In step with the environment

UT Arlington is leaving green footprints through eco-friendly programs that preserve our natural resources

By Becky Purvis

A commitment to environmental stewardship is casting a green sheen on every corner of the campus. With priorities that address energy and water conservation, construction, transportation and recycling, the University is becoming an example for other higher education institutions to follow.

“We are working to make sustainability part of the fabric of UT Arlington,” says Don Lange, co-chair of the President’s Sustainability Committee.

President James D. Spaniolo expanded the committee’s scope in 2007 to include more than 45 members and 10 work groups composed of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and city and regional government personnel. Each work group presented more than 150 ideas for consideration. Of those, Spaniolo selected more than 85 to address in 2008 and 2009.

One was a carbon footprint analysis led by committee co-chair Jeff Howard, a School of Urban and Public Affairs assistant professor. He and 13 graduate and undergraduate students examined the University’s carbon dioxide emissions during a two-week period last spring.

Their findings showed that UT Arlington accounted for approximately 98,700 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2005—about average among U.S. universities. Buildings and facilities produced 89 percent of the emissions, mostly from electricity and natural gas for heating, cooling and lighting. The report calls for reductions of 6 percent by 2010 and 9 percent by 2020.

Green roof test site atop the Life Science Building

Assistant Professor David Hopman, center, says the green roof test site atop the Life Science Building is yielding valuable data about soils and plants.

“Given the momentum that is building within the University’s sustainability initiatives, the proposed goals, although challenging, appear to be largely achievable,” Dr. Howard said.

In many ways, UT Arlington is leading in green efforts among universities.

The carbon footprint analysis is believed to be the first by a UT System institution and the second by any university in Texas. Likewise, a green roof test site atop the Life Science Building is believed to be the first in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In July UT Arlington became the first educational entity to partner with Air North Texas, a regional clean air campaign initiated by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

CONSERVATION: The University uses energy-efficient standards for equipment acquisitions, such as computers, copiers and motor vehicles, and has upgraded to low-flow showerheads, auto-flushing urinals and automatic on-off faucets. Reminders are posted throughout the campus for people to turn out the lights. Dining Services is conserving water by going "trayless" in the Connection Cafe.

Building a greener campus

A couple of times a week, landscape architecture Assistant Professor David Hopman takes visitors atop the six-story Life Science Building. The view is nice, but it’s not the main attraction. They are there to see the University’s award-winning green roof.

Green roofs are common in Europe and a few U.S. cities. They minimize soil, require little irrigation and use low-maintenance plants. Environmental benefits include reduced water runoff, better air quality and lower heating and cooling costs for buildings.

Hopman, chair of the landscaping and habitat work group, says the idea at UT Arlington originated with School of Urban and Public Affairs doctoral student Kent Hurst. When Hopman began researching the project, he found a dearth of expertise.

“Nobody in North Central Texas really knew how to do it, though there is a relatively new extensive green roof near the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center near Austin,” he said.

He wrote everybody he could find who had worked on such projects and in the process located two vendors willing to donate most of the materials—about $10,000 worth of soil, plants, roofing and irrigation supplies. More than 50 campus volunteers helped install the green roof last spring.

“It has already given us a lot of data,” Hopman said. “We have two soil systems up there, 29 species of plants, two roofing systems and all kinds of monitoring equipment. We won’t know for another year or two which of the plants will be able to survive the extreme hot weather, extended wet spells, wind and hard freezes. But thus far only three plant species have crashed and burned.

RECYCLING: UT Arlington has had an active and award-winning recycling program since 1994. In recent years it has expanded to include plastic/aluminum, printer and ink-jet cartridges, scrap metal, oil and oil filters, photo fixer, fluorescent lamps and ballasts, batteries, alkaline batteries and technotrash. In 2007-08 the University recycled about 450 tons of items.

“After two years we’ll be able to tell people with more confidence what will and will not work with green roof construction. By removing the risk and providing a definitive example, we will greatly increase the probability of many other green roofs being installed in this region.”

Still in the planning stages, another Hopman-led initiative would redevelop Trading House Creek between UTA Boulevard and Greek Row. These are the headwaters of the tributary that fronts the campus on the north side of Mitchell Street before heading east a half-mile to join Johnson Creek, a federally impaired waterway, and then north to the Trinity River. When it rains, the creek fills quickly from runoff, expanding a bit each time.

