I grew up in the slums of Iloilo in the Philippines, where sustainable practices were not a privilege, but critical to survival. Our drinking water came from a public pump but only for a few hours at night. Every drop had to be conserved. With the equivalent of less than $50 a month for food for a family of seven, we ate every morsel of plant or animal that we could put on the table.
Even though I left Iloilo years ago, I never stopped thinking about conservation and sustainability. At one point, my career took me to the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Singapore is known to be one of the “greenest” countries on the planet, with natural gas generating 95% of the country’s electricity. Singapore recently released its Singapore Green Plan 2030, which includes several nationwide sustainability efforts that encourage collective action by the country’s population.
When I moved from Singapore to Utah, my family made our home at the base of the majestic Wasatch Mountains and took every opportunity to explore Utah’s natural beauty. Yet with all of our efforts to be more sustainable, we continue to see rising carbon dioxide emissions causing temperatures to rise globally. In fact, 2020 tied with 2016 as Utah’s warmest year on record, which led to raging wildfires and lower-than-average snowfall across the state. Average air temperatures in Utah are estimated to increase 3 degrees in winter and 3.6 degrees in summer by 2050. This extra heat will affect everything from our agriculture to snow at our ski resorts.
Air quality is also an overwhelming issue. Unfortunately, our scenic mountains trap air pollution in the valleys, which doubles every day during an inversion as cold air traps a layer of warm air at the earth’s surface. These surface temperature inversions lead to unhealthy air that we all breathe, especially during the winter months.
As we mark Earth Day, I am proud to say that Utah Valley University is taking air quality, climate change and sustainability seriously. UVU is a green-minded campus having adopted initiatives in our strategic plan, Vision 2030. Similar to the Singapore Green Plan 2030, our Vision 2030 commits to create a greener campus.
As an early adopter of sustainable building practices, UVU was excited by the passage of the Community Renewable Energy Act (House Bill 411), which will move about 37% of Utah’s population to 100% renewable energy by 2030. Last year, we joined with six Utah organizations and Rocky Mountain Power to source 92% of our electricity by 2023 from an 80-megawatt Elektron Solar farm in Tooele County that is currently under construction.
We also partnered with Rocky Mountain Power’s Wattsmart Business Program by launching two dozen energy-efficiency projects that save UVU 5.8 million kilowatt-hours annually — the equivalent carbon offset of removing 886 vehicles from the road. These upgrades save UVU approximately $250,000 per year, and most of the upgrades were funded by Wattsmart rebates.
In addition, UVU heats and cools its Orem Campus buildings using geothermal technology by preheating and precooling the air in underground pipes at the earth’s steady 55-degree temperature year-round. Geothermal technology reduces electric bills by 25% to 50%.
Starting with the Orem Campus, UVU has made it a priority to construct highly efficient and sustainable buildings, with three LEED-certified buildings already on campus. All new construction will follow the state’s High Performance Building Standard.
To help curb auto emissions, UVU provides free UTA passes to students, faculty, staff, and their dependents. The new pedestrian bridge over I-15 makes it easier for public transit users, cyclists, and pedestrians to safely access the Orem Campus. UVU also provides electric car charging stations at no cost. Additionally, UVU offers many sustainability courses, including a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and management and a minor in environmental studies. And for three years in a row, the Arbor Day Foundation has given UVU the Tree Campus Higher Education designation for the number of trees we plant.
UVU is committed to enhancing sustainable practices. We will work together with our community and our neighbors to expand understanding of sustainability. We will work to change behavior in ways that will help us leave cleaner air, and water, and a better environment for future generations. These ideas and efforts are not an option or a luxury — they are at the heart of our responsibilities as humans who love the cities, state, country, and planet that we inhabit.
Astrid S. Tuminez is the president of Utah Valley University.