UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability receives grant for new research center

By Eitan Arom
Originally published in The Daily Bruin

A state agency awarded the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability a $1.9 million grant on Wednesday to establish a multi-campus research center on sustainability and policy.

The center, called the California Center for Sustainable Communities, aims to increase the overall energy sustainability of California cities, said Adam Gottlieb, director of the media and public communications office at the California Energy Commission, which funded the grant.

UCLA was chosen for the grant because of its previous work on urban sustainability issues such as water conservation and land use, said Stephanie Pincetl, an adjunct professor at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability who will serve as the director of the new center.

The money will allow the institute to expand its research efforts and collaborate with UC Davis and UC Berkeley. Each campus will contribute expertise on its specific field of research as well as insight into the dynamics of different regions of California, said Dahlia Garas, program manager for the UC Davis Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Research Center.

Funding for the project comes from the Public Interest Energy Research program, the research and development arm of the California Energy Commission.

While the $1.9 million award will act as startup funds, administrators are already looking for additional funding, said Zoe Elizabeth, project manager for the new center.

The center is intended to serve as a resource to California policymakers seeking to improve transportation and land-use practices by helping make scientific ideas about sustainability more understandable to policymakers, Elizabeth said.

Rather than making policy recommendations, however, the center will simply provide state and local government agencies with the information they need to make decisions, she said.

One of the tools the new center is planning to provide policymakers is “life-cycle analysis,” or comprehensive breakdowns of the environmental impact of any given transportation or development project, Pincetl said.

“You can’t pull out a car and think about it on its own. … Everything is connected, so you have to understand that car within its larger context,” Elizabeth said. “That’s what we would argue really has been missing from the discussion – understanding how these pieces fit together.”

The center will bring together biology and engineering researchers, policy experts, transportation experts and graduate students, Pincetl said. Professional Web developers will also be brought on board to maximize public outreach, she said.

“Academia is typically very (segmented) and very specific,” Elizabeth said. “The state is convening this center and asking us to actively bring multiple parties together.”

Following the announcement of the award, the California Energy Commission received praise from nonprofit organizations and policymakers, including state Sen. Fran Pavley and Sen. Carol Liu.

“California is at a crossroads. … Good research will reduce the risks of unintended consequences (of climate change),” Pavley wrote in a letter to the commission.

Although sustainability can potentially increase development costs, the long-term impact is positive, Elizabeth said.

“All the studies and research show that not moving toward a more sustainable future will be more costly in terms of economics and public health than making the right decisions now,” she said.