curating global ecology through big data

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Ecologists seek to answer the big questions about how the world is changing, and how species and ecosystems are responding to those changes. To answer these questions, a new network of analysis is needed. Community-curated data sources can provide new insight on how systems are have changed in the past and how they are changing now.

Jack Williams, professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will show how two community curated data sources are bringing reliable, big data to bear on the challenges of a changing world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Jack Williams, used with permission.

According to Williams, four V’s (volume, variety, velocity, and veracity) characterize ecological big data. Volume refers to the size of data, variety is the heterogeneity – diverse nature – of data types and measurements, velocity is the rate data needs to be generated or analyzed at, and veracity is the potential uncertainties.

Community-curated data sources have been developed to enable global-scale science. These data networks are also changing the way data is analyzed.

“The standard has been to run ecosystem models and analyze data somewhat independently of each other,” Williams said. “But now we have the opportunity to do more simulations where the data doesn’t constrain the simulations and improve the parameterization and forecast.”

Multiple groups have begun building databases that bring the data and paleoecological records from multiple networks to larger scales. These data sets can be applied to testing and improving the predictability of ecosystem models.

Williams will structure his talk around two different data networks—Neotoma and PalEON. Neotoma gathers large amounts of records from around the world and assembles it into one common resource that is publically available. PalEON is an example of one type of research that can be done with this kind of global platform for ecological and paleoecological research.

“Neotoma and PalEON are part of a broader set of efforts to gather many different kinds of ecological data into extended observational networks,” Williams explained. “We can now look at ecological dynamics at long timescales and at large spatial scales.”

Williams studies species’ responses to climate change. By using the last 2,000 years as a model, he can look at how species have migrated or changed in past climate. His work with PalEON is interested in using ecosystem models to forecast and predict species responses to climate change at decadal and centennial time scales.

“An interesting initial finding is that, as a result of climate change and human land use over the last century, the climatic niches of trees have changed,” explained Williams. “A lot of our predictive models use modern climates and modern tree species distribution as the basis of our predictions of forest responses to current and future climate change. Seeing how niches have changed suggests there is perhaps there is some disequilibrium with current climate change.”

To learn more about ecological big data, attend William’s seminar, “Achieving global ecology via dispersed community-curated data resources: Neotoma and PalEON” on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo by geralt via pixabay. CC0.

Intentional Change

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Designers are agents of change. They research how our everyday actions and behaviors are conceived, planned, and acted on. By making these intangible aspects of society tangible, designers have the ability to communicate about or change these societal features. In the past, design has been leveraged as a way to create social change. But, these attempts have not always articulated ways to catalyze change.

Transition Design is a nascent idea that acknowledges we are living in transitional times, and recognizes the need to change at all levels of society.

Dr. Terry Irwin, Director of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design will explain how Transition Design can address the wicked problems of the 21st century at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

“Transition Design is a new area of design practice, study, and research focused on systems-level change,” Irwin explained. “It addresses the need for entire societies to transition towards a sustainable future.”

Transitioning into sustainable futures will require the development of new tools and methods that can be used to create societal change. By understanding the interconnectedness of social, economic, political, and natural systems, Transition Design confronts multifaceted problems from different levels and different scales.

“Instead of creating one-off solutions, we are advocating for a systems approach where you are involved in the process of creating solutions over a very long period of time in ways that connects projects, but also connects to future visions of where you want to go,” said Irwin.

Transition Design is a framework that combines a range of practices and approaches from different disciplines to create a new way of addressing problems in a specific location. In other words, Transition Design advocates for creating communities that are in tune with their natural and social systems.

Transitioning to a sustainable future will require change at all levels of society. Not only are politicians, legislators, activists, academics, and other professionals needed to design change, Irwin explains how all stakeholders need a seat at the table.

“The approach we are developing calls for stakeholder engagement and co-design with stakeholders,” said Irwin. “We define stakeholders as anybody that is being affected by the problem.”

