Join Team U and ‘Clear the Air’ this July

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

Residents have long struggled with Salt Lake City’s infamous winter inversions, which trap particulate pollution in the valley where they accumulate to hazardous levels. But winter isn’t the only season during which our air is unhealthy to breathe. In fact, as climate change and drought intensify, threats to summer air quality—like wildfires and toxic dust storms—continue to mount.

Fortunately, there’s something we can do about it.

In July, the University of Utah will compete in the Clear the Air Challenge, a month-long statewide competition to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicle (SOV) trips.

Participants in the Clear the Air Challenge can join the U’s team and log all non-SOV trips — including riding transit, carpooling, walking, biking, and working from home instead of commuting to the office — on the mobile-friendly TravelWise Tracker website or on the Commute Tracker by RideAmigos mobile app. To participate in weekly challenges with incentives, log in to your account or register to join, complete your profile, and use the left-side navigation menu to connect to the Commute Tracker by RideAmigos app.

Here at the U, transportation accounts for more than 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. By choosing alternative forms of transportation we can reduce pollution and breathe more freely.

Public and active transportation options not only reduce emissions, but they also have numerous other benefits:

Save money

Did you know that all public transit—including buses, Trax and FrontRunner—is free with your UCard? Use UTA and avoid paying for parking and rising gas prices.

Reduce stress

Commuters report sitting in congested traffic and struggling to find parking on campus. Research says cyclists, on the other hand, are the happiest commuters—so take control of your commute, hop on your bike, and get some exercise and fresh air while you’re at it!

It’s convenient

While we tend to equate cars with convenience, public and active transportation options skip the traffic and often get us to our destinations faster than driving. Locate your nearest bus or train stop and find parking for your bike or scooter. Through an exclusive university partnership with SPIN, you can now rent shared e-scooters and e-bikes on campus using the SPIN app. Remember to park shared devices in designated areas!

If we all walk, bike, roll, and ride, we can make a difference. And we won’t just clear the air; we’ll also clear our minds and keep money in our wallets.

Join the U’s Clear the Air Challenge team and let’s cut our emissions together.

U hosts first in-person Pac-12 Sustainability Conference since 2019

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office 

The Pac-12 Sustainability Conference gathered at the University of Utah this week for its first in-person event since 2019. The gathering, which was originally scheduled for summer 2020 and postponed due to COVID-19, brought together Pac-12 member universities to discuss and plan sustainability action in their college athletics departments.

“After two unbelievably trying and tragic years, it feels particularly sweet to see all of you gathered here today,” says Chief Sustainability Officer Kerry Case. “Connection, community, and wellbeing are fundamental to both sustainability and athletics. They are values that draw together what can sometimes be separate spheres at our institutions; values that I hope this conference will strengthen.”

While university sustainability and athletics departments, as Case points out, have traditionally worked in separate realms, Pac-12 Team Green is working to change that. As the first collegiate sports conference to convene a high-level symposium focused entirely on integrating sustainability into college athletics and across college campuses, Pac-12 excels in sustainability and supports its member universities in achieving impressive sustainability goals.

At the University of Utah, for example, we produce more than half of our electricity from renewable sources and have reduced water use by more than 20% since 2018. Meanwhile, multiple participating institutions have achieved between 80% and 90% waste diversion rates at sporting events.

Of the 12 institutions in the conference, three have achieved platinum STARS ratings and seven—including the University of Utah—have achieved gold. This year’s gathering provided an opportunity for leaders in higher education sustainability to share best practices, discuss persistent challenges, and brainstorm solutions together.

“Smart people like all of you in this room, we’ve got to push each other and we’ve got to challenge each other on how do we get better,” says University of Colorado Boulder Athletic Director Rick George. “I want to think about the future for my granddaughters and what that looks like for them…and the only way to do that is to challenge each other, and to share ideas, and work together.”

Here at the U, we define sustainability as the integrated pursuit of social equity, environmental integrity, and economic security for both current and future generations. “There are a lot of intersections that you don’t automatically think of, but when you start digging into it you start to see them,” says University of Utah Director of Athletics Mark Harlan.

“As an ‘old timer’ in the world of higher education sustainability, I remember when sustainability focused almost entirely on operational impacts on the environment and saving money,” says Case. “While these remain critical to sustainability work, I am encouraged to see social and economic justice represented in today’s programming and increasingly across the field.”

With panel discussions on everything from sustaining mental wellness to cost effective renewable energy, this year’s event sends a clear message: A truly sustainable future requires not only environmental action, but also social and economic justice.

