Jim Walker

As the University’s needs increase, the Concho Community Garden, located just east of campus, faces an uncertain future. The student-run garden along with the Microfarm are home to various fruits, vegetables and a wide array of flowering plants.
Photo Credit: Jack DuFon | Daily Texan Staff

Campus construction plans will currently not displace the UT Microfarm and Concho Community Garden, but future campus expansion could put their locations in question, according to Jim Walker, director for the Office of Sustainability. 

UT student-volunteers manage the garden areas, which produce vegetables, fruits and herbs. Since the community garden and Microfarm were initially built as temporary locations in 2011 and 2012, respectively, the areas were viable options for 2015 campus development plans that could have relocated the gardens, Walker said. 

“The University administration has definitely seen that the gardens are popular and a positive experience for our students to have access to,” Walker said. “We are committed to helping the garden experiences. … However, whenever we build buildings, it’s going to take precedence on [the gardens].”

The campus development plan outlines the expansion of campus and locations of new facilities, mainly into East Campus. In the initial planning stages, Walker said there was a possibility new tennis courts would be built in the current locations of either the Microfarm or the community garden.  

Lily Nguyen, geography junior and Concho Community Garden director, said fall 2013 was the first time she heard about the possibility of relocation.

Walker said the University ultimately found a way to expand campus as part of the plan without jeopardizing the gardens’ locations.

Audrey Nguyen, philosophy and plant biology junior and assistant manager at the Microfarm, said the group has been told there is a possibility the Microfarm and the garden will now be incorporated into the development plan and will be able to remain where they are.

“If this ends up being the case, [the Microfarm] would love to be involved in development talks,” Nguyen said. “Future plans for the area will directly affect us [and] our operation.”

Audrey Nguyen said the Microfarm leaders discussed developing land at the Pickle Research Campus, located in north Austin, when they were told they might have to relocate. 

Audrey Nguyen said the group still wants to keep its location in East Austin, although the leaders are still considering expanding to the Pickle Research Campus. 

“We’ve put a lot of work into the land over the last three years, and we love how close we are to Main Campus,” Audrey Nguyen said.

Lily Nguyen said the Concho Community Garden, founded in spring 2011, has also looked into relocating. The main option was to disperse the gardens into multiple smaller areas on campus. She said that would have made the gardens more convenient for students.

Lily Nguyen also said she was surprised the two groups were not consulted about the possible move.

“I wish that community gardens were a priority for the University, and I wish we had a say in the conversation deciding whether they should stay, or the permanence of them,” Lily Nguyen said.

Walker said the UT System Board of Regents will vote on the campus master plan in May, but it cannot be released until then. With the new plan, Walker said the garden and Microfarm should remain where they are, but continual campus growth could put their current locations in question at some future point.

“We’re hopeful that they can stay where they are,” Walker said. “I can’t guarantee they’ll always be there.”

 Last year, the University consumed 3,920,381 MMBTu, or million British thermal units, of natural gas. According to the University’s Utilities and Energy Management department, energy consumption correlates with the amount of people on campus and variations in the weather. 

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

While switching off all lights in the Tower is an insignificant action in terms of conserving electricity, the gesture still makes a difference, according to Jim Walker, director of sustainability for the Office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management. 

The University kept the Tower dark Saturday in support of Earth Hour — an international movement organized by the World Wildlife Fund to celebrate commitment to the planet by shutting off all lights for an hour.

“In the grand scheme of things, it’s not saving a whole lot of energy,” Walker said. “We get the most bang for our buck in raising awareness. One evening of the Tower not lit isn’t putting a dent in [electricity usage], but you see the Tower from the highway and come home on a Friday and turn a power strip off for the weekend. … That’s where we see the real savings.”

According to the University’s Utilities and Energy Management department, total natural gas consumption in 2013 was 3,920,381 million British thermal units, or MMBTu. Laurie Lentz, manager of business and financial services, said energy usage from lighting is not metered separately and cannot be determined, but the campus does use less energy when there are less people on campus.

“The amount of energy used on campus does vary,” Lentz said. “Variations are mainly due to weather but are also affected by the number of people on campus. Energy use declines during the winter break, for example.”

In addition to dormitory lighting, which is up to the discretion of the students, some lighting on campus must remain on at all times. Walker said turning lights off outside could be dangerous for students out at night.

