Investing in Sustainability Leadership with the Alta Awards

The Alta Sustainability Leadership Award winners, recognized for their innovative research efforts at the University.

The Alta Sustainability Leadership Award winners, recognized for their innovative sustainability research at the University.

By Eva Grimmer, Sustainability Office Intern

On March 2, the Sustainability Office and Alta Ski Area teamed up to award deserving members of the University of Utah community with the Alta Sustainability Leadership Award.

Maura Olivos, the sustainability coordinator at the Alta Environmental Center, said, “Alta recognizes, ‘it is not easy being green.’ It takes more than passion and smarts to be a leader and maintain effort or progress. Leadership requires honesty, dedication, empathy, courage, communication and a shared vision. If we don’t take the time to appreciate those that have stood out from the pack and displayed these qualities, leaders may be lost before they are found. Alta Ski Area realizes we must encourage our future leaders, because we need them.”

Olivos has supported the University’s sustainability efforts in many different ways, and these awards, now in their second year, are just one element of a more comprehensive partnership that highlights the significance of sustainability, not only on campus, but also within the larger community.

Adrienne Cachelin, director of sustainability education on campus, explained the choice to partner with Alta: “While many businesses are committed to greening their own operations, a true mark of leadership in the field of sustainability is investing in current and future generations both on and off site. This is exactly what Alta is doing through these awards.”

Each award winner receives $2500 in addition to being recognized at the annual Alta Lecture and Awards event. This year’s awards were especially exciting due to the diversity of projects. Given the incredible efforts of University faculty and staff, six people received an Alta Sustainability Leadership Award.

Professor Brian Codding, an assistant professor in the Anthropology Department, was awarded the Alta Sustainability Leadership Community Partnership Award for his extensive community-engaged research with Navajo community members. “I’m honored to be a part of such a dynamic and interdisciplinary group focused on furthering research and education while also promoting partnerships that increase our ability to collaborate on developing sustainable solutions to both intellectual and real-world problems” said Dr. Codding. His work examines ecosystem health and firewood harvesting by the Navajo people in the piñon-juniper woodlands of southern Utah. Dr. Codding, a graduate of the Wasatch Experience, also serves as the representative from the College of Behavioral Science on the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s executive committee.

Professor Carol M. Werner, a professor in the Psychology, was awarded the Alta Sustainability Leadership Research Award for her work identifying psychological mechanisms impacting behavior change. She expressed gratitude for the people in her life who have encouraged her work, adding, “I’m thrilled to be a part of a community that gives me the freedom to do the type of research I want to do. The fact that there is a special award for people doing research about sustainability issues is not only exciting but also important.” She also has taken on a variety of collaborative community-focused environmental research projects, making her a strong advocate for the application of knowledge with regard to basic psychological functions, and the challenges of initiating and maintaining sustainable behaviors.

Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth celebrates Dr. Amanda Smith's work on integrating Sustainability into the classroom.

Chief Sustainability Officer Amy Wildermuth celebrates Dr. Amanda Smith’s efforts of integrating sustainability into the classroom.

Dr. Amanda Smith, an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering, was awarded the Alta Sustainability Leadership Sustainability Education Award for integrating sustainability literacy into Mechanical Engineering coursework. Dr. Smith explained, “The best part of receiving the award is being honored by thought leaders on campus who have inspired me so much. I hope that this encourages other young faculty members that taking small steps to address sustainability is important and achievable. The Alta Awards are a great example of how much the Utah sustainability community is growing and taking off right now.” She also participated in the Wasatch Experience where she highlighted her commitment to integrating sustainability into her curriculum.

Robin Rothfeder, a PhD student in City and Metropolitan Planning, was awarded the Alta Sustainability Leadership Campus as a Living Laboratory Award for his work as the project manager and lead author of the Red Butte Creek Strategic Vision. Rothfeder’s work serves as the first formal plan for managing Red Butte Creek on campus. This plan exemplifies sustainable practices through university policy, its administrative structure, and land management practices to protect environmental quality and stewardship. He described his experience at the award ceremony as extremely gratifying, saying, “I’ve spent a year committing a lot of time and energy to this project with the uncertainty of what would come at the end of it. This recognition was exciting because it reaffirms that all the hard work put into this project was worthwhile. To see that this work is appreciated and valued by the campus is incredible.” His work has already moved from the planning process to implementation and is having immediate impact on campus sustainability.

Amy Wildermuth and Mauro Olivos congratulate graduate students Benjamin Fasoli and Robin Rothfeder on their creative use of campus as a living laboratory.

Amy Wildermuth and Mauro Olivos congratulate graduate students Benjamin Fasoli and Robin Rothfeder on their creative use of campus as a living laboratory.

Benjamin Fasoli, a graduate student in Atmospheric Sciences, was also awarded the Alta Sustainability Leadership Campus as a Living Laboratory Award for his work with UTA to monitor air quality continuously throughout the Salt Lake Valley, including redesign of the mobile lab with more user-friendly equipment to allow real time display of air quality measures. He is excited about the work done on campus, and to have helped establish the University of Utah’s Atmospheric Trace Gas and Air Quality laboratory. These improvements make the data readily accessible by the campus and wider campus community.

Dean Adler accepts the award for Sustainable Campus Transformation on behalf of the S.J. Quinney College of Law’s new LEED certified building.

 The S.J. Quinney College of Law was given special recognition for Sustainable Campus Transformation. Robert Adler, the dean of the College of Law, accepted the award on the college’s behalf. Dean Adler explained, “Given our longstanding focus on teaching sustainability through the Wallace Stegner Center for Land Resources and the Environment, we decided we needed to ‘practice what we teach’ and to build as sustainable a new building as possible. We are proud of the role model we created for other new campus buildings, and the College of Law was thrilled to receive an Alta Sustainability Leadership Award for Sustainable Campus Transformation in recognition of our role in building a greener U.” Through this tremendous work, the new College of Law is the premier LEED-certified building in Utah today.

As echoed in the sentiments of all those involved, the Alta Sustainability Leadership Awards provide a unique opportunity to celebrate sustainability work across disciplines and to build a campus climate of sustainability.

Eva Grimmer is a senior at the University of Utah studying Environmental and Sustainability Studies. She is passionate about education through communication and issues linked to sustainability.

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