Pac-12 is making strides on all three.

Project Art Heals Utah: A Tribute to COVID-19

By Sarah Buening, Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund Intern

The COVID-19 vaccine marked a turning point in the pandemic and offered a glimmer of hope for many people, including University of Utah anesthesiologist Dr. Emily Hagn. Exhausted by the collective loss and continuous struggle of COVID-19, Hagn decided to keep her vaccine vial as a hopeful memento. But this first symbolic gesture soon turned into something much larger: an opportunity to honor community, patients, healthcare workers, and science through art.

In the uncertain back and forth of life in a pandemic, Hagn recognized the need for an emotional symbol of hope on the U’s campus. With support from the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF), she launched Project Art Heals Utah—a collaborative mosaic art project that uses empty COVID-19 vaccine vials, clean healthcare waste from University of Utah patient care areas, and other donated mementos—to commemorate all that we have lost to the pandemic.

Something special about this project is its creative use of waste. The World Health Organization reported that the hundreds of thousands of pounds of COVID-19-induced waste expose a dire need to improve waste management systems everywhere. Instead of contributing further to this accumulation of trash, Project Art Heals Utah channels waste into art that is both emotionally evocative and ecologically sustainable.

Project Art Heals Utah also provides a much-needed outlet to facilitate community healing. Among other things, we’ve lost loved ones, endured isolation, and missed out on some of life’s most special moments. Getting to this point has demanded resiliency, and that alone is worth commemorating. “Art is emotion,” says the project’s artist Heidi Calega. She wants this piece to serve as a reminder, not only of how quickly life can be upended, but also of how people “pivot, adapt, and carry on with a ‘new normal.’”

Calega, who lost her father to melanoma during the pandemic and was unable to say her final goodbyes, experienced bouts of depression in the months that followed. “The one thing that calmed my hands and heart was creating art,” she says. Through art, she reflected on how much her father had taught her and reconciled with the reality of the pain he had suffered. Project Art Heals Utah helped Calega find closure, and she hopes it will do the same for others.

“Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing,” write Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel (2010). Mementos from those who have passed memorialize loss in a meaningful way and can serve as a reminder of our history and collective memory.

Keep an eye out for the final art piece, which will find its home in campus clinics and libraries. It will depict three individuals jumping powerfully, the negative space inhabited by empty COVID-19 vaccine vials and the figures made from medical waste and public donations. The mosaic will stand as a tribute, reclaimed from the broken bits of our shattered past.

Monuments matter, and they can help us reflect on everything that has made us who we are.

 

References:

Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. B. (2010). The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. Am J Public Health, 100(2), pp. 254-263.

GCSC Seminar: City Planning for Health and Wellbeing

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

“When it comes to health, our zip code matters more than our genetic code,” says Dr. Andy Hong, assistant professor in the Department of City and Metropolitan Planning and director of the Healthy Aging and Resilient Places Lab at the University of Utah.

The built environment plays a significant role in shaping our health and wellbeing, says Hong. In fact, modern city planning emerged as a response to cholera and other urban outbreaks at the turn of the 19th century.

On Tuesday, April 19 at 4 p.m., Hong will give a GCSC Seminar called “Rethinking Healthy Cities in a Post-Pandemic World.” His talk will examine the history of urban planning as a public health measure and explore future possibilities, particularly in the context of COVID-19 recovery.

While city planning is vital to supporting human health, it is also integral to building sustainable communities. Yet the balance between addressing environmental and public health concerns can be a delicate one.

“The COVID situation called for quick fixes, such as prioritizing hygiene over environmental protection,” says Hong, who points out how the urgent need to limit germ transmission in the early days of the pandemic led to an increase in single-use plastics. “As we are coming out of the pandemic there needs to be a better alignment between the sustainability agenda and the healthy city agenda, and my research is trying to find a balance between the two.”

Hong, who grew up in cities, was both fascinated by the possibilities they offer and intimately aware of their disadvantages. “I was exposed to all kinds of urban ills, from tailpipe emissions to noise to traffic hazards,” he says. “That’s how I got into the healthy city research and what motivated me to study the complexities and the interconnections between the built environment and health.”

Hong’s seminar will explore different approaches to healthy city planning, from nature-based solutions to age-friendly cities. He will pay particular attention to models that simultaneously prioritize human and environmental health. “I hope the audience understands that we need to pay attention, not only on the quick fixes, but also focus on the long-term solutions and systems thinking in order to build healthy and sustainable cities in the long term,” says Hong.

