cities’ sustainability through interconnected power, water and electrified transportation systems, join us for Dr. Parvania’s talk “Sustainability at the Intersection of Power and Water Infrastructure: An Engineering Perspective” on Tuesday, September 17 at 4 p.m. in ASB 210.  As usual, there will be coffee and treats, so bring your own mug and enjoy!

[1] National Geographic, April 2019

Beyond the Aluminum Can

Image credit: Todd Helmenstine / sciencenotes.org

Why Recycling Across the Periodic Table Matters

By Kate Whitbeck, Sustainability Office

When the average person thinks about metal recycling the image that pops into their head is of an aluminum or tin can – a soda can or the can that beans or corn came in. They aren’t thinking of all of the 62 elements that make up the metals of the periodic table. All of those metals, like fossil fuels, are finite resources that we, as a human population, aren’t managing responsibly. Recycling rates for most metals are well below 50 percent. The challenge is that modern technology is critically dependent on each element of the periodic table. We know that metal recycling is more energy-efficient than mining virgin materials and doesn’t have the same kind of social and environmental implications. So, how efficiently are we using these resources and what happens when metals become scarce?

Professor Barbara Reck is a senior research scientist at Yale University’s Center for Industrial Ecology who studies the role of metals in society, particularly nickel and stainless steel; where they are sourced from, how they are used, disposed of, and recycled, and the implications thereof on their future availability. On August 27th from 4-5 p.m. in ASB 210, join her for her lecture, “Why using metals efficiently matters” as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center seminar series.

Dr. Reck earned her doctorate degree in environmental engineering at  Technische Universitӓt Berlin in Germany. In the early 2000s, she was part of a team of pioneering researchers which mapped out the first global (and national) metal cycles, looking at current and historical flows of specific metals, developing scenarios of possible future metal use, and assessing metal supply and demand. This work was part of the Stocks and Flows (STAF) project conducted at Yale’s Center for Industrial Ecology.

While working on these metal cycles, the research team came to understand that metal recycling rates were not clearly or uniformly defined.  Working in collaboration with many industry associations, academics, and EU representatives through the United Nations’ Environmental Program’s (UNEP) International Resource Panel, they set about establishing a consistent set of recycling metrics and quantifying the recycling rates for the 62 metals and metalloids of the periodic table.

What the results of those metrics indicated was that there was a large discrepancy in the recycling efficiency of major (e.g., steel, aluminum) versus minor (e.g., indium, germanium) metals. The recycling rate of major metals is around 50-60% whereas minor metals hardly get recycled at all. “One of the major challenges,” Dr. Reck explains, “is that low-carbon technologies such as solar, wind or electric vehicles are very dependent on these minor metals. For a low-carbon future, these technologies need to be up-scaled big time, which means that the demand for the minor metals involved would skyrocket in the future.” This finding led to the Criticality Project which looked at whether the future demand for each metal could be met by its supply from primary (i.e., known mines and reserves) and secondary (ie., recycled) sources.

The research that Dr. Reck and her colleagues have been focused on has helped ensure that corporate, national, and global stakeholders have the tools they need to make strategic decisions around metal use. To learn more about the importance of building a circular economy when it comes to using metals in addition to your aluminum and steel cans come to ASB 210 on August 27 at 4 p.m. for Dr. Reck’s GCSC Seminar Series lecture, “Why Using Metals Efficiently Matter.”

 

 

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.

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

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.