Monthly Archive for August, 2008

Zero Waste Network

In the last year or so, the Zero Waste Network has joined the cluster of sustainability-oriented research organizations at UT Arlington. The following note has been provided by the Network’s Katherine McCrea.

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The Zero Waste Network is a group of environmental professionals dedicated to finding money-saving options for conserving our natural resources. We are a collaborative project of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Texas at Arlington, and regional environmental agencies. Together we work to identify pollution prevention options for large and small businesses, governments and consumers.

We are dedicated to protecting the environment by helping companies become more efficient. We supply tools to reduce production costs by lowering environmental impact. It’s a win-win, non-regulatory approach that benefits everyone.

As a regional center, we work to help innovative state/local pollution prevention programs share their strategies and successes. We provide tools that environmental specialists can use to promote zero waste. We also provide assistance directly to facilities by showing them how they can save money by eliminating waste.

If you would like more information on the Zero Waste Network, visit our website at www.zerowastenetwork.org.

admin@zerowastenetwork.org

P: 512.904.2281
F: 512.904.2288

Arlington resident calls on university to link campus to city’s new park-and-ride stops

In a letter to the editor of the Star-Telegram, published today, an Arlington resident urges the university to capitalize on the new park-and-ride service to Fort Worth from locations in the north and south sides of Arlington.

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Two new Fort Worth Transportation Authority terminals are supposed to come online soon to provide bus service from north and south Arlington to Fort Worth. The University of Texas at Arlington should now expand its campus bus system to provide frequent service from central UTA to each terminal.

This expanded campus bus service should be used to promote a reduction in the daily student commuter traffic through Arlington streets. It should serve both students and non-students. Students ride using their UTA student ID; non-students would use passes purchased from UTA.

Along with reduced auto traffic and lower carbon emissions, the expanded bus system would allow turning a portion of the paved parking lots on campus into green space.

This added green space in central Arlington would result in lowered rainwater runoff into city creeks, resulting in reduction in flooding downstream from UTA. It would reduce runoff of parking lot pollutants into the ground water and would provide a reduction in greenhouse CO{-2} in and around the most congested part of the city.

This would be a great payback by UTA to the residents of Arlington, who have supported UTA directly and indirectly with our taxes and services without compensation from UTA or the state.

Any additional costs for bus system expansion could be readily borne by UTA by increasing student parking permit fees.

Student commuters who leave their cars at home should also be major winners with an expanded bus system, given today’s cost of gasoline.

— Kenneth W. Koeritz, Arlington

Shorthorn story, 8/28/08

Star-Telegram story on park-and-ride system, 8/27/08

News roundup

 Dr. Laura Gough, associate professor of biology, was quoted in National Geographic News regarding the role that large mammals, particularly caribou and muskoxen, may play in determining arctic tundra plant communities’ responses to climate warming.

 The Austin American-Statesman and several other newspapers and Web sites across the country reported that UT Arlington was one of 14 colleges and universities in Texas to be honored by the National Wildlife Federation for environmentally sustainable programs.

 The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported about a congressional hearing on energy that took place at UT Arlington Thursday.

 Science Daily quoted Harold Rowe, a UT Arlington assistant professor of geological sciences, in a story about climate cycles. Similar articles about Rowe’s study were published in the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times and the Terra Daily.

 The Ennis Daily News reported about the congressional energy hearing that took place at UT Arlington recently.

 Joel Thomas of KTVT TV Channel 11 reported about UT Arlington’s Residence Hall Move-in event citing the cost of living on campus is sometimes less than commuting.

National Wildlife Federation is impressed with our early sustainability efforts

Princeton Review might not see much going on here, but the National Wildlife Federation does. The organization’s Campus Ecology program has released a report entitled Campus Environment 2008: A National Report Card on Sustainability in Higher Education. UT Arlington was one of 334 institutions nationwide and 14 in Texas rated as “exemplary.” Our highest marks were on energy efficiency/conservation/renewables and on recycling/solid waste/materials.

The NWF methodology is much more transparent than Princeton Review’s, and the report provides a great overview of best practices in campus sustainability.

Baylor was also rated as exemplary.

