Staying energy efficient in the cold

As temperatures drop outside, people can take some easy steps to conserve energy inside.

  • Open blinds and curtains during the day, but button down at night.

Letting the sun in allows the greenhouse effect to heat your home naturally. On the flip side, windows can be a source of heat loss too, so close blinds and curtains at night to add a layer of insulation to drafty windows.

  • Find and fix air leaks and drafts

Drafty windows and doors can be a major source of heat loss. Fortunately, these leaks can be easily remedied with caulking and weatherstripping. If a fireplace is not in use, close the fireplace flue.

  • Close off unused rooms.

To prevent wasting energy on unused spaces, close doors and vents in any rooms that are rarely used.

  • Turn the temperature in your home down a few degrees, especially overnight while you sleep.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, households can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by turning their thermostats back 7° to 10°F for eight hours a day from normal settings.

  • Invest in a qualified smart thermostat, and OPPD will credit your account.

An excellent way to ensure thermostats are set to optimal efficiency is by using a Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostat. The device will automatically adjust settings to maintain your programmed preferences.

  • Add an extra layer and get cozy under blankets.

Balance lower thermostat settings by wearing layers and warm socks. Add additional blankets to beds and keep extra throw blankets on couches.

Sustainability council starts its sixth year

The med center is fortunate to have a wide variety of resources available as it strives to achieve its 2030 sustainability goals.

These resources include campus sustainability manager Jerrod Bley, a group of dedicated LiveGreen ambassadors and local grants and partners. 

For the sixth year, the med center will continue to leverage the expertise of the Executive Sustainability Council, a group of some 15 leaders from throughout the system. The council exists to: 

  • Set sustainability-related vision and goals.
  • Allocate the resources, both financial and in staff time, necessary to achieve campus sustainability goals.
  • Strategize the effective communication of the importance and impact of sustainability within and outside of the organization.
  • Determine and enact policy changes that lead toward the achievement of campus sustainability goals.
  • Assist in brainstorming strategies, determining timing for implementation of resource-intensive strategies and coordinating working groups to implement resource-intensive strategies.
  • Connect operationally focused sustainability efforts with academic and patient-focused activities of the organization.
  • Be accountable for organizational progress toward established goals.

Council chair Jennifer Bartholomew, vice president and associate vice chancellor, facilities management, for UNMC and Nebraska Medicine, said, “Our mission to lead the world does not just apply to taking care of patients — it also applies to taking care of our community and the planet. We are proud of what we have accomplished, and as we look to grow and expand, it is essential we plan for a future of responsible resource use.” 

The Executive Sustainability Council meets quarterly, and this past year it has initiated a variety of focus teams to address campus sustainability issues, including a composting focus team, pathway to net-zero energy focus team and a team to review the density sustainability metric.

By working with representatives throughout the system to address large, campus-wide sustainability related issues, the med center ensures that these decisions work for and reflect several areas of campus. A full list of council representatives is available online

Sustainable New Year’s resolutions

Welcome to 2022. To mark the New Year and honor the tradition of New Year’s resolutions, here are a few resolutions with a sustainable twist.

Traditional resolution: Eat healthier

Public and planet health boost: Reduce or eliminate meat and dairy from your diet

With livestock contributing about 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases, a worthy goal is to reduce meat and dairy consumption incrementally, if not entirely. For example, choose two days per week to replace meat and dairy with protein-rich plants such as beans, legumes, nuts and grains. Likewise, know your meal’s origin story; ask your local butcher about the location and living conditions of the animal. Or better yet, purchase directly from local, ethically-minded and sustainable small farms.

Traditional resolution: Exercise more

Public and planet health boost: Establish or increase active-commuting habits

A simple but brilliant way to increase exercise and protect our planet is to change how we get to and from our daily activities. For example, walking or cycling to work allows for daily exercise without scheduled gym time. Opting for a brisk walk to a public transit stop provides exercise and contributes to a significant reduction in emissions.

Traditional resolution: Spend more time with family and friends

Public and planet health boost: Create environmentally-friendly habits with loved ones

Make a list of efforts (such as eating ethically, active commuting or recycling) and enlist those closest to you to help make a difference. For example, children can participate by picking out favorite fruits and veggies, ensuring unnecessary lights are turned off and sorting recyclables. Likewise, events hosted by local advocacy groups (such as Keep Omaha Beautiful or Mode Shift Omaha to name two) can be a great place to gather and meet new people.