To learn more about healthy city planning in a post-pandemic world, register and attend Hong’s GCSC Seminar on Tuesday, April 19 at 4 p.m.

GCSC Seminar: The Clean Water Act and the Challenges of Environmental Law

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office  

The Clean Water Act is nearing its 50th anniversary, but the courts still have not agreed on how to interpret it—specifically, how to determine its scope and which bodies of water it regulates.

On Tuesday, April 5 at 4:00 p.m., Robert Adler, distinguished professor in the College of Law at the University of Utah, will give a GCSC seminar titled “Interpreting the Clean Water Act: the uncertain relationship between environmental law and science.” His talk will examine longstanding legal disputes about the Clean Water Act, and their implications for environmental health and water quality.

Professor Adler developed an interest in environmental issues as a teenager, when he joined his high school’s conservation club. He went on to study ecology at Johns Hopkins University, and intended to pursue a career in environmental science or wildlife biology. “But someone who knew me—and knew my penchant for policy, and politics, and that side of things—said, ‘Well, why don’t you look into environmental law?’” Adler says. “So, I ended up going to law school to merge my scientific background with a legal background, and I then became a practicing environmental lawyer.”

“I do a lot of work at the intersection of law and science, which explores how the law takes into account scientific principles relating to environmental issues and problems,” says Adler. “Or in some cases, how it doesn’t do so very well.”

The Clean Water Act is such a case. The act specifically names “waters of the United States,” which, as Adler points out, is not a scientific term. “That’s part of the problem,” he says. “It’s all tied into constitutional issues, about the relative power of the federal government versus the states.”

The meaning of the term “waters of the United States” has gone back and forth to the Supreme Court three times, without clear resolution. In an effort to resolve the dispute, Supreme Court Justices created their own “test”—bodies of water with “significant nexus” to a “navigable water body” would constitute jurisdictional waters.

And yet, the meaning “navigable waters” is also hotly debated and lacking in scientific clarity. “That terminology has made scientists scratch their head, and say ‘we don’t know what that means,’” Adler explains. “And so, you have this odd situation in which the courts are creating scientific tests that scientists and agencies need to apply, but they don’t really know what it means because it doesn’t have an underpinning in the scientific literature.”

In his seminar, Adler hopes to communicate the complex relationship between law and science, and challenges such a relationship creates. He advocates for a more holistic analysis of the Clean Water Act—one that takes science into consideration—as a way forward. To learn more, register and attend Adler’s GCSC Seminar on Zoom on Tuesday, April 5 at 4:00 p.m.

Spring Forward to Warm Weather Biking

By Anders Hart, Active Transportation Intern

Thank you to everyone who participated in Winter Bike Day!

Despite 14-degree temperatures, we welcomed over 50 people, including 12 cyclists. The University Police gave free U locks to cyclists who registered their bikes, and Commuter Services provided Campus Bike Shop services. We also gave out much-needed hot chocolate and coffee to the chilly morning commuters. We are grateful for the opportunity to educate the campus community about the benefits of winter biking and bike safety!

After a chilly interlude, the warming weather has us thinking about spring. In preparation for the changing seasons, we’ve included some tips for spring cycling:

  • It’s getting warmer, but layers are still a crucial part of cycling gear. Morning and evening commutes can be chilly.
  • Daylight savings on March 13th will “spring” us forward an hour, so don’t forget to use your bike lights in the morning.
  • Spring is a great time to clean the salt – or the cobwebs – from your bike. The campus bike shop is open and offering low-cost tune-ups. Check out their website for hours of operation.

And finally, stay tuned for more bike events this season! Bike Month is in May, so follow us on social media to stay up to date on the latest news. We will also be performing our semiannual bike utilization study in April, and are looking for volunteers to help count bikes! If you are interested in volunteering, please email anna.maki@utah.edu.

For questions regarding active transportation, or if you would like route-finding assistance, please email our Active Transportation Manager, Ginger Cannon, at ginger.cannon@utah.edu.

GCSC Seminar: Green Infrastructure to Improve Water Quality

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

Dr. Jennifer Follstad Shah grew up in northern Wisconsin where she loved spending time near the water with her family. “Rivers and lakes are near and dear to my heart,” she says. “I have always been drawn to the outdoors, which is why I became an ecologist.”