“We have to be careful with lighting on campus because all of the lighting on campus that is outside is a matter of safety,” Walker said.

Stephanie Perrone, project manager of the University’s Energy and Water Conservation program, said the Tower going dark was a gesture similar to turning the lights on or off for any campus event, since there are already lighting controls in place throughout campus.

“No one decides which buildings on campus keep their lights on or off,” Perrone said. “Several buildings have lighting controls, either based on occupancy sensors or based on a time schedule. Beyond that, it is up to the occupant to turn off lights at the end of the day.”

Steam blows off of the Hal C. Weaver Power Plant on Monday morning. The University Campus Planning and Facilities Management is in the midst of conducting its first greenhouse gas emissions inventory since 2009.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

University Campus Planning and Facilities Management is in the midst of conducting its first greenhouse gas emissions inventory since 2009, but the University has no plan in place to reduce those emissions once they are calculated.

According to Director of Sustainability Jim Walker, data for this inventory will be collected differently than they have been in years before.

As always, the inventory will include data gathered from the University’s on-campus power plant, as well as data derived from the University’s energy supply from Austin Energy. This year, the University will also track indirect emissions in a different way. Walker said most Universities do not account for indirect emissions.

“Most universities only track two [energy sources],” Walker said.

Walker said indirect emissions come from a wide range of sources, including solid waste and student commuting. 

“Solid waste and recycling, commuting — how students get to and from school. If a sports team has to fly somewhere for a competition, we add up those miles,” Walker said. “Also, [we track] embodied emissions, so our paper — what kind of forest it came from, how that forest was managed — [is] more honest this way.”

According to Walker, the addition of the new data will probably result in the University releasing higher but more accurate emission figures.  

“Our power plant has stayed efficient, so we will stay even on some of [the inventory], but our data collection process has gone up,” Walker said. “We will have other ideas for how people can lower their carbon footprint.”

According to Zach Baumer, Austin Climate Protection Program Manager, Austin has ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

“[Austin] has a goal of being carbon neutral by 2020,” Baumer said.

The University does not currently have a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to Walker.

“We have a goal of zero waste by 2020, but no carbon reduction goal. … If students felt strongly enough about it and there was a campaign, we could make that happen,” Walker said.

According to Emily Mixon, director of the Campus Environmental Center, there are many ways through which students can help reduce the University’s carbon footprint.

“There’s a lot of energy waste that could be reduced by campus users. That’s behavior change, and programs like the Energy Water Conservation Unit are helping with that with stuff like the upcoming Green Offices program and the student volunteer-run Longhorn Lights Out initiative,” Mixon said.

Correction: This article has been corrected since its original posting. Because of a reporting error, the story misstated when it began tracking indirect emissions. UT tracked indirect emissions in 2009.

Austin city officials planned to send 20 percent less waste to landfills by 2012 but have already surpassed this goal ahead of schedule.

The master plan calls for an overall reduction of waste sent to landfills by 2040 and was developed in response to the United Nations Environmental Accord’s urban waste reduction plan in 2005. Through recycling and reusing materials otherwise discarded, officials involved in the Austin Zero Waste Plan are striving to reduce trash accumulation by 90 percent during the next 29 years. City officials established a goal of 20 percent reduction of waste sent to landfills by 2012, but as of 2011, the city has already superseded its goal by 18 percent.

“The way you can do it is to start moving from more of a consumption mindset in sending materials to the landfill to recycling materials and turning them into resources,” said Jennifer Herber, Austin Resource Recovery spokeswoman. “It’s about recycling, composting and finding other uses for these things.”

Herber said the master plan includes encouraging area residents to donate unwanted yet usable household items to thrift stores or charities that may be able to find a place for them. Herber said the “reuse plan” keeps materials with virtually nothing wrong with them from taking up space in landfills.

“I think our city has always been very green-minded,” Herber said. “We have a very aggressive plan to get to zero waste, and people support that.”

Many Austin residents have turned to compost systems, Herber said, in addition to recycling.

Director of sustainability Jim Walker said the UT recycling program has “made leaps and bounds” during recent years, as the department placed numerous on-campus sorting and recycling bins during the past year.

Walker said UT recycles half of all paper used on campus that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

“We primarily recycle paper and generate more paper than the city residential program does,” Walker said. “We are constantly improving how we gather cans and plastics and glass, but we just don’t generate that much glass.”