Transition Design provides the framework that gets people involved and working together. It pulls from multiple theories across several disciplines. Transition Design also embodies ideas and concepts from non-profit and community sectors. Transition Design empowers and educates a new group of designers who work together to develop solutions to the wicked problems of our time.

“Design is not something that only designers do,’ Irwin explained. “Societal transitions need to be intentional not accidental. The minute you bring intentionality into it, it becomes design. In that way, we are all designing all the time.”

To hear more about Transition Design, attend Irwin’s seminar, “Designing for Systems-Level Change” on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

TAKING THE LEED

Origninally posted in @theU on Oct. 23, 2017.

By Shawn Wood, communications specialist, University Marketing & Communications

The University of Utah announces its first Athletics building to be LEED Gold certified. The Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility, home to both men’s and women’s basketball, is officially a leader in sustainable design and energy efficiency. This is the eighth building on campus to be certified Gold or higher, and represents a commitment to a sustainable future through design.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a building rating system created by the United States Green Building Council to evaluate quality and achievement based on: sustainable design; green practices during construction; and environmental performance over a year after construction is complete.

“We are thrilled that Athletics shares our vision to create a more sustainable campus,” said Deputy Chief Sustainability Officer Myron Willson. “They understand that our environments not only impact the ecosystems around us, but also the health and wellness of the student athletes and staff that occupy the facility every day.”

Sustainable building materials

The 102,000-square-foot facility was manufactured using over 23 percent of recycled materials and resources strategically selected from the Utah region to support local businesses and to reduce the environmental impacts associated with transportation. Over 12.5 percent of the total building materials include products that were manufactured and extracted within 500 miles of the site. During construction, the project diverted nearly 85 percent of the on-site generated construction waste away from landfills.

Eco-friendly site design

The design implements a stormwater management plan that results in a 25 percent decrease in the volume of stormwater runoff from intense rain events. In addition, the hardscape and roof surfaces, including a rooftop terrace and garden, which offers a 360-degree view of the Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountains, the university campus, downtown Salt Lake City and the Great Salt Lake, were designed to mitigate urban heat island — heat buildup around the facility — with lighter materials to in order to minimize the impacts of the reflected sun on surrounding wildlife habitats. The training facility is near U shuttle stops and UTA bus and TRAX routes. It also features on-site bicycle storage conveniently located near the campus bicycle masterplan’s desired routes.

Energy efficiency

The practice facility exceeds the LEED baseline energy performance rating by 38 percent thanks to numerous strategies to make the building more efficient. For example, all interior and exterior light fixtures are LED’s, the HVAC systems, building insulation and windows were selected to minimize energy waste. Exterior fixtures were positioned to minimize light pollution, improve nighttime visibility, and reduce impacts on surrounding environments. An Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) standard was also set so a system could monitor outdoor air delivery, increase ventilation, and enhance thermal comfort of occupants.

The U is also a proud member of the Green Sports Alliance. As a member, U Athletics programs commit to energy-efficient and sustainable practices for new buildings; prevent recyclable items from entering landfills after games; and other sustainable improvements. The U was the first in the state, either collegiate or professional, to join the alliance.

Project designer Jeremy Krug, senior associate at Populous, also worked on the Sorenson High Performance Center, a building adjacent to the basketball training facility. Together these buildings, connected to the Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Complex, serve 17 of the U’s sports programs and accommodate the needs of each program while serving as a model for what is possible in sustainable design.

“The Jon M. and Karen Basketball Facility was designed to integrate the University’s mission of sustainability as a core principle. The whole design team is honored to have worked with this great University to deliver a facility that aligns with those initiatives. It’s arguably one of the most high-impact facilities in the Pac-12. The building embodies athletic and academic excellence, and can now proudly add sustainability to that list,” said Krug.

CLEAN ENERGY FOR ALL

Originally posted in @theU on Oct. 10, 2017

By Liz Ivkovich, University of Utah Sustainability Office

Medical equipment that helps treat and cure hospital patients, big data computer servers critical to research, hundreds of classrooms lit and climate-controlled – carrying out the mission of University of Utah requires a lot of electricity.