Traditional resolution: Get involved/volunteer

Public and planet health boost: Fight social injustice

Recent studies have demonstrated that racism and inequality can lead to health disparities and consequences for the natural environment. Antiquated urban designs such as redlining and residential segregation provide unequal access to nature, along with excess pollution and biodiversity loss. Joining (or creating) groups that stand against systemic racism and promote environmental protection/rehabilitation is a phenomenal way to bring nature back to communities.

Reduce-regift-recycle for the holidays

Looking for ways to avoid the naughty list? We have you covered.

Holiday insights that are not so merry and bright:

  • About 40% of all battery sales take place during the winter holidays.
  • Household waste increases by more than 25% – contributing an additional 1 million tons a week to landfills.
  • 2.65 billion Christmas cards are sold each year in the United States. Compiled, they could fill a football field 10 stories high.
  • Every year, 8,000 tons of wrapping paper are used – about 50,000 trees.

But there are plenty of ways to celebrate during this season of joy and giving while keeping the environment in mind. Simple and small adjustments to traditions can go a long way. For example, when thinking of preparations:

  • Consolidate shopping trips and shop locally. Supporting local makers and artists reduces shipping costs and uplifts the community. Not to mention, buying in person can help ensure gifts are ethically and sustainably sourced.
  • Rethink how gifts are wrapped – swap traditional paper with old newspapers, maps, paper grocery bags or even kid’s artwork. Reusable cloth bags and cloth wraps (furoshiki) work well too.
  • Need batteries? Have plenty of rechargeable batteries charged up and ready to go. 

How about choosing the perfect gifts? Thoughtful gifts come in all shapes and sizes:

  • Rethink regifting. Pass on well-loved books, recipes, propagated plants and stem cuttings or perhaps a funky flea-market find. 
  • For the kiddos, start or add to a child’s savings account or college fund.
  • Give an experience. Popular experiences include concerts, sporting events, museum memberships and restaurant gift certificates.
  • Another way to give experiences is by giving your time and expertise. Are you an artist or do you know your way around the kitchen? If so, share your tips and techniques – it’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.   

Post-holidays and how to tackle the mess:

  • Save gifting accoutrements that can be reused, including ribbons, bows, bags and boxes. 
  • Consider how to best make room for new items. Donate any clothing that has been outgrown or old toys.
  • Wondering if, or what, can be recycled here in Omaha? Paper gift wrap and cardboard boxes can be recycled in curbside carts. However, foil, wax, glitter or plastic gift wrap, tissue paper, ribbons, bows and tape cannot be recycled. Check out KeepOmahaBeautiful.org for the complete list.

Take note of med center’s urban prairies

Thanks to a 2020 grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, the med center has replaced turf grass with native prairie plantings in two areas on campus.

The “urban prairies” are designed to increase resources in the urban environment for pollinating insects and birds throughout the growing season. They improve soil health, help mitigate climate change by storing carbon, reduce stormwater runoff and provide a healing environment for med center students, staff, faculty and visitors.

All of those benefits align with the med center’s goals for reducing water use, cutting emissions and increasing engagement. Signage was recently installed at four key areas highlighting facts about Nebraska prairies and the types of plants in the urban spaces.

The med center location was once part of a prairie corridor that covered most of the central United States. But overgrazing and conversion to cultivated fields cut away the prairie. Settlers put out natural fires, allowing woody plants to replace even more grassland.

Today, tallgrass prairie is part of an endangered ecosystem reduced to 1% of its range. Returning even small open spaces to a more natural state connects city dwellers to a restorative environment that can reduce stress.

Prairie grasses have more extensive root systems than turf grass and can store more carbon in the soil. Carbon dioxide and other air pollutants also are reduced by less frequent mowing. Deep-rooted prairie plants hold onto the soil and minimize erosion. Even small plots of prairie can do a lot to manage storm runoff and filter out contaminants otherwise headed into the watershed.

The sites are highly visible in the campus core and adjacent to the Field Club Trail. The first prairie is located on the hillside and adjoining space around parking lot 16 Lower, between the Truhlsen Eye Institute and Home Instead Center for Successful Aging. The second location is along both sides of parking lot 64.

If you have the chance, take a walk to one of the two locations and check out the new signage before winter sets in. Then in the spring, you’ll be able to spot the different plants and pollinators noted on the signs.

Human Rights Day connects to sustainable development

Every year on Dec. 10, we observe Human Rights Day. This global day commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and encourages people across the world to reflect on how individuals, organizations and governments treat fellow humans.

