Notes from UW Sustainability Forum, March 7, 2013

Sustainability Forum at UW-Madison

Engaging Change: Our Food, Our Energy, Our World

Craig Benson & Pat Eagan (Darren Harris = MC)

  • Funding sources: NSE, SIRE (UW), EPA: P3
  • Sustainability Metrics Initiative (SBMI): STARS

Operations (Faramarz Vakili, Director of Campus Sustainability Operations)

  • 20 million sq ft of buildings
  • 8th largest city in the state if separated from Madison
  • Stopped using coal last year
  • Food: balancing economics, availability, and sustainability
    • 10 million in disposable utensils, etc. per year
    • Water
    • remove “doom & gloom” from society awareness & replace with pragmatics of it


Meredith Keller, Office of Sustainability: Student Engagement

  • interns
  • sustainability council: bring together stakeholders and student groups
  • recyclemania: national competition among campuses — who can divert most waste w/ recycling
  • campus conservation nationals (2013): residence halls compete to reduce electricity use across the country
  • Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) conference: research shows that if you participate in the contests, behavior is sustained for that year.
  • ASM Sustainability Committee

Keynote: Meeting energy needs of a growing world population (Tim Donahue, Director of Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center [part of WI Energy Institute Building] & Professor of Bacteriology)

(1) impact of energy on ever-growing society

Affluent societies consume more energy. Per capita power goes up as Human Development Index goes up, to saturation point (asymptotes). Could we get down to 4 KW per person of energy consumption while keeping our HDI way it is? Even with this #, we will have to generate a lot more energy. [idea: HDI/EF] Right now, 80% from fossil fuels. 34% of our energy is lost. 20% = transportation. 26% Buildings. As developed country, our energy needs still have not plateaued. We have shifted from wood as major source of energy in civil war vs. now = 80% fossil fuels. We should diversify: plenty of room to do this w.o killing someone’s biz model. Change is slow in energy (relative to music distribution for example). 70% of the energy we need is in the stationary sector (e.g., buildings), only 30% in transportation.

(2) University contribution to “energy grand challenge”

Why universities can help solve the energy challenge. Land Grant Colleges were built to solve grand challenges and have been doing it for 150 years (Morrill Act). UW should be able to do that.

2005: idea of energy institute. Now housed in new building (as of 1/2013). Can do everything from biofuels, to batteries, to mechanical & policy and economic analyses of these systems.

(3) Energy Institute/Great Lakes Bioenergy case study

Funded in 2007 by US DOE, approved through 2017 — $265M (single largest grant UW has ever had) for basic research to convert non-edible parts of plants for diverse biofuels with diverse sources (starch to lignocellulose). Covers all parts of process from Field to Fuel using life cycle analysis.

Large partnership with Michigan State University: 475 faculty, students, and staff at center (80 undergrad, 75 grad, 100 post-docs, 40-50 faculty)

$25M from DOE is leveraged by huge institutional resources, funded by USDA, automakers & DOE

Can work with other major federal programs and other major DOE-funded centers

Academic goal: 311 publications total. So far, 400 total publications

Transferring discoveries to products; Education and outreach

Q&A: 25-30% of corn goes to fuel right now

Energy Panel: Driving Energy Independence (Tim Donahue; Greg Nemet: Professor of Public Affairs & Environmental Studies; Don Peterson, Exec Dir of MGE Products and Services)

New fuels: liquid fuels from coal, shale oil with air quality, climage change, & security improvements. BUT, we need to use them to buy us time (10-20 years with cheap nat gas) to develop less conventional solutions b/c they aren’t going to be sufficient.

Need to diversify the grid for better resilience.

Utilities bill covers maintenance of transmission and distribution grid, admin, and the energy production (making the electricity). Harder to develop alt energies right now given low prices of fossil fuels driven in part by Shale nat gas. Wind was almost competitive with traditional fuels, but no longer (as of 2008) so now almost impossible to build wind facilities.

Coupling environmental energy costs to more traditional energy costs. How include full costs? Examples of externalities: Military, asthma d/t air pollution

MGE: 10% participate in renewables program & many customers choose to limit amounts they spend on these.(a) Externalities often a matter of opinion. (b) Regressive — low income people more affected. (c) higher energy effects manufacturing.

Australia implemented carbon tax and dealt with regressive tax issue by simultaneously adjusting income tax.

