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10 ways the U is improving air quality

The Sustainability Office has put together a list of the ways the U is working to reduce emissions and improve air quality.

As we look outside and see the smog over the valley, we are reminded of the contributions we all make to our air quality. Taking an even closer look, many of the university’s activities and operations, even as simple as people commuting to and from the university, result in significant air pollutant emissions. It is a university priority for our campus to be a leader and model for what can be done to reduce these emissions. The university organized the Air Quality Task Force in 2013 to explore and recommend strategies to reduce emissions from the University of Utah and lessen the institution’s overall contribution to poor air quality events in the Salt Lake Valley.

Over the following year, the task force drafted a report that focused on opportunities for the university to improve local air quality. Since the release of the report, team leaders across campus have been implementing many of the solutions described in the report, as well as supporting research to better understand the causes and solutions to our air quality problems. The Sustainability Office has put together a list of the “Top 10 ways the U is working to improve air quality.”

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  1. Understanding adverse health effects of poor air quality: air quality research

The Wasatch Front experiences high levels of particulate matter during the wintertime, and ozone pollution during the summertime. The university’s Program for Air Quality, Health and Society brings together multidisciplinary researchers and collaborators to study the effects of air quality on human health and to discover ways to reduce or mitigate the negative effects on individuals and society. The program is a recognized, credible resource for information concerning the adverse health effects from all forms of air pollution by universities, business and industry, education and public policy decision makers.

  1. Improving building efficiently: Health Science Utility Master Plan

More than two-thirds of our emissions are attributed to heating and cooling buildings on campus. Homes and commercial buildings, which include our campus, make up 32 percent of Salt Lake’s winter airshed emissions.  As a result, Facilities Management is working on an energy and utility strategic plan to achieve energy-cost reductions and sustainability goals for the next 40 years for the health sciences campus. When complete, the Health Science Utility Master Plan will establish a baseline for building operations and energy conservation measures; create a phased approach to capital funding; identify alternative approaches to address emission-reduction commitments; demonstrate pathways to reduce energy use and increase efficiency and renewable energy strategies. This strategy will significantly reduce the emissions coming from university operations, as well as reduce the overall operating costs.

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  1. Challenging you to participate: Clean Air for U

With 57 percent of winter emissions coming from mobile vehicles, getting people to drive less is key to improving our air quality. Together, we can help clean the air, which is why the University of Utah is launching Clean Air for U: A Travelwise Challenge, from Feb. 1-29. Clean Air for U is a friendly competition that allows university members to track non-single-occupant-vehicle (non-SOV) trips online. Participants can enter bike trips, bus and TRAX rides, carpooling and other methods to see how many non-SOV trips they can make, as well as how many calories they burn, and how much money and carbon dioxide they save. The teams that either log the most trips or log the most trips per capita will be honored, and the five top individuals will have a sit-down dinner with Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth. Sign up today.

  1. Tracking university emissions: increase data collection

As defined by the Utah Division of Air Quality, the University of Utah is considered a “major source” because it meets a defined threshold for emissions. Consequently, we are required by the state, under our operating permit, to annually test our campus’ major equipment, specifically exhaust from our heating plants’ stacks. In addition to the required testing, the university is planning to increase the frequency of emissions data collection. This additional data will provide useful information about the equipment under different conditions and throughout the year. This data will also inform our Facilities Management and Sustainability teams as they make decisions to increase efficiency and reduce emissions related to heating and energy supply.

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  1. Monitoring air in real time: Air Quality & Trace Gas Monitoring Center

Starting in 2014, researchers from the University of Utah Department of Atmospheric Sciences in Land-Atmosphere Interactions Research (LAIR) and Mountain Meteorology have collaborated to create the Air Quality & Trace Gas Monitoring Center to analyze air quality and greenhouse gas levels along the Wasatch Front. Conditions are monitored using equipment attached to the UTA TRAX red line trains; this moving monitoring system is the first of its kind in the United States. By monitoring gases as the trains travel, the researchers acquire unique data that spans across a large section of the valley and covers several elevations. Most importantly, all the data collected is easily accessible to other researchers and the public online. Using the data, student researchers, under the guidance of John C. Lin, associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, hope to understand climate change on a local level and to play an active role in addressing our air quality issues. For more information, visit Sustainable Utah.