The UDHR, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted in 1948, has been translated into more than 500 languages, serving as the most translated document in history. That’s for good reason — the document affirms the inalienable rights of all human beings, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, place of origin or political opinion.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. … Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

This year’s Human Rights Day theme is “Equality.” The theme amplifies Article 1 of the declaration, which states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It aligns with the UN’s current efforts on Leaving No One Behind: Equality and Non-Discrimination at the Heart of Sustainable Development. A collaborative call for action demonstrates the repercussions of “stirring social unrest and undermining social progress” and further asserts that equality is necessary for sustainable societies. 

A parallel focus for the UN is the Rebuild Better, Fairer, Greener campaign. Rebuilding and restructuring the global economy with human rights in mind helps break poverty cycles and ensure “the right to development and the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.” The movement further reiterates the necessity for a “new social contract which more fairly shares power, resources and opportunities and sets the foundations of a sustainable human rights-based economy.”

Fundamental to rebuilding is planning for future generations. Environmental degradation disproportionately impacts communities that have historically been marginalized and exacerbates existing inequalities. Dedicating resources to human rights efforts provides perspective on the root causes of conflict and crisis. When citizens can join the conversation and participate in decision-making, the outcome is a better prepared and resilient society.

World conference sets new climate pact

COP26, the annual Conference of the Parties aimed at building cooperation among world leaders to address the climate crisis, took place earlier this month. Delegates (and protesters) came from all over the world to discuss the critical issue.

The result was an official conference of the parties climate pact that mentioned fossil fuels — the dominant cause of climate change — for the first time ever. For fossil fuels to be explicitly included in the official text is a significant win. Some other takeaways from the conference:

Not so great news:

  • A last-minute change to the draft resolution, introduced by India, watered down language on phasing out coal. The revision called for countries to phase down coal, instead of aiming to phase it out completely.
  • Current pledges are based on flawed data, according to The Washington Post. The Post investigation implies that many countries are underestimating their greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, are not setting adequate goals.
  • The conference ended without firm commitments to properly protect vulnerable countries. The pact only urges wealthy countries — which are disproportionately responsible for global warming — to fulfill dated promises of $100 billion in annual aid to vulnerable countries.

The good news:

  • More businesses are shifting their sustainability from an add-on to a must-have. A recent blog from McKinsey, the global management consulting firm, underlines how essential it is for businesses to plan how they will achieve Net Zero.
  • A major deal on regulating carbon markets will advance cooperation among nations. COP26 addressed a challenging aspect of the Paris agreement known as Article 6, establishing an agreement to allow countries that exceed their emissions reduction goals to sell their extra progress to nations that are lagging behind.
  • More than 100 countries agreed to end deforestation by 2030, affecting roughly 85% of the world’s forests. Forests play a critical role in absorbing and storing carbon dioxide and slowing the speed of global warming.

And one takeaway specific to health care systems: Fifty countries agreed to develop climate-smart health care, committing to building resilience to climate impacts (such as extreme weather) within health systems, as well as to reducing emissions.

That commitment affirms the significance of climate change as a health challenge and health systems’ role in addressing it. The med center already is making strides toward this climate-smart future with its 2030 Net Zero Building Emissions goal.

Instead of Black Friday, try Buy Nothing Day

As the holidays approach, we are often inundated with Black Friday Deals and “must-have” gift ideas. This year, we instead are highlighting Buy Nothing Day.

Founded in 1992, Buy Nothing Day is observed the Friday following Thanksgiving. As the name implies, the goal is to buy nothing, while also increasing awareness of consumerism and promoting alternative forms of gift-giving.

Buy Nothing has grown into a movement of neighborhood gift-giving all over the world.

The impacts of consumerism are widespread. The production and distribution supply chain alone has a devastating effect on our environment. We are currently overusing Earth’s natural resources by more than 70 percent. If the Earth’s population as a whole began to consume as the average American does, we would need 5.2 planets to support us.

Plus, landfills and natural environments are overrun with trash due to excess and throwaway culture. Multiple studies have concluded staggering facts on plastic waste: Only 9% of plastic waste is recycled in the United States, and 40% of plastic produced is single-use packaging.

Not surprisingly, public health is affected by consumerism. As companies try to meet demand and turn a profit, unfair labor practices run rampant. Commonly reported conditions include child labor, long hours, low wages, physical abuse and unsafe practices. Globally each year, more than 2.1 million deaths are attributed to poor working conditions. Unfortunately, many of us have likely purchased an item with a troubled history as many large, name-brand businesses often outsource their manufacturing.  

What can we do about it? Shifting our habits and spreading awareness about the impacts of consumerism can lead companies to change their practices and reduce harm to the environment and the workforce.

