February is (finally!) here! And that means that the Clear the Air Challenge has begun!
In the last few years, Utahns have worked together to improve air quality in the Salt Lake Valley. Early last year, the EPA announced Salt Lake City and Provo were in compliance with federal standards for PM 2.5, the fine particulate matter that pollutes our air quality along the Wasatch Front. This significant milestone came after years of community wide work to take action to clear the air.
In 2020, we learned that the steps we took to slow coronavirus cases resulted in quick changes to our air quality. COVID-19 continues to threaten our community’s health and economic security, resulting in increased social inequities. Many of the changes we’ve made in this crisis are not sustainable in the long term. However, our work to improve Salt Lake City’s resiliency includes taking actions that support public health and security, and that address environmental issues like air quality.
This month, we challenge Salt Lake City community members to participate in the 12th annual Clear the Air Challenge! The Clear the Air Challenge is a chance to level up your efforts to improve air quality. The Challenge runs the entire month of February, chosen due to the seasonal inversion that makes wintertime air quality especially bad. However, the steps you take this month can make a difference for our air all year long.
For many of us who are still spending more time at home, the challenge will feel a little different this year. We’ve put together some helpful facts, tips, and inspiration to get you going on the 2021 Clear the Air Challenge!
2021 is here! SLCgreen is excited to move forward. But as we prepare for the year to come, we’re also ready to incorporate what we’ve learned from 2020.
At the beginning of 2020, SLCgreen was eagerly preparing for a new administration and planning for a year of innovative sustainability projects. After a busy 2019 we were ready to take the next steps towards bringing net-100% renewable energy to our community. A new state-of-the-art recycling facility was near completion. And an innovative resident-led food equity program was convening to help improve food access in Salt Lake City.
The challenges of the past year have been harrowing. Within the first months of 2020, Salt Lake City pivoted our work to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We experienced an earthquake that damaged our homes and businesses. Hurricane-force winds toppled thousands of trees and left many members of our communities without power for several days.
Despite it all, SLCgreen was able to accomplish many of our goals with the help of our dedicated crews and community members. The challenges our community faced in 2020 laid bare the deep connections between equity, resiliency, and climate action. The year required us take more direct actions to improve our emergency response plans, to better support the voices of residents who have been excluded in the past, and to expand our communications to facilitate more collaborative work.
SLCgreen is ready to build off of what we learned during the past year, but before we set our sights on 2021, here are a few highlights from 2020.
So far 2020 has been a record year for climate-related natural disasters. Alongside the global coronavirus pandemic, severe weather like what we experienced with last week’s wind storm, record breaking temperatures in August, and fires burning throughout the Western United States, have shown us first-hand the effects of climate change in our backyards.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to call attention to climate change– and the urgency of taking action at all levels.
We’re in luck because the Fourth Annual Utah Climate Week is coming up from September 21 – September 27 and offers everyone the platform not only to learn and engage, but also to call attention to climate change during what has seemed like a year of jumping from one immediate crisis to another.
So many people are struggling and so many are exhausted with all 2020 is bringing to bear on our communities. We hear that and we feel it too.
And that’s exactly why we must continue looking at the big picture, and to draw the connections between immediate events and the larger harm we’re doing to our planet.
This year’s Climate Week will be a little different– there won’t be in-person events, but there are a suite of interesting and engaging events taking place online and we hope to see you at one or more of them.
Then join us on social media to highlight why you care about climate change. Use the tags #UtahClimateWeek and #ActOnClimate to call attention to this issue!
If you’re not a big social media user, take the opportunity to do some learning, then perhaps have a conversation with your friends, family, or other networks. Whatever you do: Learn. Activate. Engage. Let’s go!
We’ve been involved in planning and coordinating one event in particular and we’d like to invite you to attend.
The Utah Sustainable Business Coalition and the Salt Lake City e2 Business Program are hosting a panel discussion on how local businesses of all sizes are working to improve sustainability at their companies.
As we have noted in previous blogposts, sustainability and resiliency intersect with environmental, social, economic, and equity work.
Communities of color are disproportionately affected by climate change. In Utah, the health threats of air pollution are the most obvious example. On a global scale, climate change and pollution are affecting us all, especially coupled with COVID-19, starting with communities who are already experiencing systemic racism and inequity.
Because these areas of life are directly connected, it is important to take action on every level. Individuals; businesses; and local, state, and national governments have an important role to play in addressing inequity and supporting sustainability.
Earlier this spring we experienced a period of clean air due to lock-downs put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, Salt Lake City’s summer air quality has been recently impacted by smoke from nearby and regional wildfires, as well as from higher ozone pollution that is typical in the summer.