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  1. Improving landscaping equipment: campus crew supports clean air

The University of Utah’s Landscape Maintenance team is helping to improve air quality one leaf blower at a time. Every day, all landscape crew leaders receive the Department of Air Quality alerts to determine when mandatory and voluntary action days occur due to poor air quality. On those days, the entire landscape crew chooses not to use two-stroke engines. Two-stroke engines, such as leaf blowers and hedge trimmers, produce an extremely high amount of emissions in a short time. The landscape crew’s actions to curb the use of two-stroke equipment on poor air quality action days help alleviate the pollution. The U’s landscape department is also replacing its two-stroke engine equipment with battery-powered equipment and four-stroke engines that produce fewer emissions. For more information, visit Sustainable Utah.

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  1. Making clean energy more accessible: U community programs

The University of Utah regularly considers and implements creative solutions to lessen its environmental impact and to improve conditions for the community and future generations. From Dec. 14, 2015, through Jan. 31, 2016, the U is sponsoring a unique and exciting program called U Community Drive Electric, where U Community members have the opportunity to purchase or lease a clean plugin-hybrid or zero-tailpipe-emissions electric vehicle at a discounted price —5 to 20 percent off retail price. All electric vehicles exhaust virtually no volatile organic compounds and produce significantly lower particulate pollution than gasoline and diesel-powered ones. By getting more people into electric cars, the university hopes to make a small, but meaningful impact on transportation-related pollution. For more information, visit Sustainable Utah.

In addition to sponsoring a community drive electric program, the U also sponsors a community solar program, which offers community members a discount incentive for purchase and installation of solar panels for their homes. In 2014, the University of Utah, in partnership with Utah Clean Energy, debuted U Community Solar, which was the first university-based community solar program in the country. The program succeeded in installing 1.8 megawatts, with 380 homeowners participating — well beyond its initial goal of 500 kilowatts. Participants in U Community Solar also had an opportunity to give back to the U by donating their renewable energy credits (RECs) to the University of Utah. RECs are credits indicating that renewable energy was created. These RECs help the university track and measure its contributions toward renewable energy and carbon reduction. U Community Solar will be returning in February 2016. Stay tuned. For more information, visit Sustainable Utah.  

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  1. Supporting electric vehicles: expansion of infrastructure

With the addition of new building and parking structures on campus, Commuter Services is looking toward the future of electric vehicles by expanding electric vehicle charging station infrastructure and increasing the number of electric vehicles in the university fleet. Electric vehicle charging stations from Leaders for Clean Air, LLC have been installed in the Northwest Garage, Central Garage, near Madsen Clinics and USTAR. For more information about electric charging permits, call 801-581-6415 and view this map to see locations. Additionally, the university fleet has added three Chevrolet Volt electric vehicles to its rental fleet. If you would like to rent a Volt for a day for university purposes, visit Facilities Management Rentals.

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  1. Facilitating active transportation: Bicycle Master Plan

Active transportation (bicycling, skateboarding and walking) benefits students, faculty and staff through healthier lifestyles, decreased costs for transportation, cleaner air and helps to provide a convenient way to get around campus. The university supports active transportation in multiple ways. A Bicycle Master Plan was completed in 2011, and the plan is the driving force behind many recent improvements as well as those that are planned in the future. Projects include the new bicycle/ADA ramps adjacent to the Student Union, Chemistry and the Huntsman Center. The university also helps to engage and educate the community regarding the benefits of active transportation through initiatives like the “Bicycle Friendly University” certification, the Active Transportation coordinator housed in Commuter Services and Bike to the U Day during the fall semester.  

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  1. Idle-free campus: new signage

With 10.6 billion gallons of gas wasted yearly by idling cars according to a 2009 study, the U is supporting new idle-free signage around campus. Student Olivia Juarez is leading this new initiative. Over the past year, Juarez has been interning with SLC Green, Salt Lake’s Sustainability Department, to educate the community about the city’s idle-free ordinance, which states that drivers must turn off idling cars after two minutes when not in traffic. Juarez decided to take her internship as an opportunity to connect her roles as an intern, a resident of Salt Lake and as a student by bringing new outreach and education efforts regarding idling to campus. During the spring semester, Juarez, along with Facilities Management, will work together to post 25 idle-free signs in parking lots, idling hot spots and loading docks. In addition to the signage, Juarez and a team of volunteers will be handing out cookies to drivers to remind people to join in the efforts to reduce emissions by turning off vehicles. This campaign will shed light on our personal responsibilities for improving air quality by targeting one simple and easy behavior change.

Improving our air quality requires everyone in our community to take action. This article covers only a few significant ways the University of Utah is taking action. Stay tuned next week for the Sustainability Office’s top 10 list of things you can do to improve our air quality.

If you are working on improving our air quality, we want to hear from you. Email us now.