Students team up with staff to green UCLA

By Alison Hewitt
Originally posted in UCLA Today

Students at UCLA’s Sustainability Fair this year watched with glee as a solar-powered blender churned out fruity solar smoothies.

It was part of a solar-panel demonstration by a team of four students who hope to bring three solar docking stations to campus next year, where Bruins will be able to study outdoors while getting a green charge for their laptops or cell phones. But that wasn’t the only accomplishment for this undergrad team.

Their main focus will save UCLA $40,000 – every year.

The four students were enrolled in a yearlong class, the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability’s Education for Sustainable Living Program, which tackles sustainability projects to make UCLA a greener place. The class was divided into 10 Action Research Teams, each of which paired with staff from whichever department the project fit into.

The energy assessment team — the ones making solar smoothies — focused most of its attention on lighting in the Engineering IV building. They calculated how much they could safely reduce the wattage and developed a retrofit plan that School of Engineering will soon  implement. Engineering will save $40,000 a year and recoup its costs in two years, said Kyle Graycar, a sophomore environmental science major.

The ESLP students are transforming the campus, said Cully Nordby, the academic director for the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) and adviser for the class.

eco footprint teamThe program, Nordby said, “is about demonstrating that you can achieve a sustainable community. One of the amazing things about these teams is that they are really serving as catalysts for significant sustainability projects on campus.”

This year’s Action Research Teams tackled projects with UCLA Recreation, the UCLA Health System and ASUCLA. They also developed an on-campus composting project and a student guide to buying more sustainable groceries. The teams presented their results on June 7.

“Now five years old, the program started with a handful of students and has grown dramatically, said faculty adviser Carl Maida, the course instructor who helped found the program.

Over time, students’ research has grown more ambitious and influential, said Nurit Katz, UCLA’s chief sustainability officer and another class adviser.”

“As the program grows and we learn from each year, we’re able to tackle bigger projects and go more into implementation instead of just research,” Katz said. It’s become so popular that a limit had to be set on class size, she said. “There’s so much interest that it’s become competitive, and that’s making the quality of the applicants go up.”

Staff work with the teams all year, relying on their energy to research and develop programs that may have percolated in the office, but lacked the manpower to be realized. This year, the impact of students’ projects was campuswide:

  • The students’ research with the UCLA Health System resulted in plans to add “hydration stations” at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center  — water fountains that make it easy to refill water bottles. The hospital also intends to start a composting program this summer. Students also revamped UCLA’s Green Office Guide and Green Office Calculator to make them more relevant to clinical and patient environments.
  • One team created a sustainable grocery guide for students who want to buy healthy, organic food. The guide clues them in on where they can find reputable, reasonably priced brands.
  • Another team created a composting project at the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center that has already composted 1,000 pounds of waste. To help transport compostable material from graduate student housing and campus eateries to the compost pile, students were awarded a $20,000 grant from UCLA’s The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) to buy rickshaws. The students’ work not only reduces UCLA’s waste stream and fertilizer costs, but also cuts reliance on an outside composting agency. “It was all focused on doing it on campus,” said Julia Jaye Posin, a senior anthropology major on the team. “The more local anything is, the more sustainable it’s going to be. There are resources all around us. You just have to get creative.”
  • One team worked with UCLA Transportation to create a biking overlay for the interactive UCLA map (click the “layers” icon, then open the Transportation section to see the biking options). Users can now locate all the bike racks on campus, as well as bike repair stations, bike lockers, showers and more. “This makes UCLA’s map among the most detailed sustainable university maps in the country,” said student James Bridgewater.
  • Working with ASUCLA at LuValle Commons, students found that 24 percent of trash-can contents could have been recycled. The team concluded that students are more likely to recycle with a single-stream system – that is, one trash can for all the recycling. ASUCLA is now considering moving to single-stream recycling.
  • As a result of working with the team, UCLA Recreation plans to install motion-sensor lighting in halls and bathrooms in Wooden Recreation Center. The center also will add hand dryers and switch to a uniform trash and recycling system, instead of having multiple styles of cans. Outdoors at the Tennis Center, Drake Stadium and the North Athletic Field, Recreation plans to add “gooseneck” water-fountain attachments to make it easy to fill up reusable water bottles.

“The Educational Sustainable Living Program is really incredible,” Katz said. “We get contacted by a lot of universities wanting to start programs like it. It’s an excellent example of truly making UCLA a living laboratory of sustainability.”