Hopman and students in his landscape architecture design classes will look at widening the creek and creating multiple small areas to catch and hold water, thereby reducing soil erosion.

“Right now on most of the campus during rains, we go from green (water falling on grassy or wooded areas before it drains) to gray, water flowing to concrete,” he said. “For this project we will study reversing that, so the water goes from concrete to green.”

A third highly visible sustainability effort is construction of the Engineering Research Building (ERB) near Cooper Street and UTA Boulevard. The building will provide 234,000 square feet of space for labs, classrooms, offices and conference rooms and house the College of Engineering’s Computer Science and Bioengineering departments. Scheduled for completion in early 2011, the ERB is the campus’ first building to seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certification.

students studying Trading House Creek

Students in Hopman’s landscape architecture classes are studying the possibility of redeveloping Trading House Creek between UTA Boulevard and Greek Row.

“The carbon footprint analysis concluded that much of the emissions are coming from our buildings, so it is imperative that we think of sustainability in our building efforts,” said John Hall, vice president for administration and campus operations. “We must push the envelope to do more related to sustainability.”

The ERB will feature light-reflecting and green-roof surfaces to keep internal temperatures down, windows and shading that reduce the need for electrical lighting, the capture and storage of rainwater and condensation for irrigation, and xeriscape vegetation. Based on designs for the ERB, the building and development work group created guidelines to ensure sustainability in the future construction and demolition of campus buildings. The new special events center also will be designed to achieve LEED Silver Certification.

COMPOSTING: UT Arlington recycles more than a ton of food and landscaping waste, including grass clippings and leaves, each month. The materials are broken down in a composting unit that is favorable to bacteria and fungi. Groundskeepers then use the compost as fertilizer.

Sustainable curriculum

Alumnus Kenneth Tramm knows the value of environmental instruction. He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in environmental and earth sciences, which he calls “a beautiful program for students hoping to shape their skill set for the modern environmental industry.” In 2007 he was named a Texas Environmental Excellence Award finalist for his bio-redevelopment work.

Increasing these types of academic offerings is another critical priority for the University. Recommendations include creating a center devoted to sustainability research and offering more courses and degrees to advance the University’s sustainability agenda.

“We think a center should take advantage of our location in a large urban area to deal most directly with the sustainability and environmental issues that arise in an urban context,” said biology Professor Jim Grover, director of UT Arlington’s Environmental and Earth Sciences Program. “That’s a long-term goal we need to support with stronger degree programs and coursework, enhanced research and creative activity related to sustainability.”

Chelsea Roff on scooter

Junior Chelsea Roff minimizes her carbon footprint by driving a fuel-efficient scooter. She serves as vice president of the recently formed Environmental Society.

Other proposals include undergraduate environmental degree programs along with environmental literacy requirements and more attention to sustainable engineering. The next step is working with administrators to make that happen. In the meantime, the University continues its push to remain at the forefront of sustainability in higher education. Endeavors soon will receive a boost when UT Arlington hires its first full-time sustainability director.

“Most of the efforts are already under way or approaching completion,” Howard said. “We are working to determine how successful our initiatives have been so far.”

In a speech last fall, President Spaniolo said environmental issues have become important to prospective students. “When choosing a university, students are increasingly looking at campus sustainability efforts,” he said. “This is good news for UT Arlington, because we consider sustainability to be not just a fad but a new way of thinking and living.”

Junior Chelsea Roff, who drives a scooter that uses about a gallon of gas a week, embraces this way of thinking. She noticed recycling bins and read about the University’s environmental footprint, but there was no student group to join.

PURCHASING: Maverick Print and Mail Services went green last year by switching to recycled paper for stationery, letterhead, business cards and copy paper. The University has asked other units to do the same and created a policy for custodial services to use green cleaning supplies.

Enter biology Lecturer Tim Henry, who challenged one of his classes to take up the cause. Students in his bioethics course created the Environmental Society, UT Arlington’s first student organization focused on promoting sustainability.

Established last fall, the society’s efforts have included Power Vote, which encouraged students to consider environmental issues when casting their ballots in the November elections, and a panel discussion on the pros and cons of nuclear energy. In February members participated in a national teach-in about the climate crisis.

“We are passionate about environmentalism,” said Roff, the organization’s vice president.

It is a sentiment that’s rapidly spreading throughout the UT Arlington community.


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