Brad Mortensen: Working toward clean air and a safe climate for all

(Photo courtesy of Weber State University) Weber State University and Ogden community members celebrate the opening of a new net-zero home in Central Ogden on Oct. 13, 2020. The home was designed and managed by students in the Parson Construction Management department as part of the Solar Decathlon.

Together we can tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges and do great things, making our homes and our community better for all.

Last week, I proudly joined more than 120 other leaders in the state in the inaugural signing of Utah’s Climate & Clean Air Compact. As the compact states, “Climate change and air quality represent urgent challenges for our health, families and economy.”

This nonpartisan, pragmatic directive is the first of its kind in the country and situates Utah to lead the way as a conservative state in climate and clean air solutions. As a signer, I am committing my support to the recommendations and approaches described in The Utah Roadmap: Positive Solutions on Climate and Air Quality, developed, at the request of the Utah Legislature, through an extensive and collaborative process with stakeholders from all sectors led by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.

Being a supporter of the compact was a no-brainer for me. Weber State is a leader in modeling the adoption of clean energy and clean air solutions, both of which reduce our climate-changing emissions. As an institution, we have committed to become carbon neutral (having no net release of carbon dioxide) by 2050.

Since making that promise 11 years ago, we have prioritized: 1) energy efficiency and conservation; 2) electrification of our buildings' heating, cooling and hot-water systems, fleet vehicles and landscaping equipment; 3) sourcing our electricity from clean, renewable energy; and 4) the reinvestment of our utility savings from these actions to do more of them.

We are on track to be carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of our initial goal, yielding the benefits of a reduced footprint on our environment and climate system, improved air for the health of our community, along with positive economic outcomes in the form of utility savings.

In addition to our work on campus, members of our faculty, students and staff have been working, in partnership with Ogden and the Ogden Civic Action Network, to demonstrate the feasibility of our campus approach at the level of the homeowner, through the innovative design, construction and landscaping of a new all-electric, net-zero house on Quincy Avenue in central Ogden. This home is now under contract for purchase, through a random drawing of prequalified buyers, and the proceeds from the sale will be reinvested in another net-zero home project to get underway this academic year.

As Jeremy Farner, Construction & Building Sciences associate professor and team adviser for the net-zero house remarked, “Sustainable homes are not just better for the planet, they are better for the people living in them. They contribute to high indoor environmental quality, which is associated with good mental and physical health and significantly lower utility bills, which makes the home more affordable.”

Through our campus work and this community-focused project, with more like it to come, at Weber State, we are acting on our passion and role to serve the community, to share and facilitate the adoption of technologies and sustainable energy approaches that save money and foster the growth of a cleaner economy, as well as better air quality, improved community health and a healthier climate for all.

If you want to learn more about WSU’s work and leadership toward carbon neutrality, I invite you to join a session on Oct. 20, from noon to 1:15 p.m., via Zoom, titled “Shifting Institutional Culture and Challenging Professional Norms: How WSU is Achieving and Exceeding Its Climate Action Plan Goals,” presented by Jennifer Bodine, sustainability manager, Jacob Cain, director of operations, and Mark Halverson, associate vice president for Facilities and Campus Planning. (For details to log in, visit weber.edu/sustainability/sustainability-perspectives.html.)

The Utah Climate & Air Quality Compact and the Utah Roadmap are clear in their emphasis that we need urgent action to address the intersecting challenges of climate change and our poor regional air quality. There is no doubt that these challenges are big and complex, but as we collectively work to address them, we can make improvements in an array of areas that impact all of us — our health, our economy and the livability of our climate both now and for future generations.

We at Weber State are “all-in” to take on these issues in partnership with others across all sectors. I hope you will join us in this work.

Brad Mortensen

Brad Mortensen is president of Weber State University.