Follstad Shah, who is now a professor of Geography and Environmental & Sustainability Studies at the University of Utah, primarily studies freshwater ecosystems like streams, rivers, and riparian corridors. “But I don’t work in those habitats exclusively,” says Shah, who describes her work as interdisciplinary. “I have done work in soils from more upland areas and am currently working in green infrastructure,” she adds. “So, my research interests are pretty broad.”

On Tuesday, March 1 from 4-5 p.m., Follstad Shah will give a GCSC seminar on her green infrastructure work and water research utilizing the resources of the Wasatch Environmental Observatory (WEO).

“I have worked with a group of scientists from all over the country to better understand trends in river and riparian restoration across the country, and how restoration practitioners assessed the success of their projects,” says Follstad Shah. This water research informs her green infrastructure projects, which seek to address the problems our current infrastructure creates for surface waters, particularly creeks in the Wasatch Front.

“Green infrastructure is a designed ecosystem, and it’s built in recognition that we have some major problems in the built environment that lead to the degradation of our surface waters,” says Follstad Shah. Surface water degradation is often caused by stormwater runoff, which leads to erosion, heightened sediment loads, and heightened pollution, deteriorating stream habitat for invertebrates and fish.

“Green infrastructure is a way to try to slow the flow of stormwater, and also try to filter it so that less pollution enters surface waters and the runoff that percolates into groundwater is cleaner,” Follstad Shah explains.

Green infrastructure offers myriad other ecosystem services and socio-ecological benefits, among them supporting pollinator communities and wildlife, mitigating urban heat islands, and stabilizing soils. “It’s also a great place for folks to just come and recharge,” says Follstad Shah.

Follstad Shah works on two green infrastructures on campus—the Landscape Lab and the Green Infrastructure Research Facility (GIRF). “I’m really interested in campus as a living lab,” says Follstad Shah. “I encourage more faculty to really think about having projects for students that can be real inquiry-based learning, and how to improve sustainability on campus by focusing on this campus as a living lab idea.”

Follstad Shah collaborates in her research with undergraduate students, who have encouraged her to approach water quality issues through an equity lens. One such project examines the nexus between homelessness, water availability, and water quality.

While conducting research on the Jordan River, Follstad Shah and her team noticed multiple encampments where unsheltered people were living and many areas where residents were fishing. “And that year was one in which toxic algal blooms really started to become a phenomenon in Utah Lake, and that the lake water then drains into the Jordan River,” she says. “So, there are definitely concerns for human health impacts of living and recreating along the river.” Students are conducting studies to identify areas of the river with the greatest number of encampments and surveys to quantify the distance from encampments to potable water and restrooms.

To learn more about Follstad Shah’s work on surface water and green infrastructure, and to learn how you can get involved with campus as a living lab, register and tune into her GCSC Seminar on Tuesday March 1 from 4-5 p.m.

GCSC Seminar: How Inequality Exacerbates Climate Change

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office. Photo credit: Dave Titensor/University of Utah

When Dr. Lazarus Adua read a book about “super polluters”—or major powerplants that account for a large chunk of global carbon emissions—he was inspired with a new research idea. “I was thinking—could the same thing apply at the household level?” Adua says. “I wanted to look at it with households, thinking about the super wealthy households as similar to the big power plants.”

Dr. Adua is assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Utah. On February 15 from 4-5 p.m., he will give a GCSC seminar called “The Downside of the Gap! Examining the Impacts of Inequality on Environmental Views and Outcomes in the United States.” The talk will explore Adua’s central research question: “when inequality expands in the country, how does that influence our impacts on the environment?”

Some economists believe that increasing inequality reduces environmental impacts, but Adua’s research challenges this notion. “What I am doing is to take those kinds of argument and bring it to the household level,” Adua explains. “I look at the extent to which expanded inequality among American households is impacting the environment.”

Adua’s initial findings show that inequality at the household level leads to increased carbon dioxide emissions and environmental impacts. “As incomes become more concentrated, those at the very top pollute a lot more than those at the very bottom,” says Adua.

While it might be expected that wealthy people contribute more to carbon emissions than their lower-income counterparts, Adua’s research shows that the impact on the environment by the affluent is disproportionate to their income and lifestyles. “Common sense tells us that wealthy people overall do consume more, and therefore they would pollute more,” Adua says. “But I wanted to go beyond that to show that the rate of consumption is actually way beyond what you would expect in terms of supporting even a luxury life.”

