Many students and faculty on campus are aware of the poor air quality in Utah. The University of Utah is a commuter campus, meaning that many students don’t live on campus and must travel to attend school, work and events.
There are incentives in place to encourage students to get to campus in ways other than by driving alone in a vehicle. One big incentive is that finding another way to commute helps the environment and the air quality. On top of that, parking on campus continues to be expensive and limited, and construction can be difficult to navigate. In response, the Sustainability Office began offering incentives and initiatives to improve greener commuting to campus.
The Sustainability Office reports to the senior vice president of Academic Affairs. Within that office, there are many different facets, including education, which is headed by Adrienne Cachelin and the Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC). Cachelin stated, “My work is primarily working [with] faculty to explore the role of their disciplines in solving global and local sustainability issues. We do that in a number of ways, from workshops to course designations.”
Alternative Transportation to and from Campus
There are many ways to get to campus or around campus. Public transportation is one of the more popular methods, as students registered for classes for credit may ride UTA for free with their student ID. The Commuter Services Center encourages students to use this alternative transportation, offering resources to do so. They also promote “active transportation,” which includes anything powered by the human body.
“Transportation choices are a large part of the university’s carbon footprint, as our air quality deteriorates when more people choose to drive alone to the university and emit vehicle emissions,” said Ginger Cannon, active transportation manager. “I’ve visited other campuses that don’t have the expansive public transportation options (TRAX, bus, campus shuttle) or bicycle networks that we are fortunate to have — surveys tell us the majority of commuters live eight miles or less from campus, yet 52% of us choose to drive and use valuable land to store a parked car. We work closely with U Facilities and Commuter Services — plus our outside partners like UTA, Salt Lake City and UDOT — to find solutions that give people more commute choices to better balance our transportation system.”
“We have multiple initiatives that you can see on our department website or have sent to your email box by signing up for our monthly newsletter,” Cannon said. There are initiatives going on year round, whether or not students are aware that they are making a difference on our campus.
“May is Bike Month, and we are promoting a department e-bike program where university departments can purchase discounted e-bikes for business use.” Cannon continued, “May 9 is Bike to Work Day — we love sponsoring pit stops to strengthen ties and support for our bicycling community. We also have a number of new pedestrian and bicycle facilities coming online and in development — signing up for the Sustainability Office newsletter or following @GingerCannonU will give you the latest updates.”
Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC)
GCSC is focused on campus research and is “the faculty research arm of the sustainability office on campus,” said Brenda Bowen, director of the GCSC. She mentioned that the center is faculty-run and faculty-led. Since the office focuses on faculty, they don’t so much emphasize what an individual can do to make a difference in environment and sustainability, but instead work on how someone’s career can help to solve sustainability problems. “Everything that we do is reaching out to faculty to find out how can we help you get more engaged in solutions-oriented research or how can your disciplinary research that’s maybe more applied feed into this overall sustainability issue,” Bowen said.
However, the center doesn’t only offer resources for faculty. The GSCS has fellowships given to graduate students, which started in 2012 to attract the best students to come to the U and do research in environmental sustainability. The center also offers a graduate certificate. “We have an interdisciplinary certificate that any student in any program across campus can get. We’ve had students everywhere from modern dance to mechanical engineering and everything in between, so that’s a really cool aspect of what we do that engages everyone and from every discipline.”
In addition to the graduate certificates, they also offer student grants for graduate students “to add some interdisciplinary component to their thesis research that’s collaborating with someone else on campus maybe outside their department or outside their expertise to add some element of sustainability to their research,” as Bowen stated.
Their generosity doesn’t end there. Bowen continued, “We give travel grants to students to go present about their research. We host a research symposium every year. We give seed grants to faculty. We try to find resources whether it’s from the university or the state or federal agencies or wherever we can and then use those resources to incentivize faculty to do more and better and faster research on sustainability.”
Sustainability Office Initiatives
Kate Whitbeck, Sustainability Office communications and relationship manager, discussed the many programs that exist on campus, including the campus gardens and the sustainable campus initiative fund (SCIF). The sustainability office has a variety of programs including an opt-in program for departments and opportunities for student volunteers. SCIF is funded by students and run by students and their ideas.
Departments are invited to become Green Office certified, which can help departments across campus to make changes to make a greener campus. University offices represent a lot of energy and waste that can be reduced by simple tasks such as turning off unused lights and reducing the use of paper.
There is also the sustainable energy fund, which funds sustainability projects which are mostly funded through students fees but also through other sources. The sustainable food systems includes the Edible Campus Gardens. Students volunteer and learn about growing produce on campus and then the produce is sold at the Farmer’s Market at the U in the fall. There are two edible gardens on campus.
There are many opportunities for students and faculty across campus that provide incentives for a greener campus both in resources and support for research and incentives for individual changes such as by taking public transit to campus versus driving a vehicle alone. Each person making a change can add up to a larger change on our campus and in our environment.