Austin Resource Recovery director Bob Gedert said the recent decision to phase out plastic retail shopping bags will allow the city to continue to reach its 2040 goal. Gedert said despite hearing from residents who reuse the bags, the actual number of bags reused and recycled is about 10 percent.

“If you’re not reusing [a bag] it generally has a 14-minute lifespan,” Gedert said. “The zero waste plan counters that lifestyle. Zero waste demands a longevity lifestyle from products where they have a second life and more reuse or recycling opportunities.” 

Ryan Reid, center, is asked a question from the audience at the Sustainability Conference in the SAC on Friday morning. Panelists gave brief lectures on how different areas of UT, including housekeeping, food services and athletics, are helping increase the university’s sustainability.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers Jr. emphasized the importance of reducing long-term environmental impact at the University in a speech he gave at the second university-wide sustainability conference Friday.

He said changes should be implemented now to prepare for the future.

“Just on the issue of getting a better mix of our energy sources, if we don’t make serious progress on that in 25 years, then we’re not going to be in very good shape,” Powers said.

Powers said the University should be involved in improving sustainability through daily operations, research and implementing sustainability into existing curricula. He said conservation programs at UT could impact students throughout their lives.

“Things like recycling programs, it’s not just what they do. It’s getting students, ourselves, in the habit of living in a way that’s sustainable,” Powers said.

The conference, attended by about 250 people, featured 22 presentations and five panels on sustainability research and operations at the University. For example, Meagan Jones, environmental specialist at the Division of Housing and Food Services, said the division has reduced waste from residential dining halls and diverted some to a commercial composting company.

The President’s Sustainability Steering Committee, which is made up of faculty and students, organized the conference to inform people of UT’s efforts toward conservation, said sustainability director Jim Walker.

“Not a lot of people on campus know the stuff that’s happening on campus, what kind of cool research or even cool operations things we have going,” Walker said.

Walker said sustainability economically benefits the University.

“It’s about using less resources just so that we can continue to avail ourselves of resources for a longer period of time, and that tends to save us money,” Walker said.

In a presentation, geography graduate student Moulay Sounny-Slitine said UT should install solar panels on current buildings but determining which buildings to use will be challenging.

“You always hit the big social barrier of ‘well, we don’t want to cover up the beautiful red roofs that we have,’” Sounny-Slitine said.

Historic preservation graduate student Serena Bolliger said she was particularly impressed with the recycling programs in the Athletics Department.

“People, when they go to a game, they’re not thinking, ‘I need to try and reduce my consumption,’” Bolliger said. “It seems like they’re trying very hard in an environment where the majority of people don’t care.” 

Printed on Monday September 26, 2011 as: Powers emphasizes importance of sustainability 

Freshman Mariah Owen helps a UT football fan recycle a plastic water bottle outside the gates to Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Saturday evening. The Tailgate Recycling Crew hopes to collect at least 20 tons of recyclables at home games throughout the season.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

While the Longhorns kicked the Rice Owls’ cans on the football field, student volunteers collected the cans tailgaters left around campus Saturday afternoon.

The second year of Longhorn Recycling Roundup began when members of the Tailgate Recycling Crew handed out plastic bags to sort recyclable and non-recyclable items to tailgaters.

“Considering how big the campus is and how many people show up for football games, this effort is basically making sure people are recycling,” said Office of Sustainability director Jim Walker.

While UT’s tailgate recycling operation is relatively new compared to other universities, the 2010 football season recycling crew collected about 17 tons of aluminum and plastic in tailgate lots.

This year’s goal is to meet or do much better than last year’s results by collecting 20 tons or more of plastic and aluminum cans.

“Tailgating culture has always been come early, be loud, stay late,” Walker said, “Now, recycling is becoming a part of all that.”

The event kicked off with student volunteers meeting at the tent that served as their headquarters on the west side of the LBJ fountain. Nikki Miles, Tailgate Recycling Crew‘s student coordinator, filled the group of students in on their duties.

Miles provided tag teams with plastic bags and instructions on what could be recycled, which included plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

“We just want to make sure people are having a good time and that they know about the recycling program,” Miles said.

The recycling crew gave tailgaters recycling bags and contact cards for the Campus Environmental Center.

Last year’s recycling operation covered the RV lots and the School of Social Work area near E. 20th Street, Walker said. This year the recycling crew expanded to include the LBJ school lots and the San Jacinto Corridor.