Soon, 50 percent of that electricity will come from carbon-free solar and geothermal energy sources, reducing the university’s total carbon emissions by 25 percent. This means that the U will have the largest long-term green power contract of any U.S. university. With this project, the University of Utah rises to the top of universities in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s list of Green Power Partnership Long-Term Contracts.

In 2008, the university joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, dedicating the campus to carbon neutrality by 2050. This is an aggressive goal that requires a multi-layered strategy, including this off-site power purchasing agreement, as well as energy efficiency measures and on-campus energy.

The agreement between the university, Cyrq Energy, a Utah company based in Salt Lake City, and Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables, will provide 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and 10 megawatts of solar energy to the university for the next 25 years.

“This project connects the university to a diverse array of energy resources that are important to the economic health of our state,” said U President David W. Pershing. “Both our Energy and Geoscience Institute and our Department of Geology and Geophysics are known for their work on geothermal resources. We are pleased to be part of a project that so closely aligns with our research strengths and allows the university to take a dramatic step forward on its climate commitment and toward improving air quality.”

The project began last summer when, as a result of partners in the Energy and Geoscience Institute, the university became aware of geothermal projects that were coming online. Geothermal power plants access energy from the earth through drilling water or steam wells to provide a steady resource with less fluctuation in energy production than an intermittent resource like solar or wind.

The university then engaged in a series of technical reviews of renewable energy options that might work for the university’s needs. Following these reviews, the planning team drafted a request for proposals calling for 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and up to 10 megawatts of complementary solar. The final proposal accepted was a joint proposal from Cyrq and Berkshire Hathaway Energy.

“Cyrq is honored to partner with Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Rocky Mountain Power and the U on this exceptional project, and we look forward to supporting the university’s renewable energy goals,” said Nick Goodman, Cyrq CEO.

In order to be finalized, the university must enter into an agreement with Rocky Mountain Power under Schedule 32 for the transmission of the renewable power along Rocky Mountain Power’s network. All agreements are subject to review by the Public Service Commission.

With this contract and the power generated by existing on-campus solar PV projects, the university’s annual green power purchase rises to 173,328,700 kilowatt hours (kWh). This is the largest long-term contract kWh for any university on the EPA’s list of Green Power Partnership Long-Term Contracts.

“This is a big move forward for the University of Utah, and we have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many terrific partners, including the Sustainability and Energy Management Team in Facilities.,” Wildermuth said. “Their hard work to improve our energy efficiency and systems is what made an arrangement like this possible. But we are not done. There is still more we can do to reduce our energy use, our air emissions and our carbon footprint.”

The university is committed to a multi-layered carbon-neutrality strategy, including energy efficiency measures and on-site energy creation like rooftop solar and solar parking canopies. A study is underway to determine what additional percentage of the university’s energy demand could be produced on campus and where those projects might be located. In addition to working on university emissions, the U has also helped to spur the local renewable energy market through U Community Solar, an innovative group purchasing program.

Carbon-neutrality by 2050? We’re one big step closer.

10 YEARS OF SUSTAINABILITY

Originally posted in @theU on Sept. 22, 2017.

By Amy Brunvand, Sustainability Librarian.

The University of Utah Sustainability Office turns 10 years old this year, and it is truly amazing to look around campus and realize how much has changed for the better in the past decade. Nowadays, there are campus vegetable gardens with ripe tomatoes and hives of buzzing bees, solar parking canopies that provide both power and shade, electric vehicles plugged into charging stations, crowds of students arriving on TRAX light-rail trains, tasty vegetarian and vegan options on offer at the cafeteria, water bottle refilling stations in most buildings, and plenty of recycling bins to divert waste from the landfill.

The curriculum has changed, too. Undergraduates can earn a number of sustainability-focused degrees and minors, while graduate students in any field can add an Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability to their credentials.