Bad air quality threatens everyone’s health, particularly those with sensitive respiratory systems. The effects of bad air even have the potential to make COVID-19 even worse.Your lungs are already irritated and inflamed due to pollution, and this makes them more susceptible to infections like COVID.
Ironically, the pandemic – coupled with rising temperatures caused by climate change – are also behind the record number of human-caused fires in Utah. The feedback loop linking pandemic, fires, and bad air is disturbing, but there are ways we can take actions to help protect the air.
Stay Hydrated! Staying hydrated will help you stay cool and healthy, even when it’s hot! Read more about the signs of dehydration here.
Use your windows! Windows can be your best friend. Try to open things up at night to help cool your space down, but close the blinds or use window coverings when it starts to get hot our during the day.
Fans: Be strategic about box fans or overhead fans – they can help keep things cool and reduce the need for AC. But save energy by turning them off before you leave the house!
Optimize Space: Keep doors shut to areas you’re not using – that way you’ll be cooling a smaller space, which is more energy efficient!
Cook Carefully: Opting for recipes that don’t use the oven or require a long time on the stove will help keep your kitchen cooler – and may even help with your indoor air quality.
Switch to LED lights: Using more efficient lighting will help you save energy and money. LEDs, and other home energy efficiency improvements, can help you cut your energy bills and keep space cooler. Typical incandescent lights also put off more heat, so switching to LED reduces the heat burden in your home.
Salt Lake County Opens Two Cooling Centers this Weekend
In the months following our collective action to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases, the air quality improved around the globe. According to University of Utah research, particulate matter pollution in Salt Lake City was reduced 59% as of May 6.
Although Salt Lake City is maintaining an “orange” status for our COVID-19 response, there has been an uptick in cases across Utah. In a city in which public health is harmed by poor air quality, any virus that affects the respiratory system is cause for concern. However, with the knowledge that stay at home orders temporarily reduced our local air pollution, we can learn more about possible ways of improving air quality in the future.
Let’s take a closer look at the ways air quality and COVID-19 interact – and some ways you can help protect the air and each other.
Sustainability encompasses both environmental action and efforts to build just and equitable communities. Indeed, climate change and pollution disproportionately affect people of color around the world. Therefore, the work of environmental justice is directly tied to equity and social justice.
The connections between sustainability and equity have often gone unnoticed or even been rejected. Nevertheless, the links between systemic racism and environmental injustice are undeniable.
Better understanding these links can help us all work towards building a more equitable and sustainable society. We’ve been delving even deeper into this work and these connections in the last few weeks and wanted to share what we’re reading and learning. Here are some resources we’ve found helpful:
PBS Utah put together this short conversational series How to Talk to Kids about Race, featuring several people from our SLC community you might recognize.
Somini Segupta wrote an expansive guide entitled “Read Up on the Links between Racism and the Environment“ for the New York Times. The reading guide includes everything from hard science to sci-fi, and provides a broad platform for understanding racial injustice in the context of climate.
You can also check out a new website co-founded by environmentalists Leah Thomas, Diandra Esparza and Sabs Katz, Intersectional Environmentalist. The site provides information from environmentalists in different communities including Latinx and U.S. Indigenous Communities– communities which have also continued to fight oppression and environmental racism. Intersectional Environmentalist provides extensive reading lists to understand all of the intersections of environmental work. Founder Leah Thomas’ writing was recently featured in Vogue, where she links her work in environmental policy to anti-racism.
We send our love to all of you. The events of the last few weeks have been a difficult and trying time for our country, our community, and our city.
We want to take this moment to acknowledge the profound injustice of black lives lost to white supremacy and police brutality across the country. We stand with the movement to bring greater justice to our entire community. Black lives matter.
Those of us who work in Salt Lake City government have felt so many emotions as we collectively work towards a community that is stronger, more equitable, more inclusive, and more responsive to you—our residents. We are working to ensure we are hearing all voices.
As the Sustainability Department, we’d also like to share our thoughts on the role we play in advancing equity within the City and our community.
We define “sustainability” as the balance between environmental, societal, economic, and equity needs. While “sustainability” is often thought of as only an “environmental” movement (and for much of its history it has been), we believe true sustainability prioritizes a healthy society in all of the ways that comes about.
Sustainability also means not jeopardizing our community’s future well-being over decisions we make in the present. And we’d also add: “over decisions that were made in the past.”
Many people are having conversations about what racism means in America in 2020. It’s impossible to discuss that without looking to our nation’s past.
