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

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.

RECYCLE RIGHT

Originally posted on @theU on March 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

BYOB: Bring Your Own Bottle

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

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

The Future of White Pines in the West

By Nicolas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

For many Utahns, white pines are a fact of life. Different species of white pine fill the mountainous landscapes of the Intermountain West, and their distinctive cones dot the forest floors. Yet compounding threats caused by changes in climate and forest management are putting these trees at risk.

That’s where Dr. Diana Tomback, professor and associate chair in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of Colorado Denver, comes in. Her innovative research on different species of white pine throughout the West is building hope for their survival. On Tuesday, April 2nd, she will discuss this pressing issue in her lecture, “Biodiversity catastrophe in real time: Loss of five-needle white pine communities and cascading consequences” as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series.

Professor Tomback received her Ph.D from the University of California Santa Barbara, where she researched the role of Clark’s nutcracker in the dispersion of whitebark pine seeds. She has spent much of her career at the University of Colorado Denver, studying white pine populations throughout the Rocky Mountains.

In 2001, Tomback was a founding member the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, which brought together federal officials and scientists to discuss and address threats to the Whitebark Pine alongside grassroots-level organizers and activists. She served as the Founding Volunteer Director for 16 years and now coordinates policy and outreach at the foundation. She is also Lead Scientist in the National Whitebark Pine Restoration Strategy, a federal initiative to restore white pine ecosystems.

Tomback’s work today focuses on a group of five pines, known as five-needle white pines. As she emphasizes, “forest health is now a major concern in North America.” White pines play an essential part in the forest ecologies of the American West and are among the tallest and oldest living trees in the world. They have also long been economically important as a historical source of lumber. “We have changes in fire regime driven by climate change, climate change itself, and on top of that, globalization has brought about an exchange of pests and pathogens from around the world for which our species [of white pines] have little natural resistance,” says Tomback.

There are many challenges facing the white pines in the 21st century. “Warming climate has supported the outbreak of the mountain pine beetle,” explains Tomback. They are also threatened by imported tree diseases such as white pine blister rust, which was unintentionally imported to North America from Asia. Blister rust is particularly dangerous because it spreads rapidly through spores carried by the wind, and because there is little natural resistance.

Yet despite these threats, Tomback has hope. The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation, the Fire Sciences Lab in Missoula, her own lab at the University of Colorado Denver, not to mention many other concerned organizations, are contributing to the development of restoration and prevention strategies. Her hope is that new strategies will take advantage of declining beetle numbers and innovative research to preserve these important trees.

If you’re interested in learning more about Professor Diana Tomback’s innovative research on white pines and the future of the West’s forests, come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, April 2, from 4 – 5 PM for her GCSC seminar series lecture, “Biodiversity catastrophe in real time: Loss of five-needle white pine communities and cascading consequences.”

 

REAL FOOD, REAL PROGRESS

Orginially posted on @theU on March 8, 2019.

By Jess Kemper, sustainable food systems manager, Office of Sustainability

Did you know that making good choices about the food we eat not only improves our health, but can support better labor conditions, improve the environment and keep profits in our local economy? Unfortunately, making poor choices can have the opposite impact.

Research conducted by University of Utah students on Dining Services’ purchases shows the U is moving in a positive direction.

In 2015, U President David Pershing signed the Real Food Campus Commitment, making the U part of a national campaign for food justice and committing our Dining Services to buy at least 20 percent “real food” by the year 2020. Food is considered “real” if it falls under one of four categories: humane, ecologically sound, fair or community-based.

The Real Food Challenge is backed by a student group focused on where their food comes from. Every other year, these students perform an audit of Dining Services’ purchases to determine the percentage of real food purchased. Wrapping up the research for the 2017-18, students found that Dining Services purchased 14.6 percent real food which is up from 12.3 percent in 2015.

