Alabama’s Largest Electricity Consumer Commits to Sustainability Goal

Alabama’s Largest Electricity Consumer Commits to Sustainability Goal

Alabama’s Largest Electricity Consumer Commits to Sustainability Goal

Mia Murr, Intern at UAB, Volunteer at Gasp

I was born and raised most of my life in Norway, where I was early exposed to and educated about environmental issues and sustainability. It became a passion, as I understood the importance of conserving our earth and its resources. This laid the basis of my goal of pursuing a career in the field of green building design and sustainable development. I am a civil engineering student graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in April 2019. Because of my interest in sustainability, I was given the opportunity to be a part of Team Alabama in the 2017 Solar Decathlon, where international and national university teams presented their student designed sustainable solar houses.

In September 2018, I started an internship at the Planning, Design, and Construction department at UAB Facilities, where I work solely with a focus on UAB’s Sustainability Strategic Plan. My main responsibility has been to participate in the development of a roadmap for carbon reduction. After it became evident to me that there is lack of knowledge and commitment to sustainability in Alabama, I became a part of Gasp’s volunteer team to contribute in spreading awareness. For now, I will dig deeper into my experience at UAB.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is an urban research university, and one of the largest academic medical centers in the country. It is the single largest employer in the state, and the university provides an annual economic impact of $7.15 billion [1]. In the fall of 2018, enrollment broke new records for the third consecutive year, reaching 21,923 students [1]. As a growing, and highly influential institution, it is becoming increasingly important to step forward as a leading example in a state that lags behind most other states with regard to sustainability.

The focus of sustainability lays in “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. UAB’s sustainability program was established in 2013 and is lead by a team that proactively works to incorporate sustainability on campus. Five years after the program’s establishment, in the end of 2018, UAB publicized a Sustainability Strategic Plan, committing to a 2025 sustainability goal. The university is pursuing sustainability through incorporation of sustainable principles in operations, teaching, research, innovation, and community outreach. The strategic plan is divided into 13 focus categories, in which the overall aim is to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. By 2025, UAB,  the largest electricity consumer in the state wants to see a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions [2].

UAB Strategic Plan Objectives [2]

Air, Climate, & Energy

Establish a clean energy standard of 20 percent renewable energy sourcing by 2025 and cut greenhouse gas emissions, improve resiliency, and increase overall energy efficiency

Food & Dining Support environmentally responsible dining operations, minimize food waste, and support local and sustainable food production
Water Promote water conservation through efficient use and innovative management
Buildings Design, construct, and maintain buildings in ways that provide a safe and healthy indoor environment for users while simultaneously mitigating the building’s impact on the outdoor environment
Transportation Draft policies with five-year and ten-year benchmarks for sustainable transportation solutions that mitigate emissions, traffic congestion, and parking concerns
Grounds & Waste Produce a comprehensive waste management plan in partnership with external stakeholders to reduce disposal of waste in local landfills and develop the university grounds for ecological stewardship
Curriculum Integrate sustainability as a key concept where applicable so that UAB students have the opportunity to gain experience through coursework
Research Support interdisciplinary research, scholarship, and creative activities related to sustainability and encourage sustainable research practices
Purchasing Develop sustainable purchasing practices and protocols to exercise UAB’s purchasing power toward maximizing environmental stewardship, protecting human health, and supporting local and global sustainability
Campus Engagement Effectively engage students, faculty, and staff in collaborative pursuit of UAB’s social, environmental, and economic sustainability goals by sharing information and inspiring active participation
Public Engagement Provide sustainability education and programs for a broad regional, national, and international community
Diversity Promote a more inclusive and equitable environment where faculty, staff, and students can thrive, and reinforce our commitment to working with local and diverse suppliers
Wellbeing & Work Support the links between healthy and sustainable lifestyles and their impacts on work life

The clock is ticking and in order to reach these goals by 2025, changes must occur now. Through my internship at the Planning, Design & Construction department at UAB, I have looked into the university’s carbon reduction potential by analyzing an energy study performed on 94 buildings. A carbon reduction roadmap will provide a business case for implementation of energy efficiency projects. It is achievable for the university to see significant greenhouse gas reduction by implementing a great number of energy savings projects. Although, there are several challenges hindering sustainable development, often related to lack of awareness of its importance.

