CLEARING THE AIR

By Ayrel Clark-Proffitt

Curtail use of two-stroke leaf blowers. Support clean-fuel vehicles with parking discounts. Add energy standards to renovation projects. These are just a few strategies recommended by the University of Utah Air Quality Task Force.

In July, the task force released its report on strategies for the U to decrease its contribution to Salt Lake Valley’s pollution. “Improving the Air We Breathe:Emission Mitigation Strategies for the University of Utah”outlines near-term strategies that can reduce the U’s emissions and demonstrate its commitment to a healthy, livable community. The task force looked at a wide range of recommendations, from operational adjustments to commuting to behavior change.

USCAN founder and U of U student Carl Ingwell votes for a strategy to create more behavior change campaigns on campus at the Air Quality Task Force meeting on Friday, January 31, 2014.

USCAN founder and U of U student Carl Ingwell votes for a strategy to create more behavior change campaigns on campus at the Air Quality Task Force meeting on Friday, January 31, 2014.

The Air Quality Task Force formed to evaluate ways the University of Utah can address air-quality concerns. Vice President Arnold Combe and Ruth Watkins and Vivian Lee created the committee in response to poor winter air quality in recent years and increased public awareness of the health concerns from fine particulate matter and ozone hovering over Salt Lake City.  The task force tackled both large and small topics that can lessen the U’s overall pollution. The report includes more than 30 ideas.

Marty Shaub, managing director of Environmental Health and Safety and co-chair of the Air Quality Task Force, said she believes that the task force’s efforts and report will create momentum to make a wide range of improvements.

“There has been a great deal of progress thanks to a number of frontline units that have been progressive in addressing operations that impact air quality,” Shaub said. “With senior administration in support, we can go beyond making changes to just the low-hanging fruit and have a larger impact on emissions.”

The university did not wait until the report’s release to start implementing strategies. Multiple recommendations are already in progress, including:

  • Include air quality as a decision-making factor

A decade ago, most decisions were largely evaluated on initial cost. In the past five years, the U moved toward evaluating the life-cycle cost, which includes the cost of utilities and ongoing maintenance. Now, it will also consider how buildings, processes and equipment will impact the airshed. By integrating air-quality concerns into decision making, the U can ensure that factors such as equipment choices, growth and other outcomes are in line with state and federal regulations. Two new construction projects—the Lassonde Studios and Crocker Science Center—used air quality to evaluate building systems prior to purchase, and both buildings selected high-efficiency boilers with low nitrogen oxide emissions, significantly reducing pollution from how buildings were heated in the past.

  • Implement Zimride, an innovative ride-matching service

Zimride, a service of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, will launch at the start of the fall semester. It is an online ride-matching service that leverages the power of social media. By integrating with Facebook, Zimride connects drivers and passengers within a private University of Utah network heading to the same area. It is free for students, faculty and staff to join the network and begin searching for matches or posting rides of their own.

  • Ban two-stroke engines on poor air-quality days

Thirty minutes of using a leaf blower with a two-stroke engine is the equivalent to driving 3,887 miles in a high-efficiency Ford Raptor truck, according to a test by Edmunds. Based on these emissions concerns, the U will no longer use two-stroke engines on days labeled as “red air quality” by the state’s Division of Air Quality. The landscape maintenance department piloted the ban in February 2014. In addition, Facilities Management will transition away from most two-stroke engines, which it hopes to complete by July 2016.

In addition, the university has completed or is pursuing:

  • Introduction of a winter sustainable transportation challenge
  • Installation of electric vehicle charging stations, including ultra-fast charging stations
  • Consideration of transit options factored into real estate purchases
  • Implementation of behavior change campaigns to reduce resource waste
  • Construction of a through-campus shuttle route
  • Development of an energy standard for renovation projects
  • Optimization of central hot water plants

The U’s Sustainability Office will be in charge of promoting and tracking initiatives in the Air Quality Task Force report.