Many of us still want to give our loved ones thoughtful gifts — and we can, because there are so many different ways to do so. Many suppliers are ethical and environmentally consciousShopping locally supports neighbors, small businesses, local economies and the environment.

Or perhaps the perfect gift is already out there. “Pre-loved” gifts are often unique and can have great value. Check out local thrift shops or garage sales, Nextdoor, OfferUp or a Buy Nothing Group on Facebook. Another option is to purchase experiences as gifts — such as tickets to concerts or sporting events — instead of manufactured goods.

Meet Jerrod Bley, UNMC’s new sustainability manager

Jerrod Bley brings technical expertise and great passion to his role as the new sustainability manager at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine.

Bley holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in environmental studies, with minors in energy science and business. He earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Montana State University, as well as several renewable energy certifications. He has worked on energy conservation and efficiency initiatives, including installing units for grid-tied photovoltaic, off-grid solar, solar thermal and small wind projects.

picture disc.
Jerrod Bley

 

As a member of a Marine Corps engineering unit, Bley worked in numerous settings within the renewable energy sector. At the Montana Weatherization Training Center in Bozeman, he served as clean energy project manager and worked up to facility director. Through this work, he provided training and education in weatherization and building science as well as health and safety throughout the Intermountain Region.

Most recently, Bley was clean energy program director for the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) — a mission-driven economic development in the heart of the Adirondacks. Through the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, his team received the tools to design and develop programs framed by cultural consciousness and centered on racial equity. Those efforts aimed to support an economy that worked for all. Bley also was appointed to New York State’s climate justice working group, an advisory body to the climate action council.

 

Bley looks forward to contributing to UNMC’s campus goals to become carbon neutral and zero waste by 2030 and supporting efforts toward equitable access to multimodal transit and mobility. He is eager to expand his understanding of the socio-psychological underpinnings of sustainable behavior change.

“It’s exciting to challenge conventional thinking about how we can operationalize strategies that are both proof of concept and cutting edge to achieve our ambitious goals,” Bley said. “In my line of work, I’m humbled on a daily basis by the amount of effort and diligence that still remains to truly effect change at the societal level to achieve a meaningful and permanent paradigm shift with respect to a sustainable future.”

Bley loves spending time with his wife and two young children. He welcomes anything that brings him outdoors, including backpacking, bowhunting, paddling and fly-fishing. Bley is an avid fermenter and can be spotted reading Sandor Katz and perfecting his lacto-fermenting craft – anything from kimchi to sourdough.

Campus Sustainability Month roundtable recap

For Campus Sustainability Month, UNMC collaborated with other higher education institutions to host a virtual roundtable. The event showcased a few remarkable locals with different areas of expertise, each with helpful takeaways for attendees.

Leigh Neary, owner of Exist Green in Dundee, started off by emphasizing the importance of recognizing our relationship with objects and considering their overall journey. Exist Green is a zero-waste market and eco-boutique with a central focus on building lives around plastic-free reusables and using sustainable consumables with life-cycles consumers can fully understand.

Neary revised the adage of reduce, reuse, recycle by changing it to refuse, reuse, rot and recycle. Acknowledging the traditional practice of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal allows us to pivot by opting to repair, buy secondhand, compost and recycle.

Jason Rose, communications and community relations manager at Metro transit, provided insight on the future of public transit in Omaha and highlighted the direct connection between public transit and sustainability. One of the staggering yet motivating statistics that Rose provided: “U.S. public transportation saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.” Metro is aiding the call for change by rethinking and diversifying fuel sources and purchasing a fleet of electric buses.

Jesse Bell, PhD, Claire M. Hubbard Professor at UNMC, gave a thorough assessment of climate change and its ongoing effects, such as extreme weather events. Dr. Bell provided helpful local and social context and highlighted the unfortunate reality that climate impacts vary by socioeconomic background.

He also shared information about the efforts undertaken by students at UNMC to push the university toward greater accountability and to incorporate climate change education into curriculum. Check out the Healthy Earth Alliance (HEAL) for additional related efforts.

Dawaune Lamont Hayes, journalist, graphic designer and founder of Noise Omaha, wrapped up the evening by discussing how art plays a significant role in climate resiliency and advocacy for the built environment. Art and information go hand-in-hand as images capture and reflect who we are and our lasting influences. Hayes also stressed that expressive vocabulary is equally essential to humanizing goals and communicating efforts. Additional information on Dawaune’s projects can be found at Dawaune.one – life is creative.

Those who missed the event can watch the recording here.