“There is an effect that is beyond just being wealthy or being upper income” says Adua, whose research also links inequality to opinions that preclude government funding for environmental protection. “The reason is simple: environmental views of the public can sometimes influence whether politicians or policymakers will take any actions related to the environment.”

Adua hopes attendees will leave his seminar with a better understanding of the connections between environment and inequality, and a commitment to addressing both. “I want people to see that if you deal with inequality, you actually will be in some ways dealing with climate change,” says Adua. “There is a public advantage to dealing with inequality…even if you don’t believe that we should address it for its own sake.”

“If you’re sitting in the in the audience and you don’t care about inequality, but you care about climate change, well these two things are married in some ways,” Adua says. To learn more about the intersection of climate change and inequality, register for Adua’s GCSC Seminar on Feb. 15 from 4-5 p.m.

Trade Your Space Heater for a Free Electric Blanket!

This article was originally written by Kate Whitbeck and published in @theu on Feb. 5, 2020. It was updated in 2022 by Maria Archibald.

Want to stay warm this winter while reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions? Consider participating in our program “Heat People, Not Spaces!”

If you are a U faculty, staff, or intern, you can trade your space heater for a free electric blanket. If you don’t have a space heater to exchange, don’t worry—electric blankets are also available for purchase.

Space heaters are energy drains that emit greenhouse gases and pollute the air we breathe. By switching to an electric blanket, you’ll save energy, minimize fire risk, and stay cozy all winter long!

Electric blankets use 90% less energy than a typical portable electric space heater. Using a portable electric space heater for 8 hours produces as much carbon dioxide as a 20.7-mile car ride. By switching from a space heater to an electric throw, you’ll save emissions equivalent to a trip from the U to the border of Idaho – every week!

Our exchange program is open to all faculty, staff and interns who wish to trade in the portable electric space heaters they use on campus. Blankets are free with a space heater exchange, or can be purchased via e-journal for $30.

To participate, please submit this form and we’ll contact you to make an appointment. Questions? Email us at sustainability@utah.edu.

GCSC Seminar: Arid Ecologies and Human Communities on the Baja California Peninsula

By Maria Archibald, Sustainability Office

“Baja California, for me is a siren song,” says Dr. Shane Macfarlan. “I went there once. And I listened to the song. And it drew me in.”

Macfarlan, a cultural anthropologist who researches kinship, social networks, and natural resource use in rural ranching communities on the Baja California Peninsula, will give a GCSC seminar on Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 4 p.m. called “Human-Ecosystem Dynamics on the Forgotten Peninsula: A Historical, Demographic, and Ethnographic Exploration of Baja California Sur, Mexico.” His talk will examine how people adapt to harsh, arid ecology with minimal access to fresh water, and how such constraints affect human environmental dynamics over time.

At nearly 1,000 miles long, Baja California is the second largest peninsula in the world. “The key to knowing about Baja is that…there are no active rivers,” says Macfarlan. “The only freshwater available to people, especially in historical times, was either desert springs or the seasonal rains associated with the North American Monsoon.”

Limited access to fresh water “makes it pretty hard to live life,” says Macfarlan, whose seminar will discuss the economic and climatological challenges faced by rural ranching communities in Baja California Sur, Mexico. “How do they accommodate these kinds of harsh ecologies?” Macfarlan asks. “And how do those ecological constraints shape the decisions that people make—whether it’s about when to get married, when to start a family, when to time their births?”

As climate change worsens and droughts intensify, it becomes increasingly difficult to access fresh water on the peninsula. “Whereas in the past there was…less variability in the amount of rainfall received from the North American Monsoon, the droughts have gotten starker, more dramatic,” Macfarlan explains. “This puts real pressures on rural peoples who live close to the earth.”

People have long converged near desert springs across the peninsula, building their communities around fresh water. But as the water dries up, its absence is deeply felt. “There’s not enough springs to support new families,” Macfarlan says. “What does this mean for people to start a household? What does this mean for finding a spouse?”

Macfarlan hopes attendees will leave his talk with renewed appreciation—not only for water, but also for the peninsula he holds dear. “Baja is an amazing place, and we can’t be treating it as this tourist destination you can trash…that’s not sustainable at all,” Macfarlan says. “I want people to understand it for the beauty that I see, which is the cultural beauty, the historical legacies, the unique ecologies that harbor diverse cultures, and diverse ecosystems that are worthy of our attention and our protection.”

To learn more about the Baja California Peninsula and the role of water in shaping human communities, tune into Macfarlan’s GCSC seminar on Tuesday, Feb.1 at 4 p.m.