Over the years, students, staff and faculty have all contributed to a vision of making the University of Utah a better place. In September, the Sustainability Office will celebrate these milestones and achievements with a Sustainability Showcase highlighting current programs and resources, and a special presentation by Dr. Vandana Shiva who advocates for traditional agriculture, and environmental and social justice issues worldwide.

Join us at the Sustainability Showcase on Friday, Sept. 29, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Marriott Library Plaza for food, live music and fun activities. Later this fall, Dr. Vandana Shiva will present a public lecture at Libby Gardner Concert Hall on Saturday, Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m., as part of UtahPresents 2017-18 season. Tickets are available now.

1991-2006: Early Beginnings of Sustainability

Ten years ago, the transition to campus sustainability had barely begun, although a few major milestones laid the foundation. The first big sustainable change was a side effect of trying to cope with limited parking; in 1991, Commuter Services launched the Ed Pass program to give a UTA transit pass to every student and employee on campus. Not only did this encourage people to leave their cars at home, it helped expand Salt Lake City’s light rail network when enthusiastic transit riders from the U showed up at City Council meetings to press for construction of the Red Line TRAX, which opened in 2001.

In 1996, a biology professor named Fred Montague started an “unofficial” campus vegetable garden to teach students about his ideas for ecological gardening. That unofficial garden became the foundation of today’s Edible Campus Gardens, which teaches volunteers how to grow food, supports organic gardening curriculum and sells produce at the University of Utah Farmers Market. By 2006, the university had also constructed the Spencer F. and Cleone P. Eccles Health Sciences Education Building, the first LEED-certified building which incorporated efficient use of energy and water, waste reduction and consideration of human health in the building’s design, construction, operations and maintenance.

These efforts were significant, but they weren’t yet part of a unified drive to implement sustainability on campus.

2007-2014: The Sustainability Office Forms

Divergent efforts began to coalesce in 2007, with the formation of the Sustainability Office (then called the Sustainability Resource Center), underneath Facilities Management.

Something like the Sustainability Office doesn’t happen without visionaries. The idea was originally proposed by students, but it was City & Metropolitan Planning faculty member Craig B. Forster who led the effort to make the idea work. Forster, who became the first director, was a natural fit with sustainability. He was interested in facilitating interdisciplinary research and bridging the gaps between science and public policy. He also had a talent for bringing people together and was deeply involved with the local community. In the summertime, he was often seen at the Pioneer Park farmers’ market playing cimbalom (a kind of hammered dulcimer) with his Hungarian Táncház band.

With only one full-time staff member and some volunteers, the Sustainability Office got to work organizing recycling at football games, installing the first solar panels on campus, setting up a campus farmers’ market, making sure that sustainability was included in the Campus Master Plan and developing a student fee to support student-led sustainability projects through the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund. On Earth Day 2008, University of Utah President Michael K. Young signed the American College & University President’s Climate Commitment, dedicating the university to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The year ended in tragedy, though, when Forster died in a hiking accident.

Despite the loss of Forster, the university persevered with a vision for making sustainability integral to its operations. In 2009, after a competitive nationwide search, architect and planner Myron Willson was appointed the next director of the office.

2014-2017: Sustainability is Integrated into Academic Affairs

In 2014, the Sustainability Office made another big change to adapt to the growing campus. Originally, the office was on the organizational chart under Facilities Management with the idea that university employees would take care of recycling, xeriscaping, transit passes and such.

But then an interesting thing happened. Students were getting more and more interested in sustainable change. They wanted to try out their ideas, and the campus was the most natural place for them to do so. With the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF) now up and running, grants were available for student-led sustainability projects. The university had become a living laboratory for sustainable change, and sustainability-focused courses had popped up in academic departments all over campus. With so much involvement in interdisciplinary research and learning, the Sustainability Office moved into Academic Affairs, and Associate Vice President for Faculty and law professor Amy Wildermuth was named Chief Sustainability Officer in 2014. Wildermuth added Adrienne Cachelin, Environmental & Sustainability Studies faculty to the team as the director of sustainability education to guide burgeoning sustainability education efforts across campus.