Many Alabamians are not committed to making sustainability a priority. Unconsciously, most of us have a “it’s not-my-problem mentality”, making sustainable development a tough pull. This is why Gasp plays an important role, because creating awareness and educating the public about sustainability is critical. People must understand that reaching sustainability goals does not only benefit the environment, but will also improve human health and the prognosis for the future.

References

[1] UAB – The University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Did You Know”. 

[2] UAB – The University of Alabama at Birmingham. “Strategic Plan 2019-2025”.


 

Mia Murr is a volunteer for Gasp and advocate for environmental protection and sustainability. To learn more about how you can volunteer with us, visit gaspgroup.org/volunteer. 

Frank Stitt’s Secret: Eating from the Earth

Frank Stitt’s Secret: Eating from the Earth

Frank Stitt’s Secret: Eating from the Earth

Katie Rogers

Katie Rogers is a Birmingham-based writer, feng shui consultant, and filmmaker. You can watch her documentary “CarLess in LA” currently on YouTube). She was happy to attend the E.O. Wilson Lecture with Harvard alumna Gasp Board Member Karen Shepard (who happens to be a climate change expert and Huffington Post writer) and Gasp Outreach Director Kirsten Bryant. Together,  they collectively gushed over the environmental slant of Frank Stitt’s lecture (AND the olive oil cake).

When a friend asked me to be her guest at the Harvard Club’s annual E.O. Wilson Distinguished Lecture Series, where there would be a “Conversation with Chef Frank Stitt,” I was all in. After all, everyone in Birmingham knows the name Frank Stitt. He’s the head chef and owner of four of Birmingham’s most beloved restaurants: Chez Fon Fon, Bottega, Bottega Café, and the now legendary, Highlands Bar and Grill. I thought it would be fun to hear what he had to say, and of course, there was the lure of good food, wine, and an interesting crowd.

Coincidentally, just days after the invitation, Highlands Bar and Grill won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant. Highlands beat out competition in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago for this prestigious honor as the best restaurant in the United States.  Score for Highlands. Score for Birmingham. Score for Alabama.

Being somewhat of foodie, I was now especially excited to hear him speak. However, the last thing I expected to hear from him is that his stance on food is actually a profound environmental message.

What I gathered from the lively dialogue between he and Catherine Sloss Jones is that his secret to great cuisine is the integrity of the ingredients. Furthermore, he suggested that where there are great ingredients, there is healthy earth.

Images: (1) Katie Rogers, Frank Stitt, Pardis Stitt, Karen Shepard and Kirsten Bryant; (2) Gasp Board Member, Karen Shepard and Outreach Director, Kirsten Bryant, discuss the connection between food and a healthy planet with Chef Frank Stitt; and (3) Strawberry and mascarpone olive oil cake made by James Beard award-winning pastry chef Dolester Miles.

He mentioned how pesticides and herbicides and other chemicals were adversely affecting the “vitality” of the soil and therefore the taste and texture of food. He mused about farming “going back to a time before the 1950s” and the importance of farmer’s markets. When asked a question about where he sees the culinary experience going in the next fifty to sixty years, he commented that he sees people eating more grains and vegetables and less protein.

To summarize: he believes in eating from the Earth. He also believes that to eat (well) from the Earth, the Earth must be not only intact, but thriving.

Delightfully, Frank Stitt’s commentary was far from preachy. In actuality, I’m not sure he would even call himself an environmentalist; his environmentalism is more a means to an end. He sincerely wants the best of the best on the table. He wants to provide a dining experience that has the potential to be a thing of “beauty.” His love of cooking is evident; his passion is food, plain and simple. One could almost feel a tear coming to his eye when he talked about the “best green bean.”

His success in the culinary world doesn’t come from science experiments or performance art in the kitchen, but can be boiled down to good, old-fashioned farming and a good, old-fashioned respect for the Earth.