Energy & Sustainability Rapid Fire

Tracey Holloway, Professor, Environmental Studies: Developed class, “Introduction to Sustainability Science”. 2 big issues: resources & wastes. My Thought: Talking about sustainability without talking about WHAT we want to sustain [note] TO DO: talk to her about including wellbeing measures. [/note]

Suman Banerjee, Professor, Computer Science (website). Computing, sensing, communication & human mediation. Want to create energy dashboard & its impact & foster energy competitions. Crowd-sourced “control” — suppose cell phone users could vote on temperature of room and these votes would adjust temperature in the room. Open systems is the goal: low cost, modifiable, widely deployable. Challenge: how to present lots of data so it’s easy to understand and useful in terms of action steps. One way: disaggregate energy data (is it the laptop, the lamp) & present in terms of costs.   [note] TO DO: talk to him about including wellbeing measures. [/note]

Faramarz Vakili, Director of Campus Sustainability Operations. 20M sqft, 7M sq ft. laboratory space; 5 Trillion BTUs of energy per year. $70M for energy. 70% HVAC. 15% elec from wind. Do we need more space? Human behavior large factor (e.g., laptop: 60 watts on vs. 4 watts sleep). Save 1 unit of energy, saves actually 2-3 units of energy of production. Reduced energy use by 25% since 2006. Payback on investments are 5.5 years and buildings are safer and more comfortable. Working on dashboard.

Greg Nemet, Professor, Public Affairs & Environmental Studies. Can energy become an enduring social priority? Need incentives that are consistent and credible over years. This has not been the case. In policy making, we need energy that is cheap, clean (includes climate change), and reliable. But people values these things differently & hard to reconcile these objectives and leads to unappealing tradeoffs. Challenges: (1) Power plants last decades so need long-term view and decisions matter; (2) C02 stays in the atmosphere for decades; (3) New technology takes time (scaling up wind turbines took 30 years; fracking took about 25 years; took a while for solar to get cheap: Economies of scale helped solar become cheaper and this was possible b/c people expected a market for solar); (4) Need stable investment but historically they’re volatile; (5) Policy is not consistent (e.g. incentives get turned on and off); (6) Sometimes people care about energy and sometimes they don’t

Panel Discussion.

(1) Coal is bad, are we doing anything about that? Efficiency in power plants & sequestering carbon (but plug has been pulled b/c companies don’t expect to have to pay for their carbon emissions). What does “clean coal” actually mean? Mostly about air pollution. Estimates: for every $1 we get to make sure emissions are clean we get $2-$22 in health benefits. Until consumers demand alt energy it won’t happen

(2) Who is driving the status quo? Broad consensus is required for big policy changes but still role for leadership.

(3) Undergrads are already focused on sustainabilty in sustainability classes — can others from different majors be brought to the table as well? Make the classes attractive to wide variety of students & have wide range of classes available. We’re not trying to train Repubs and Dems, we’re training students so present multiple perspectives and facts. Certificate of sustainability offered for any major on campus with capstone class where students collaborate at solving a problem.

(4) People with capacity often don’t have the risk & those with risk often don’t have the capacity. How deal with this? Much of the problem is waste. Recycling a single can of soda can power a TV for 3 hours yet we waste enough aluminum each year to make all our airplanes 4 times over.

(5) Why is Minnesota so far ahead in energy conservation compared to Wisconsin? There’s not much energy in WI (e.g., Minnesota has access to good wind power). WI really strong in efficiency.

Food & Sustainability Rapid-fire

Jed Colquhoun, Director, WI Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. Is food sustainability sustainable? Should we be talking about nutritional sustainability instead? Agriculture hard to quantify — no meters for soil health. 2.1M independent operators in agriculture. NISA = common framework. We need to double food production in next 30 years. 40% of calories produced are never consumed. Mostly from people’s homes. “Field to Foodbank”: 20% of children in WI are in food insecure households.

Carl Korz, Asst. Director for Dining Services, WI Union. 17 cafes and markets. 7 restaurants. $20M revenue. Union South – LEED Gold.

Cathy Middlecamp, Professor, Environmental Studies. Can our campus be a learning, living laboratory for sustainability? ARIS = open-source platform that can design games. Measured level of gain in understanding by self-report.

Wally Graeber, Student Intern with Office of Sustainability. Aquaponics project.

Panel Discussion

(1) Grab-and-Go packaging. Playcon company in Fitchburg = higher recycled content, local, & 5 cents cheaper.

(2) Why such growth at Union South?

(3) Aquaponics: Can use bike to charge battery that can operate the pump or move the water physically, but really want to have water moving 24 hours/day

(4) Is sustainable food profitable? Has to fulfill all 3 pillars: social, economics, & environment. Difficulty is finding the balancing point.