Under Wildermuth, the Sustainability Office also joined forces with the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC), founded in 2010 by biology professor Jim Ehleringer to foster interdisciplinary sustainability research. Nowadays, under Director Brenda Bowen, Geology & Geophysics faculty, the 129 faculty affiliates of the GCSC represent nine colleges. The center supports graduate students through grants and fellowships, offers an interdisciplinary research seminar series, faculty networking opportunities, assistance for large interdisciplinary grants and core courses in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Sustainability curriculum.

Sustainability is You: The Next 10 Years

Today, the Sustainability Office team includes fourteen faculty and staff members as well as numerous student interns and volunteers and continues to expands its scope. Though much progress has been made, sustainability is an ongoing effort, and there is still a lot of work to do.

This year, the Sustainability Office celebrates 10 years of dedicated efforts of faculty, staff and students from across campus. The next 10 years of sustainability at the university will be guided by those in our community who get and remain involved. We invite you to be part of this important work. Join us at one of our fall events to learn about ways you can help make the U a better place for all who live, work and play here.

Merging Research and Design

By Ashley Babbitt, public relations specialist, College of Architecture + Planning. Originally posted on July 3, 2017.

The University of Utah recently approved the creation of the Center for Ecological Planning and Design. The new center merges the provisional Ecological Planning Center and the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center — both in the College of Architecture + Planning — in a new partnership with the Global Change and Sustainability Center. The Center for Ecological Planning and Design is positioned to bridge the gaps between research and the design and planning fields, both within CA+P and across campus, with a focus on the built environment and the human communities that inhabit it.

Sarah Hinners, director for the provisional Ecological Planning Center, answers questions about the new center:

Tell us about the significance of the work of the new research center?

The built environment refers to buildings, roads, parking lots, etc. — all that stuff that humans build for ourselves to make life easier, safer and more comfortable or convenient. Cities are dominated by the built environment and it is becoming more and more the dominant habitat of humanity worldwide. But our environments are not always a healthy and life-enhancing and can be vulnerable to environmental changes and disasters. The built environment affects people’s lives and in turn, human communities shape and influence the built environment.

At the center, we’re focused on bringing together the people who study the built environment, such as scientists, social scientists and engineers, with the people who plan, design and build it. We have most of these disciplines represented here on campus, but they are widely dispersed among multiple colleges and dozens of departments. We’re interested in bringing these experts from across campus and outside of academia together to generate ideas and knowledge, ultimately to build better places for humans.

How will this center allow the college to collaborate in new ways?

There are challenges to interdisciplinary work. People in different disciplines and in different colleges on campus don’t necessarily speak the same language and it can be difficult to work with others without the feeling of stepping on toes or coming into competition with one another. There is a tremendous opportunity, one that is so often missed, to build collaborations and this potentially has the power to transform the way cities and communities take shape. The center is intended to build bridges between departments in the College of Architecture + Planning and across campus. By working under the umbrella of the Global Change and Sustainability Center, we offer a place to collaborate on disciplinary neutral ground — a place where people interested in resilient communities and built environments can meet in the middle and do great things together.

What types of research will emerge from this center?

We anticipate building a research portfolio of collaborative solutions for cities, including sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems, highly functional and beautiful urban ecosystems, strong inclusive communities and equitable access to a high quality of life in cities.

 Who are the key participants and collaborators of the center?

The center started out as the Ecological Planning Center, established as a provisional center in 2012 and funded with a donation from the Swaner family. As we grew, we came to understand just how interdisciplinary this work needed to be. A bunch of pieces fell into place within the past year that really opened important doors for us. One was an opportunity to join forces with the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center that has been doing research on the ecology of construction practices and building materials for a long time. The second was a desire, with the Global Change and Sustainability Center, to coalesce some of its expertise into a smaller number of topical themes, one of them being the built environment and communities.

In addition to myself, the new center includes Diane Pataki, associate professor of biology, and Ryan Smith, director of Integrated Technology in Architecture Center. The steering committee also includes members from city and metropolitan planning, parks recreation and tourism, mechanical engineering, biology, geology and geophysics, environment and sustainability studies, the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program in the Law School and a member of the local planning professional community.