Report (see pp. 60, 81)

Web article on the report, 8/26/08

Shorthorn story, 8/28/08

Princeton Review not impressed with our early sustainability efforts

When the Princeton Review recently published its annual ranking of colleges and universities, it for the first time included a “Green Rating.” Earlier this spring the UT Arlington President’s Sustainability Committee had submitted detailed info on our sustainability initiatives as part of the university’s response to the Review’s broad annual survey. The results, announced in late July, were disappointing: UT Arlington’s score was 60 on a scale of 60-99.

UT Austin, Rice, and UNT also scored 60, while SMU scored 69, UT Dallas scored 70, and both TCU and Baylor scored 78.

It’s frustrating that our score was the same as it would have been if the campus had not put substantial effort into, and not made substantial investment in, environmental curricula, energy efficiency, recycling, composting, and the launch of the PSC. And it’s irksome that the university got the same score it would have gotten if we had not even responded to the survey items on sustainability. The reasons for this result are somewhat mysterious, since the Review does not disclose details of its methodology for the green rating. But I see several factors.

First, the 60-99 scale of the Review’s green rating system is methodologically ridiculous. Campuses that are doing little or nothing receive a 60. But since the scale is so compressed, apparently so do some campuses that are doing quite a bit.

Second, the survey arrived only a couple of months after the PSC was formed. Some of the most significant sustainability developments at UT Arlington occurred after the survey data were submitted in March: release of the Sustainability Agenda; completion of the carbon footprint project; launch of our participation in a ride-sharing program; launch of our participation in Air North Texas; recognition that the campus consumes some electricity generated with renewable energy; first calculation of the university’s solid waste diversion rate; new purchasing guidelines for paper and equipment; and announcement that the OneBook program will focus on environment in 2009-10. We can reasonably hope that these developments, combined with others we expect this fall – hiring a sustainability coordinator, breaking ground on the campus’ first LEED building, release of a white paper on sustainability curriculum and research, and other results of the committee’s ongoing efforts to implement the Sustainability Agenda – will put us in a better position when we respond to next year’s survey.

Third, and most important, however, our sustainability program still has a long way to go. It is clear we do not meet most of the benchmarks on which the Review’s rating appears to hinge (see methodology):

  • • Have not yet hired a sustainability coordinator. This is expected to happen this fall.
  • • No environmental studies undergrad degree.
  • • No “environmental literacy” requirement.
  • • No aggressive CO2 emissions reduction commitment (80 percent reduction by 2050). Hundreds of institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment; but because the UT System prohibits us from doing so, we will have to explore other means of signaling that the university is serious about climate protection.
  • • Little use of locally or organically grown food.
  • • No program to encourage students to use mass transit. Because Arlington has no mass transit system, our options here are pretty thin. We should explore ways to tap into the park-and-ride system now available on I-30 and I-20 on the city’s north and south sides. [See Letter to editor, 8/26/08]
  • • Our new program to encourage students, staff, and faculty to engage in ride sharing is fairly soft. It offers no specific financial incentives.
  • • Waste-diversion rate is not high. According to calculations by graduate students during the carbon footprint analysis, about 14 percent of our solid waste stream is recycled or composted. [edit: See correction in Comments below]
  • • No specific commitment to buying or making renewable energy. We purchase whatever the regional electricity grid provides, which at this point includes a small (but growing) percentage of renewable energy, principally from Texas’ increasingly prominent wind industry. We should explore the possibility of purchasing more.

We perhaps can get some fuzzy clues about how the Review weighs these factors by comparing our programs with TCU’s. One of the leaders of TCU’s sustainability initiative, Sociology Professor Keith Whitworth, told me he suspects his institution’s surprisingly high score of 78 can be attributed to five considerations. For two of these, there is no difference between TCU and UT Arlington:

  • • recent formation of Environmental Council (equivalent to our PSC); and
  • • all new buildings are up for LEED certification, and TCU plans to build only LEED structures in the future (same at UT Arlington).

In three others areas we clearly lag behind TCU:

  • • free bus passes; universal access transit passes; bike sharing program;
  • • waste diversion rate reported to be 70%; and
  • • signing of a formal commitment to reduce carbon emissions.