In addition, this was the first time the Recycling Roundup teamed up with the Keep Austin Beautiful Organization and the UT Athletics department inside the stadium.

They collaborated at the North End Zone food court, where a compost station was set up.

“I want to encourage other Longhorns to compost and recycle,” said freshman Matthew Evans, whose duty at the compost station was to manage waste and compostable items and explain the importance of composting to people as they handed him their trash.

Besides covering tailgate lots, volunteers stood at the main stadium gates to encourage Texas fans to recycle their plastic bottles and cans in recyling stations outside the stadium and in the gray Coca-Cola bins set up inside.

“It’s a preservation of our resources,” said tailgater Michael Sanders, kinesiology and health education lecturer. “This is getting the good back in society and all it takes is a little effort.”

Posted on Spetember 6, 2011 as: Recycling reaches tailgate tradition

Construction workers set up one of three solar panels on top of the Manor Garage on Friday morning.

Photo Credit: Chase Martinez | Daily Texan Staff

Construction on the first large solar panel installation on the main UT campus began Friday.

Crews began putting up a support system for the installation on top of Manor Garage on Robert Dedman Drive. Webber Energy Group, a UT mechanical engineering research team, will study the output of three different types of solar panels from three different manufacturers under the same conditions.

The metal supports on the roof of Manor Garage should be completed by the end of this week, said Lawrence Littleton, a contractor for Webber Energy Group. UT sustainability director Jim Walker said the solar panels should be fully installed before the first football game this season.

Walker said the project will have a small impact on the University’s power production but could lead UT researchers to future innovation.

“The fuel for solar is free, so over generations, this shift from fossil fuels to solar and wind is inevitable,” Walker said. “We need continued research and development so that it becomes more efficient and more cost-effective to do it.”

Research on the new solar panels will show how they respond to different temperatures, partial dirtiness and aging, said Fred Beach, a post-doctoral fellow at UT’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy and member of the Webber Group.

“They differ in their efficiencies,” Beach said. “The less efficient ones are less costly, but to generate the same amount of electricity, you need to buy more of them.”

Beach said the panels will produce some of the energy necessary to power the Manor Garage and will benefit parking customers.

“Several customers, when they buy parking spaces, expect a shaded parking space,” he said. “This will shade 10 to 12 parking spaces on the roof.”

Manor Garage is located between Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and the Mike A. Myers Track and Soccer Stadium. Beach said visibility was a condition of the grant that helped fund the project.

“They wanted us to be visible, and that is one of the most visible spots on campus, especially on game days,” Beach said. “It can also be seen from the interstate.”

The project is being funded by a $195,000 grant from federal funds distributed by the State Energy Conservation Office and about $125,000 from UT’s Parking and Transportation Services, said Texas Comptroller’s Office spokesman R.J. DeSilva.

The State Energy Conservation Office chose seven projects from 25 applicants to receive a total of about $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy last October. DeSilva said the agency chose projects that could be built immediately and could help educate the public. In addition to the academic benefits, UT will provide information about the solar panels with a kiosk.

DeSilva said the grants will help local public entities save money.

“By helping them become more energy-efficient, it helps them reduce their electric bill,” DeSilva said. “They will then be able to use that money for other perks.”

Printed on 07/25/2011 as: Solar panels to aid UT energy researce. 