What interests me in Stitt’s farm-to-table comments is that it could and should inspire foodies and environmentalists alike to the importance of taking a holistic view when it comes to considering the state of our planet. Food is plant life. And plants depend on air, water, soil, and the sun to grow and thrive. Yet the rise in the planet’s temperatures and the severity of today’s natural disasters are changing our watersheds, impacting how soil releases and traps carbon dioxide, therefore tipping the quality of our air, which of course in turn, traps more greenhouse gases so that the cycle perpetuates itself.   It’s safe to state bluntly that food – and food culture — is at the mercy of climate change and how the Earth’s systems interact with each other.

Sure, Frank Stitt is all about the ironed linens and the perfectly plated meals, but beyond that, he is really and truly interested in dirt. I wonder — could Frank Stitt’s message have the potential to reach an audience that may have turned the other cheek to the notion of climate change?

While my environmentalist self wants to shout out, “Duh, taking care of the planet means better food. Jeez!” my foodie self wants to say between mouthfuls of dessert, “Well, if caring for the environment means maintaining the awesomeness of strawberry and mascarpone olive oil cake from Dolester Miles [pastry chef at Highlands and winner of the 2018 James Beard award for most outstanding pastry chef in America], then well, yeah, please, I’m absolutely for it.”

Because, YUM.

What I Learned Working at Gasp: A High School Intern’s Point of View

What I Learned Working at Gasp: A High School Intern’s Point of View

This blog post was written by Cayla, our work study intern for the past two semesters.

Interning here at Gasp from Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School through a Corporate Work Study program, I learned many different things about the environment that I did not know. My experience with Gasp has changed my perspective in different situations.

I learned how to find people on the internet just by their name, address, phone number, etc. (We were working on a mailing list for Gasp newsletters and needed to make sure the addresses were up to date.) I got the chance to help gather information that helps improve the work process. I helped get information about schools so Gasp could talk to them about education programs.

I also got the chance to learn about the different air qualities and how bad air affects the environment and the people through a website called Southern Exposure. I created two binders based on different air monitors around the state of Alabama. In those binders it tells what air monitors check for by pollutant from 2011 to 2016. I have also gotten the opportunity to sit in on meetings and take in how it feels to be in meetings with different people from different age ranges. I got to be in my very first webinar.

But most importantly, I have gotten to meet some amazing people. They are Kirsten Bryant, Haley Lewis, and Michael Hansen. They have taught me great things! They provided me with helpful advice and the conversations were also amazing. We could talk about anything and they would listen to you. I even learned a better way to fold shirts while interning here. They are super nice, cheerful, supportive, and inviting people. I have met other great interns while working here. It is a quiet and peace environment to work in. I would definitely work here again next year! 🙂

Using Comedy to Lift Spirits, Raise Awareness

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Gasp is teaming up with the Alabama Rivers Alliance to host a unique event Sunday, March 26 at Cahaba Brewing Company. “A Viscous Cycle: Thick Comedy” seeks to lift spirits and connect supporters of the two organizations.

Gwen Sunkel and Carson Tumey have made a name for themselves in the Indianapolis comedy scene and are taking their act on the road. The Birmingham stop is part of a seven-city comedy tour this month. They tout their comedy as a blend of “a delicious dose of wit with a scoop of silliness and add a dash social awareness.” Sunkel and Tumey will be joined by Alabama comedians Chris Ivey and Hallie Tarpley for a Birmingham-style Sunday Funday not to be missed.

“There has been so much negative news recently related to environmental protection and health policy,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen.

“It can be overwhelming to keep up with it, and if you don’t practice ‘self-care,’ it can really bring you down. So when Gwen and Carson offered to come to Birmingham for a benefit show, we jumped at the opportunity to make folks laugh and connect with local beer and food. It’s a win-win for everyone!”

A VIP reception will be held at 4 p.m. Tickets are $35 and include admission, drink tickets, food, and a membership to both organizations. General admission is $10 and student tickets are $5. Doors open at 5 p.m. The show will last for about 90 minutes. Organizers invite guests to hang around until the brewery closes at 8:30 for networking and games. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. (RSVP on Facebook for updates and giveaways.)

Event sponsors include Rojo, Kinetic Communications, and Jamm Entertainment Services.

For more information, contact Michael Hansen at 205-701-4270 or via email.

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