Princeton Review press release on green ratings

Survey results showing UT Arlington score of 60 on scale of 60-99

Shorthorn story, 8/28/08

Professor offers sustainability perspectives on Facebook

Architecture faculty member Douglas Klahr, who taught a Maymester course on sustainability, has a Facebook page under “Douglas Mark Klahr” in which he periodically posts articles about sustainability, the environment, and urbanism.

City of Arlington releases carbon footprint report

I congratulate the City of Arlington’s climate-protection program, which has taken a major step.

Following through on Mayor Robert Cluck’s call for Arlington to reduce its contribution to global climate change, the city staff has presented the City Council with a draft report providing an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the city’s municipal government operations and from the daily activities of residents, commercial enterprises, and industry. From the report’s introduction:

The City of Arlington is actively involved in a nationwide movement to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which have serious effects on public health and quality of life. As a member of ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, a participant in the Cities for Climate Protection campaign, and a signatory to both the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2030 Challenge and the U.S. Conference of Mayors Federal Climate Policy Framework, the City has committed to addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in its own operations, and within the community.

This initiative is undertaken with both the global environment in mind and the benefits of reducing GHG emissions to help improve local air quality, save significant energy and lessen the impacts of rising energy costs.

This report summarizes the initial steps taken to measure the current (2005) or “baseline” GHG emissions from both municipal facilities and operations, and the entire community including residential and private sector sources. The City also forecasted GHG emissions for future years 2012 and 2020 to assess the “business as usual” scenario of emissions growth over time. These emissions forecasts can help determine the City’s current emissions scenario projected forward, and help to set a feasible emissions reduction target and timeline.

The report estimates that the community’s overall emissions in 2005 were equivalent to 7.33 million metric tons of CO2. Government operations are estimated to have been responsible for about 1.2 percent of that amount, 87,713 metric tons.

It is useful to compare these figures with UT Arlington’s carbon footprint, which was described in a report by students and faculty in June (see below). The university’s emissions in 2005 — 89,817 metric tons (98,700 short tons) — were very close to the amount reported for the municipal government.

The Arlington report does not indicate how much Midwest forest would be required to sequester the community emissions, one of the most powerful ways of illustrating how far out of balance our carbon economy is. By my calculation, at 1.8 tons eCO2/hectare/year (Wackernagel 2005), it would be 15,723 square miles, which is 159 times larger than the city (99 square miles), 17.5 times larger than Tarrant County (897 square miles), and about 5.9 percent of the area of Texas. The municipal government’s contribution to the total and the university’s contribution were each about twice the area of Arlington.

The report was prepared by City staff members with the assistance of consulting firm Camp Dresser McKee (which does extensive work on sustainability issues) and two UT Arlington graduate student interns, Jeremy Greene (Landscape Architecture) and Syeda Haque (Civil Engineering).

The report accomplishes the first of five “milestones” required under the Local Governments for Sustainability framework for climate protection. The second will be to establish a reduction target; the third, to develop a reduction plan.

Draft report (pdf)

Final report (pdf)

See also UT Arlington carbon footprint report, released in June

Innovative English course: Ecology of Writing

An innovative English composition course combining writing and hands-on engagement in sustainability is being offered this fall by English graduate teaching assistants Justin Lerberg, Matthew Lerberg, and Tra Clough.

Shorthorn story, July 1

Thinking, designing & constructing green — Sept. 3

Everyone is talking about going “green,” but how much has it really changed architectural practice? Betsy del Monte, AIA, Director of Sustainability and Principal in Architecture with the Beck Group in Dallas, will address the issue of defining sustainability for the building industry and identifying the ways it is changing architectural and construction methods.

Presented by the Arlington Technology Association at its Sept. 3 breakfast. Yes, breakfast.

Make a reservation now at www.arlingtontech.org.

Arlington and Fort Worth rated as “fossil fools”

Men’s Health magazine has given Arlington and Fort Worth a grade of “F” and labeled them as “fossil fools” for their transportation habits, transportation infrastructure, and air quality.

Story