Utah’s air is cleaner than it was a decade ago. And a new tool from the regional planning agency Envision Utah hopes to encourage Utahns to help keep it that way — even as the state’s population is expected to balloon rapidly in the coming years.
The organization launched a new website Thursday called Your Air, Your Utah, which compiles a slate of actionable items for individuals, businesses and local governments to reduce their emissions and improve their environmental impact.
“The goal was to give people information about what they can do and how much of a difference it makes and connect them to resources, things like rebates and grants and so on,” Ari Bruening, CEO of Envision Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We think it’ll be very helpful for those that want to make a difference.”
With 40% of the state’s pollution coming from cars and trucks, many of the recommendations for individuals center around ways to help individuals reduce their travel emissions.
The site, funded by Rocky Mountain Power, offers resources to help Utahns find low-emission options for their commutes and other trips, noting that telecommuting or taking TRAX to work every day could save 10.2 pounds of pollutant emissions per year for the average Utahn. It also encourages drivers not to idle their cars if parked for more than 10 seconds and promotes the use of lower-pollution Tier 3 fuel, including with a map that shows where to find those stations.
Other recommendations focus on emissions from buildings, which Bruening said will become a bigger part of the state’s air quality picture as the cars people drive become cleaner and pollute less. The site gives information to property owners on that point, ranging from adjusting thermostats and weatherizing their homes to buying more efficient water heaters and heating systems.
Envision Utah also provides details about state programs to replace yard equipment with electric models — a swap that can make a big difference, since running a gas lawn mower for an hour, for example, can produce the same amount of emissions as idling 11 new cars for an hour.
Bruening said one of his major takeaways from the new site is that “the products we buy and use have a huge impact.”
“We [often] focus on the little things you can do every day like ride your bike or turn your thermostat down, and those are great things,” he said. “But when you’re making that purchase decision for your car or your furnace or your lawn mower, that’s a huge decision because it’s going to have emissions implications for years to come and it has an outsized influence.”
Thom Carter, executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), said he worked with Envision Utah as it developed the website to provide insight about what should be included. The primary advantage of the new tool, he said, is that it provides a way for people or businesses who have already taken some steps to improve their carbon footprint to go deeper.
“We’re at UCAIR still trying to work to get as many people to be part of the entry-level solution,” he said. “So what I think is beneficial and what we’ve tried to provide insight [into] is what’s the next three steps past the entry level?”
Carter also sees the information the website offers to municipalities and businesses filling “an important gap” in the state.
“One of the things Envision has done really well for the last 25 years is to help us look at how we grow,” he said. “So by providing this tool specifically the elements related to municipalities and governments and some of the elements as it relates to businesses and what they can do can be very beneficial.”
The website encourages companies to create more flexible options for teleworking, particularly on poor air days, to boost productivity and health “while saving on rent and parking.” It also urges them to provide a transit pass and vehicle charging stations for employees, to update company vehicle fleets to higher smog ratings and to develop their own sustainability plans.
When businesses take action to promote cleaner air, it can make a big difference, Bruening said. “One person can decide to take TRAX to work, but a business can decide to give passes to 1,000 employees and have a much larger impact.”
In its advice to municipalities, Envision Utah’s website urges zoning for mixed-use centers that create a more walkable environment to “shorten vehicle trips and make it easier for people to walk, bike and take transit.” It also provides resources encouraging them to improve networks for electric car charging stations and to incentivize developers to reduce their emissions and boost energy efficiency.
Bruening said one of the advantages of the tool is that it brings air quality advice and details about programs across the state into one easy-to-find place.
But while the organization wants to promote increased awareness and action to clear the air, Envision Utah also wants people to understand that there are signs the actions Utahns have taken have already made a difference.
“Our emissions have basically been cut in half since the year 2000 and obviously things aren’t as clean as we want it to be so I don’t think people realize it’s cleaner than it was,” Bruening said. “And this year with the pandemic, we’re even cleaner — which just proves that if we all take action, we can absolutely make it even cleaner.”