Successes were seen in real poultry products, a 62 percent rise from 4 percent in 2015 to 66 percent in 2018. This was a result of the shift to a local poultry supplier, Wasatch Meats. Real baked goods rose to 62 percent in 2018 from 56 percent in 2015 by shifting to Beni Bakery Distributors. Real beverage and grocery purchases also saw a 6 percent and 2 percent bump, respectively.

After the audit is finalized the students produce recommendations on all food product purchases. For example, they determined that by only shifting 64 percent of non-real dairy dollars to real dairy the total real food percentage would increase to 20 percent. This would allow the campus to reach its goal one year early. If they switched all tea, coffee and meat to real, the U could report 27 percent, well above the goal, of its food purchases as humane, ecologically sound, fair or community-based.

“University Dining Services is optimistic in meeting the goal by 2020,” said Jennifer Nielsen, sustainability and safety coordinator, Chartwells-University Dining Services. “We are thankful for university and student support as we aim for the 20 percent benchmark. Our goal is to support our hard-working staff and dedicated students by continuing to serve local and quality products expected at the U. We strive to strengthen our U community through robust partnerships, and growing and implementing sustainable ideas.”

To read more about the results of the audit, click here. The next audit will start Fall Semester of 2019. If you are interested in joining the Real Food Challenge student group or researching real food as a paid intern, please e-mail Jessica Kemper at jessica.kemper@utah.edu. And learn more about the short- and long-term objectives related to building sustainable food systems on campus here.

HEALTHIER CAMPUS INITIATIVE

Originally posted on @theU on March 8, 2019.

By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University of Utah Communications

The University of Utah has adopted guidelines to promote better health on campus through nutrition, physical activity and programming over the next three years through the Healthier Campus Initiative sponsored by the Partnership for a Healthier America.

President Ruth V. Watkins signing the Healthier Campus Initiative.

L-R Jerry Basfor, Robin Marcus, President Watkins and Alexis Pearl Lee.

“I’m impressed with the work being done on campus,” said President Ruth V. Watkins, who signed the initiative on March 7, 2019. “I fully support doing whatever we can to encourage and educate our students, staff and faculty about the importance of engaging in healthy habits and the difference eating well, exercising regularly and taking care of their overall wellness will make throughout their lives.”

The Healthier Campus Initiative partners with 73 colleges and universities across the nation to advance healthy living. Each partner commits to meeting a majority of the guidelines developed by Partnership for a Healthier America in collaboration with some of the nation’s leading nutrition, physical activity and campus wellness experts.

By joining the initiative, the U has agreed to meet at least 23 separate guidelines in three categories: food and nutrition, physical activity and overall wellness programming.

A new campus wellness committee will guide the U’s work over the next three years. Members are charged with identifying and organizing campus activities that promote living well for students, staff, faculty and visitors. Supporting a One U approach, the broad-based committee will develop recommendations and direction of campus wellness initiatives and promote healthy living on campus and in the community.

The leaders on campus are Robin Marcus, chief wellness officer, U of U Health, and Jerry Basford, associate vice president, Student Affairs. They will steer the committee to support innovative projects led by students, staff and faculty across campus, ranging from sustainable gardens to food-focused courses and cooking workshops, to outdoor recreation trips and active transportation.

“We are thrilled to partner across our campus to continue our move toward the healthiest campus,” said Marcus. “The habits formed in college—including what they eat and how much physical activity they get—can last a lifetime.”

Committee members will include representatives from:

HUMANS OF THE U: MARTIN CUMA

Originally posted on @theU on February 8, 2019.

“I’ve enjoyed bicycling since I was a kid, back in the Czech Republic. It provided the freedom to move around without depending on either public transit or my parents. When I moved to Salt Lake in 1998 for my postdoc it felt natural to continue riding. I save on a parking pass and car costs and it forces me to get up on my bike every morning and ride to work.