(5) Aquaponics scaleable?

Jonathan Patz, Director, Global Health Institute, Nobel Prize winner (2007), IPCC contributor

Goal: show how connected climate change and health are. Climate change could be greatest public health opportunity in a century.

Climate Change: Rising temp, rising sea levels, & hydrologic extremes (more floods & droughts) –> heat waves (killed 70k in 11 days in Europe in 2003 — climate change increases probability of these events 5-10 X. Climate is on steroids…like baseball player on steroids: did they cause homerun to be hit? no, but does increase probability), air pollution, vector-borne dz (Why do you care about 1-2 degrees in global avg temperature? Example: 1/2 degree in temperature can make big difference in insect-borne diseases being spread widely or not at all), water-borne dz (Water borne disease outbreaks are preceded by heavy rainfall. Already have trillion gallons of sewage-contaminated storm water per year in U.S. and this is going to grow, possibly by 50-100%), water resources & food supply (impact on crops, possibly doubling 1B people currently hungry), mental health & environmental refugees.

Ethical problem: North causing the problem and the South suffering for it. Americans emit 60times the global average per capita than world-wide average. Presented this to Dalai Lama a year ago & he said, “If you know pollution kills, you country is not showing much compassion…correct?” (October, 2011, Daramsala, India).

Dalai Lama is coming May 15, 2013 to talk about sustainability and global health.

Goal: Equitable and sustainable global health. Director of WHO: health demands increased access to energy, sustainable food & water, urban planning. See their report, Our Planet, Our Heath, Our Future.

Most health determinants of public health are outside health sector.

Want GHI to be most inter-disciplinary in the country & embrace the complexity b/c we want to solve the problem. 8 pilot project grants are out across campus (e.g., growing organic mangoes in Haiti).

Biofuels: area where climate change, land use, energy and health concerns come together. Want to make sure energy solutions aren’t worse than the disease.

Life cycle analysis: ethanol worse than gasoline in pollution (Jason Hill et al., PNAS) even though it burns cleaner without such analysis.

Could health benefits make resolving climate change a net gain?

Air pollution: 900,000 annual deaths/year from air pollution. 60,000 in U.S. even with Clean Air Act. Atlanta olympics decreased traffic by 23%, ER visits by children b/c of asthma attacks decreased 42% and non-asthma related visits didn’t increase.

Inactivity: 1.9 million deaths from physical inactivity d/t cities designed for cars. 60% of American adults don’t meet recommended activity levels. Obesity maps from CDC: (1) city design; (2) marketing bad food. Buses of Bogota type solutions being used all over the world. On average, you get 20 mins moderate activity if you use public transportation.

Grabow et al., 2012 – If we eliminate short car trips (<=5 miles) what effect on air quality and health? What if 1/2 if those trips could be achieved by bicycle (during the summer only) — what would physical exercise benefits be? Results: > 500 lives saved/ year; 100,000s of hospital admissions avoided; >$4B of savings. Woodcock et al, 2007 has similar results on health.

NIH-funded collaboration between GHI, UW Energy Institute, and Nelson Institute. Relationship between temperature, electricity demand, & emissions, and public health as function of climate change. MPower model.

Ethiopia: Climate-resilient green economy = National priority in Ethiopia.

Turning waste into Gold – biogas project in Uganda. School latrines filter into digesters to power the school.

Q&A: (1) Should we eliminate A/C? Saves lives in heat waves but way we power them right now with dirty energy that’s not good. Answer: improve the energy used to run A/C. Build homes like termites do.

(2) Are some areas of the planet going to be uninhabitable? Interacts with behavior. Siestas during hot part of the day? Mid-continental states like WI will especially warm. WI has warmed 1 degree since 1950, 2 degrees in the winter; Predictions are that it will increase 4-9 degrees F in next 50 years.

(3) Is there a great example of some group taking the conversation seriously and responding appropriately? There’s frustration and national and international policy levels but lots of positive things happening at the level of cities, increased CAFE standards. Local level is where the action is right now. Employers give incentives to bike or carpool to work. Incentives for health insurance for physical activity. EPA is ruling that CO2 is an air pollutant was significant.

Statistics on conference attendees

N=112. 8% biked, 31% walked, 18% bus, 38% drove with small vehicle. We emitted 450 lbs of CO2 coming here. 45% of those who drove, drove less than 5 miles to get here.

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