Updated on 07/25/2011 at 1:05 p.m.: byline correction

The lights were dimmer than usual Saturday night at the UT Tower. To promote environmental awareness, the University delayed the normal lighting time of the Tower an hour later until 9:30 p.m. in honor of the fifth-annual Earth Hour. Lighting at Whitaker Fields and Tennis Courts, Clark Field and Basketball Courts, and the Penick-Allison Tennis Center were also delayed. “The University is excited when it can collaborate with area partners, especially when they have a common purpose like energy conservation,” said UT director of sustainability Jim Walker. “Especially since Earth Hour is an international thing because UT is an international entity.” Many Austinites turned off their lights for an hour at 8:30 pm Saturday to promote environmental awareness for Earth Hour. UT participated by delaying the lighting of the Tower and several athletic facilities. Earth Hour is a global event urging individuals and businesses to turn off their lights for one hour to take a stand against climate change. UT took part in the event during its initial launch in 2007. Many buildings and businesses across the city also observed Earth Hour, including the Frost Bank Tower. “The last couple of years the entire University has been trying to take part in lots of recycling and sustainability efforts,” said Merrick MyCue, assistant athletics director of special events and stadium operations. “So getting the athletics department involved was a natural step. When Jim emailed me, I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s participate.’” The movement began in Sydney, Australia, with 2.2 million individuals and more than 2,000 businesses turning out the lights. Despite the delay in lighting the iconic UT Tower and several athletics facilities, the amount of electricity actually being conserved is negligible, said Juan Ontiveros, executive director of Utilities and Energy Management. The University goes through about 40 megawatts of electricity per day on average. If Earth Hour were to extend beyond the Tower and athletics facilities to the rest of the main campus, the wattage saved from one hour’s delay in lighting would be enough to power about 69 typical Austin homes. “It’s true that we don’t save that much energy,” Walker said. “But it’s more about the awareness-raising aspect than the financial savings.” To UT Campus Environmental Center director Andrew Townsend, who has personally been participating in Earth Hour since 2008, every little effort to increase awareness helps, regardless of the numbers. “People always notice that the Tower’s orange, so they’ll definitely notice that the Tower’s off,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a meaningless gesture at all. All the little things add up and will count. Any way we can make a small difference or a talking point is a small win.” Walker is currently working to delay the Tower’s lighting again on April 1, which is Earth Day.

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Two UT employees will serve another term as officers and board members on a five-county organization that manages sustainable growth in Texas. Fritz Steiner, the dean of the School of Architecture, and director of sustainability Jim Walker have both been part of Envision Central Texas for at least eight years. “Both [men] are mainstays of leadership,” said executive director Sally Campbell. “Fritz brings a broad perspective from his travels all over the world, and Jim is great at understanding stake holders and covering all perspectives.” The board brings together citizens as well as environmental and business leaders to work toward achieving sustainable growth. The federal program Partnership for Sustainable Communities awarded the board a $3.7 million grant to address critical infrastructure needs with limited resources. “We bring public and private sector to the table,” Campbell said. “Our strength is to bring an issue to the table, look at it long term, and have it grow in ways we’d love it to, including transportation, land use, environment, social equity and economic vitality. We want Central Texas to continue to be a high quality place to work, live and play.”

Student group collaborates with University on efforts to create greener campus

A nonprofit organization that evaluates sustainability on college campuses gave UT a B+ for the 2011 school year.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute provides a “Sustainability Report Card” for the 300 U.S. and Canadian universities with the largest endowments. The report card has nine sections, including green building efforts and recycling, that evaluate different aspects of sustainability on college campuses.

“Doing well in these kind of surveys is a nice measure of the kind of sustainability work going on on campus,” said Jim Walker, director of sustainability at UT. “I think it’s probably too soon to tell if it’s a result of the Office of Sustainability’s work.”

The organization issued UT a B- last year. Walker said the improvement was a result of better reporting on the initiatives already in place on campus.

The University provided the Institute with more complete information about strategies implemented to improve sustainability, and distribution of endowment funds, which could have increased their score, he said.

The Campus Environmental Center, a UT student-run environmental preservation group, has led initiatives that may have factored into the new grade the University received. The CEC used to control some recycling on campus and hosted the annual Trash to Treasure garage sale. They are also in the early stages of developing a program to reduce carbon emissions.

Since the University took charge of on-campus recycling this summer, the center has focused on creating programs that allow more opportunities for environmental awareness, including providing information about campus sustainability issues at new student orientations.

“Last year, they did take some steps to get more sustainability into new student orientation because ... the ratings system that’s sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in higher education specifically mentions that in their grading system,” said Karen Blaney, adviser for the CEC. “And you can get points for having sustainability integrated in the new student orientation.”

Although the program was not implemented, the center began discussing possible strategies with the coordinators of new student orientation.

“A lot of things have been going on [on campus] for a long time, it’s just that we’re now getting recognition for that,” she said.

The center will begin other programs this semester that may improve the University’s overall sustainability rating. Rachel Aitkens, co-director of the center, said UT is looking at how to make water fountains easier to use to refill water bottles and other measures to reduce plastic waste.

Walker said involving everyone on campus is another way that the Office of Sustainability hopes to improve ratings.

“We’d like to have more interest from the faculty and students on different aspects of the report card. We welcome a broader conversation on different aspects of the card where the University can do better,” he said.