Our older daughter is 5, and she goes to the Child and Family Development Center here on Presidents Circle. We have been commuting together for about 3 years. We ride my old road bike and a used $200 Chariot trailer. When it is warmer, we switch to the Weehoo. It takes us about 25 minutes to get up here, about three miles.

Weather doesn’t impact our commute much. It’s all in the equipment. In the winter, I dress our daughter in snow pants and a warm jacket. I wear what you see in the picture with an extra sweater for the downhill ride home.

I consider myself a fearless bicyclist but riding with a kid, I’m much more aware of my surroundings. I am very sensitive to people giving us space, so please don’t pass us too close on 1500 East or Guardsman Road or block the bike lane or crosswalk.

It is a commitment to commute by bike. Sometimes I think that it would be much easier to sit in a car and drive. Still, the benefits outweigh the troubles. My exercise is that 30-40 minutes a day ride. Our daughter will grow up used to car-less transport. And I feel like I’m doing something for the common good. I see the lines of cars every morning and I wish at least a few of them would hop on a bike. That would help our air and make the streets less busy and more livable.”

—Martin Cuma, computational scientist, Center for High Performance Computing. Cuma is part of the majority of U commuters that live within a reasonable walking or biking distance to campus. Active transportation, such as biking, represents 13 percent of commuting trips. Source: U. Office of Sustainability

HUMANS OF THE U: DEBOLINA BANERJEE

Originally posted on @theU on March 1, 2019.

“Having lived in India, Hong Kong and now Utah, public transportation has always been a huge part of my life. I’ve seen the difference infrastructure makes from country to country and the impacts it has on people’s travel behaviors. Coming from a highly dense megalopolis where the sheer number of people heightens traffic congestion so much so, it’s almost a relief to access public transportation. Utah’s a welcome change with its TRAX lines, protected bike lanes and other numerous public and active transit systems.

Coming from India, I cannot help but compare the poor driving conditions coupled with high fuel prices and other affordability issues, forces people to take the public transit. While here in the U.S. improved roadways, affordable car loans and low fuel prices encourage higher vehicle ownership and driving behaviors.

The two main reasons to take public transport in India are extreme traffic congestion and a huge percentage of daily workers who cannot afford their own vehicles. Public transport is a necessity not a choice. This high demand coupled with the government’s inability to supply cheap public transit also highlights the reality, the public transportation fleet needs upgrading and is not always an enjoyable ride. Whereas, in Utah, the bus and train fleet are modernized which guarantees a comfortable ride.

Being a user of public transit all my life, I see the numerous potentials here in Utah. What’s lacking here is the ‘necessity’ factor. People feel more in control of their schedule with driving. Ways to make mass transit more convenient could be; increasing the frequency of bus and TRAX, expanded routes to cover more neighborhoods, installing all-weather bus stop shelters and better integrating active transportation facilities with existing public transit, like bike racks at TRAX stops and building ‘floating’ bus stops.

While not my field of study in City and Metropolitan Planning, I know my colleagues are working on long-lasting solutions. They are thinking of unique ways to make the system so convenient that people want to ride a bus or train.

I’ve never owned a car. And I don’t think I’ll need to while I’m part of the U community. Thanks in large part to the TRAX and UTA benefit, my daily commute is taken care of.”

—Debolina Banerjee, doctoral student, Department of City and Metropolitan Planning and research assistant, Center for Ecological Planning + Design, LEED AP

Banerjee is just one member of the U whose commuting behavior is complex. Transportation mode choices depend on multiple factors, including weather, time of day, cost, proximity and convenience. Many commute trips involve more than one mode of transportation. Source: U. Office of Sustainability

HUMANS OF THE U: LISA MCMURTREY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMIT TO BETTER AIR YEAR-ROUND

Originally posted on @theU on February 25, 2019.

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Sustainability Office

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

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

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

Use your commute to stay in shape

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

Make use of your UCard transit pass

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

Ride Campus Shuttles

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

Drive smarter

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

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