How can a person get involved?

We’d love to engage with anyone who is interested in these topics through collaborative interdisciplinary research, education, events and symposia. One opportunity is to get involved with our work associated with Red Butte Creek here on campus. We have been working on a plan for revitalization of the U’s portion of the creek and the intent is to create a hub for implementation of the plan as well as the development of research and education programs associated with Red Butte Creek.

Our website: cepd.utah.edu
Contact Sarah Hinners: sarah.hinners@utah.edu

Summer Camping

Katie Stevens, Sustainable Utah Blog Writing Intern

Summer is finally upon us and I know we’re all itching to pack up our gear and go somewhere new. Camping is an excellent way to enjoy summer weather and get a break from the fast-paced life in the city. Here are three of my favorite camping spots perfect for summer break. As always, be sure to follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace and have fun!

Devils Kitchen – The Needles District

Devils Kitchen is, and always will be, one of my favorite camping spots. Located in the Needles District in Canyonlands National Park, this 4-spot campground offers scenic views and plenty of hiking trails right from camp. A few of the camp spots even come with their own cave, perfect for starting a day of exploring. As for hikes, a must-do is the Joint Trail, a slot canyon located in Chesler Park you can hike to straight from camp.

In order to get to Devils Kitchen, you may choose to backpack in or four-wheel-drive on Elephant Hill road, one of the most technical four-wheeling roads in the state.  If you decide to drive over Elephant Hill, be sure to have an experienced four-wheel driver who is also prepared to scratch up their car a bit.

Pack in a lot of water, as your last opportunity to get some will be in the visitor center. Be sure to get a permit in advance, which can also be picked up at the visitor center.

Amethyst Lake  

Amethyst Lake is a beautiful 13-mile round trip hike in the Uintas. You will begin your hike in Christmas Meadows, eventually turning left at the junction where you will begin your ascent to the lake. You will gain elevation very quickly, so be sure to take advantage of breaks to take in the views. Before making the final climb to the lake, there are meadows perfect for setting up camp. Amethyst Lake is the perfect destination if you love scenic views, mountain lakes, fishing, or even cliff jumping.  You may even be lucky enough to see some mountain goats.

Remember to be bear-aware when exploring this area and secure your food appropriately. Be prepared for any weather and enjoy!

Boulder Mountain

Boulder Mountain is a perfect summer destination due to its beautiful hiking and biking trails and close proximity to Capitol Reef National Park and Escalante.  Boulder Mountain has a few campgrounds to choose from, my favorite being Pleasant Creek on Boulder Top. Once you’re unpacked and settled in, I highly suggest hopping on your mountain bike and riding the Tantalus Flats trail. Tantalus Flats begins at the turnoff for Lower Bounds Reservoir at the Rosebud Trailhead. I love this trail because it starts off on Boulder Mountain and ends in Capitol Reef National Park. With that said, you will need to have a shuttle at the end of the ride, unless you are planning to bike back up the mountain.

Another Year in SCIF

Another Year in SCIF

By: Emerson Andrews, SCIF Coordinator.

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

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

Burned Out – $262.14

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

Food Recovery Network Operations Coordinator – $4,953.05  

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

Sustainable Tech for Design Build Bluff – $35,535.00

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

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

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

Your Utah Your Future

Sustainability Office receives “Your Utah Your Future” award.

On May 31 at the State Capitol, the University of Utah Sustainability Office was honored to receive a Your Utah Your Future award from Envision Utah for our U Drive Electric program—a community discount program for electric and plug-in-hybrid vehicles.

Envision Utah is a nonprofit community partnership that includes both public and private sectors, with the goal of maintaining a high quality of life for current and future generations of Utahns. Envision Utah recognized the combined success of two electric vehicle programs – U Drive Electric, which was managed by University of Utah in coordination with Salt Lake City, and Drive Electric Northern Utah with Utah State University and Weber State University. Both electric programs were administered by Utah Clean Energy with support from UCAIR.

