September marks the 10th anniversary of the Sustainability Office at the University of Utah. Since it was founded, the office has been a driving force in the effort to make the U’s campus more environmentally-friendly.
On Sept. 29, the office will host the Sustainability Showcase to celebrate and recognize the strides the U has made in the last decade towards becoming greener.
According to Sarah Lappé, the manager of the showcase, the event will focus on 10 different milestones — one from each year the Sustainability Office has existed. Among the improvements, are the construction and renovation of energy-efficient buildings, the development of better water conservation systems and an increase in access to campus for those using alternative transportation like biking or public transit.
The office has collaborated with various departments at the U to bring about each of these changes and develop solutions to various environmental problems. It aims to provide a channel for students and faculty to voice their opinions on issues concerning the environment, while also empowering people to make a difference.
It has become increasingly important to facilitate this channel as more students take an interest in these topics, explained Myron Willson, deputy chief sustainability officer.
“We’re finding that more and more students are asking about sustainability all the time,” Willson said. “They want to know, does the institution live those values? That’s a large part of what’s driving us forward.”
One way the U has measured its progress in sustainability is through the STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) program. The rating takes into account numerous variables including engagement, operations, innovation, planning and education. Bronze is the first level, followed by Silver, Gold and Platinum.
In April, the Sustainability Office submitted an application to upgrade the U’s STARS distinction from a Bronze to Silver level and was approved. The office is currently working to obtain Gold level status.
“We’ve identified where the shortcomings and opportunities are, which are often the same thing, and a lot of them are in areas where we are already working to make improvements on campus,” Willson said.
The effort to reach these goals requires teamwork from groups with a wide range of backgrounds. For example, Willson said that he works with the executive director of facility operations and the chief campus design and construction officer to develop plans for improvement at the structural level on campus.
In addition to exhibits about their past successes, Lappe hopes that students, faculty and staff will attend to take the opportunity to discover new sustainability resources, programs and ways to get involved on campus. The showcase will be held on Library Plaza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is free to the public.