We’re looking at health indicators that are worse in minority communities that make them more susceptible to air pollution, while at the same time, many are exposed to air pollution at higher amounts because of where they live (near industry, near highways, and by working in professions that increases exposure). There are also barriers to information, to health care, and to so many other resources that make these factors worse. So our efforts to reduce “air pollution,” also must mean addressing these inequities in all of the ways we can.
It’s similar with climate change. Of course, we know that temperatures are increasing everywhere, but they are rising more in areas with more concrete and fewer trees. We’re also looking at those who don’t have adequate home cooling, or who work outside, or who have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to heat. We’re looking at the way that climate change and higher temperatures increases ozone pollution and wildfire smoke and the spread of new diseases. As we’ve seen with coronavirus, these health impacts hit our most vulnerable first. And our minority communities are often on the frontline, due to many structural factors and decades of systemic racism.
These are global issues, but the impact is local.
Food access is another important area of focus for our department. Eating healthy, fresh food is not something that should be reserved for the privileged. But those who struggle in getting enough to eat, and in eating healthy foods are often poor and are often people of color. This is also a structural challenge we are confronting every day.
Please know that we are dedicated to advancing equity and racial justice at the forefront of all the sustainability work we do. This includes actively listening and involving the people in our work who are most impacted. At the same time, we recognize that sustainability has been dominated by white bodies and white privilege. We are at the center of government and it’s a reminder of how much further we have to go. We too are practicing and learning what anti-racism means.
We’re humbled to continue the conversation and are grateful for your feedback.
The Engineering News Record (ENR) chose Salt Lake City’s Fire Station 14 as their “Best of the Best Project” in the national Government/Public Building category. This is the seventh award for Utah’s first Net Zero energy fire station which was built in 2018.
The latest award, which is detailed in the March 23 issue of ENR, is the culmination of a year-long process during which construction experts from ten different regions selected finalists. Those 200 finalists then moved to the national competition and were vetted by a different panel of judges.
Fire Station 14is believed to be not only Utah’s, but the nation’s, first Net Zero energy fire station. That means it produces as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis.
It’s also expected to become certified as LEED Gold, showing it meets a range of holistic sustainability benchmarks, including material management, waste diversion, water conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and more.
The project was recognized last year as the Best Government/Public Building for the Mountain States Region. As a result, it was automatically entered into ENR’s national “Best of the Best” Competition. Representatives from Zwick, the general contractor, anticipate accepting the award as a representation of the collaboration between the architects, Blalock & Partners, Salt Lake City (Engineering/Fire Dept.), and themselves.
Fire Station 14, near California Ave. and 3800 West, and Fire Station 3, in Sugar House, are both Net Zero and were opened within months of each other in 2018.
Luckily, more and more Utahns are investing in electric vehicles (EV). Based on the number of unique charging sessions at Salt Lake City Corporation’s 36 Level 2 public EV stations (not including those at the Airport), there has been an exciting uptick in EV use in Salt Lake City.
In 2019, there were 21,371 unique charging sessions (meaning a car charged for longer than 5 minutes) at Salt Lake City public stations, compared to 12,870 in 2018.
Salt Lake City is following the national trend of growing EV use. According to the Edison Electric Institute, there are close to 1.5 million EVs being driven in the U.S. as of December 2019. Utah has seen its share grow to approximately 2% of total vehicles now comprised of electric, plug-in electric, or hybrid vehicles, and we want to continue pushing that number higher.
Support Fellow EV Drivers: Don’t Hog the Charging Stations
Salt Lake City is pleased to see that charging sessions have increased significantly since the stations were initially installed. Up until now, Salt Lake City has not had to enforce the charging time limit. However, because more people are using the stations, drivers need to be mindful of their fellow EV users and respect the time limit.
In 2017, 1,500 sessions exceeded the time limit. That number has grown to 4,600 in 2019. While these only represent a small portion of the total charging sessions (80% of sessions were within the limit), it is still an inconvenience for other drivers who may need to fuel up.
Due to the growing demand for charging stations, the time limits will be actively enforced beginning March 9. Please be courteous to your fellow EV drivers and be mindful of the time limit. Drivers who exceed the posted time limit may be ticketed $75.
Vehicle charging usage may be monitored via the ChargePoint cloud system to determine if a vehicle has overstayed the posted parking time limit.
The public may also report potential EV stall overstays to the Compliance main line at 801-535-6628.
Although electric cars still rely on electricity which is not (yet) wholly derived from renewable resources, they are still cleaner than gas-powered cars. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the average gasoline-only car produces 381 grams of CO2e per mile, while the plug-in hybrid produces only 191 grams and a battery EV produces only 123.