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Sustainability conference draws record participation

June 22, 2012

The greening of higher education

The greening of higher education

Flash slideshow

Photos by David Phillips and Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

By Dateline staff

They came. They saw. They studied — sustainability.

The California Higher Education Sustainability Conference, held at UC Davis for the first time in the event’s 11-year history, drew record registration: nearly 1,000 people from 88 institutions, mostly in California — but also including institutions in three other states and four other countries.

The attendees participated in 62 breakout sessions with multiple speakers; many longer programs; 29 field trips; a curriculum summit; open houses; and a Green Business Expo.

Assistant Vice Chancellor Sid England, who heads the office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability, wrote about the conference in advance (in a guest opinion for The Davis Enterprise):

“Besides sharing ideas, the conference recognizes that every college and university in the state is in the business of creating a very valuable commodity — broadly educated, motivated students who will go out into the world and improve it.

“In an age of shrinking resources and climactic changes, fostering a commitment to sustainability is essential. That demands that universities and colleges practice what we teach."

At a predawn news conference on Monday, UC Davis showed one of the myriad ways it practices what it teaches: unveiling one of the most advanced outdoor lighting systems in the United States, a roughly $1 million network of “smart” lights that talk to one another and adapt to their environment.

The project is part of the university’s Smart Lighting Initiative, established in 2010 to reduce campus electrical use by 30 million kilowatt hours — down to 60 percent of 2007 consumption — by 2015. The new outdoor lights promise to save $100,000 a year while shrinking the university’s carbon footprint and making the campus a safer place after dark.

UC Davis news release: Outdoor ‘smart’ lighting system to save energy, enhance safety (with video)

FOX 40 (KTXL-TV, Sacramento): “Smart lights” video

Later in the morning, the university held a second media tour, showing off solar panels on top of shade structures in a parking lot; the sustainable winery, brewery and food laboratory; and the Good Life Garden — among other projects.

The Sacramento Bee: “UC Davis’ Good Life Garden reveals secrets as seasons pass”

Then came the zero-waste conference and its nonstop program that runs until 6 p.m. today (June 22).

The breakout sessions covered such topics as “Purchasing Sustainable Laboratory Equipment,” “Community Connections Through Urban Agriculture,” “Laying the Groundwork for Water Efficiency,” “Creative Composting,” “Green Cleaning,”” “Learning from Davis, a Model of Sustainable Transportation” and “Making the Business Case for Changing Your Campus Landscape.”

Longer sessions addressed such topics as “Green Building Strategies,” “Striving for Zero Waste,” “The Greening of Health Care” and “From Field to Fork: Sustainable Food Systems in Higher Education.”

The Sacramento Bee: “UC Davis conference bustles with shared ideas about sustainability”

And, for the first time in conference history, the program included campus field trips, 20 in all, that ran concurrently with the breakout sessions. “We wanted to share our sustainability efforts with our colleagues,” said Camille Kirk, campus sustainability planner who served as chair of the host committee.

The destinations included UC Davis West Village and the Domes, the Student Farm and the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven Garden, Gallagher Hall and the next-door Conference Center, and the Segundo Dining Commons and the Coffee House.

One group took to a double-decker bus for an overview of the ASUCD-city of Davis Unitrans bus system. Another field trip took in the campus’s bike infrastructure, on a tour called “From Bovines to Bikeways.”

You don’t have to be on an organized field trip to see UC Davis’ achievements in sustainability. You can take a tour of your own, using the new “Explore Sustainability” map (printed on recycled paper, of course).

It details a walking tour (2.75 miles, about 90 minutes at a medium pace) and a bike tour (5 miles, one hour at a slow pace). Each tour comprises 16 points of interest, detailed on the back of the map.

Click here for a link to the map (PDF), and stay tuned for information on where you can pick up free copies.

Broadening sustainability’s reach

England, in his Davis Enterprise column this week, noted that UC Davis boasts three LEED-platinum buildings — the most of any UC campus — and said, “We plan to build more.” Platinum is the highest level in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

England also wrote about Professor Ruihong Zhang’s technology to convert organic waste to biogas, which will then be used to make electricity. A private sector entrepreneur holds a license to use the technology — and a plan is in the works to develop a biodigester on the campus.

“So not only are we practicing what we teach, we’re broadening sustainability’s reach,” England wrote.

“Another great example is the mainly natural gas-powered Unitrans bus system. Created in 1968 by students — and still operated by undergraduates — Unitrans is the primary bus system for Davis residents. It averages 20,000 riders each day — some 3.5 million passengers per year.

“The point is that we’re doing more than showcasing, we’re helping make sustainable practices work in practical ways, every day. And the more that commitment is shared — and the more smart ideas shared — the sooner sustainability will become implicit.”

Ignite! The Art of Sustainability

A new exhibition at the Design Museum “ignited” the conference, figuratively speaking, on opening day.

Ignite! The Art of Sustainability comprises the works of 13 California artists, including two UC Davis faculty members: Professor Ann Savageau and Professor Emerita Gyöngy Laky — each of whom works with reused and repurposed materials.

The exhibition is scheduled to run through the end of August, before embarking on a state tour.

Dateline UC Davis: “‘Igniting’ the art of sustainability”

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