“We are thrilled to be honored and to share this recognition with our great partners and all those who participated in the program,” said Amy Wildermuth, the university’s chief sustainability officer. “The university strives to serve as a model for what is possible in sustainability. Only 22% of the people who enrolled in U Drive Electric had planned to buy an electric vehicle. But what they saw and heard about electric vehicles inspired them. With over 200 zero to low emission vehicles now on the roads, we know that programs like these play an important role in our shared goal of improving our air quality and community.”

Sustainable Sanitary Pads

Originally posted on May 29, 2017.

By Vince Horiuchi, public relations associate, University of Utah College of Engineering

Each year, nearly 20 billion sanitary pads, tampons and applicators are dumped into North American landfills every year, and it takes centuries for them to biodegrade inside plastic bags, according to a 2016 Harvard Business School report. Additionally, it requires high amounts of fossil fuel energy to produce the plastic for these products, resulting in a large carbon footprint.

PHOTO CREDIT: Ashlea Patterson

The SHERO Pad, developed by a team of University of Utah materials science and engineering students, is a new feminine hygiene pad that is 100 percent biodegradable and made from all natural materials. It consists of four layers and can break down in as little as 45 days.

But a team of students led by University of Utah materials science and engineering assistant professor (lecturer) Jeff Bates has developed a new, 100-percent biodegradable feminine maxi pad that is made of all natural materials and is much thinner and more comfortable than other similar products.

The SHERO Pad uses a processed form of algae as its super-absorbent ingredient, which is then covered with cotton and the same material that makes up tea bags. The result is a maxi pad that is effective, comfortable to wear and can break down anywhere from 45 days to six months.

“This is novel in comparison to other biodegradable options out there for pads,” said Amber Barron, a University of Utah junior in materials science and engineering who is on the team of four students. “Most are really bulky because they don’t have a superabsorbent layer.”

The need for something like the SHERO Pad originally came from SHEVA, a nonprofit advocacy group for women and girls in Guatemala, which turned to Bates because it was looking for a sustainable solution for feminine hygiene waste. One of Bates’ area of research is in hydrogels, which are water-absorbing polymers.

“In Guatemala, there’s no public sanitation system. All the rivers are black because they are so polluted,” Bates says. “So there really is a genuine need for people in Guatemala to have biodegradable options.”

Part of Bates’ solution came one night while feeding his 5-year-old daughter.

“One day we were eating dinner with white rice, and my daughter spilled it all over the floor,” he says about that night two years ago. “The next morning, when I was cleaning it up, it was all dry and crusted. I drove to work and thought, ‘What was it about rice that does that?’”

That question of how rice hydrates and dehydrates began a two-year process of searching for the right natural materials for the feminine pad, which included testing with different leaves, such as banana leaves, and forms of cotton.

Bates, Barron and the rest of the team — which includes sophomore students, Sarai Patterson, Ashlea Patterson and Ali Dibble — ultimately developed the SHERO Pad, which is made up of four layers: An outer layer of raw cotton similar to a tea bag to repel liquid, a transfer layer of organic cotton to absorb the liquid and pull it from the outer layer, the super-absorbent layer made of agarose gel (a polymer from brown algae), and a final layer made of a corn-based material that keeps the moisture inside and prevents leakage.

While there are other similar sustainable feminine pads on the market today, they either use a hydrogel that is not 100 percent biodegradable or they use thicker layers of natural cotton that are uncomfortable to wear, Barron says. Another advantage to the SHERO Pad is that it can easily be manufactured in smaller villages using locally sourced materials and without sophisticated tools, just common presses and grinding stones, Bates says.

While the team originally developed the SHERO Pad for users in developing countries such as Guatemala, Bates and the students also will start selling the product in the U.S. for environmentally conscious women. A working prototype has been produced, and they have launched a startup company based in Bountiful, Utah. They hope to have products in Guatemala and on U.S. store shelves within a year.