Utah State University President Stan Albrecht recently approved a Climate Action Plan that outlines steps aimed at minimizing USU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The plan is part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment that Albrecht signed in 2007. He was the first in the state to sign the pledge. USU bills itself as a leading eco-friendly institution. It offers the only academic programs in conservation and restoration ecology, recreation resource management and watershed and Earth systems in the state. Faculty members are also recognized for their sustainability expertise. Environment and Society professor Joseph Tainter has been sought out for expertise in various documentaries, including ABC’s “Earth 2100” and Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Eleventh Hour.” Researchers in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business played a major role in bringing the first commercial wind farm to the state in 2008 and several programs in the humanities, including speech communication, English and history also have strong environmental emphases. “As Utah’s land-grant university, USU has always had a major role in providing the sound science that is the basis for wise policies to manage the state’s land, water and living resources,” said Nat Frazer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and chair of USU’s Sustainability Council. “Now, more than ever, it is important for all Utahns to know how to use these precious resources in ways that ensure our economy, our quality of life and our society are sustainable.” Throughout the years, USU has aimed to practice what it teaches. For example, nearly all of USU’s Aggie Shuttles, which transport nearly 1 million people a year, run on compressed natural gas. It is the state’s only alternative-fuel bus system in higher education. USU’s central heating system burns natural gas, reducing air pollutants in Cache Valley by more than 230 tons annually. The student-run Aggie Blue Bikes program provides bicycle loans to students and employees free of charge. The campus has several low-water-usage gardens, which showcase native plants and have interpretive displays that encourage people to garden with water-efficient plants. Over the past 15 years, USU has retrofitted 3.5 million square feet of space with efficient fluorescent lighting, reducing the university’s energy usage by 30 percent. The university runs the Utah Botanical Center and Utah House in Kaysville and the Swaner EcoCenter and Preserve outside Park City. These centers preserve the natural environment and educate visitors about living in ways that conserve natural resources. Despite a 20 percent increase in the student population at USU since 1990, the university has managed to keep energy consumption to a minimum, increasing by only 1 percent during that time. Several major university research projects revolve around sustainability, including research on intuitive buildings that save energy and research aimed at developing biofuels from algae growth and from plant growth on previously unused municipal land. The Climate Action Plan aims to reduce the university’s carbon footprint even more. The plan outlines specific steps to reach a goal of climate neutrality. Some of these goals include strengthening climate neutrality and sustainability topics as part of the general education curriculum. This is already a strength of the university’s. At present, upwards of 50 faculty members teach some 70 courses that address sustainability or climate change topics. The state of Utah recently adopted policies that will require all new state buildings to meet at least LEED silver standards, and new campus buildings will comply. Currently, USU has two buildings that hold the highest ranking — LEED platinum. A new policy requires all new vehicles purchased by USU to be hybrid or alternative fueled and “right-sized” for the intended use. The university will work with its regional campuses and other communities to initiate a traveling road show throughout the state to explore and implement ideas to reduce our collective carbon footprint. The university’s SOAR and Connections programs for incoming freshmen will offer workshops and exhibits focused on sustainability.
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